Random Thoughts On The Indianapolis 500
For the first time in probably twenty years, I slept for eleven hours Sunday night. We got back to the hotel, grabbed some to-go food, took it back to the room and turned on the broadcast and promptly fell asleep by Lap Five. We took our time Monday morning and finally started the four-hour drive back to Nashville. We stopped at about halfway at a Steak-&-Shake and it seemed like it took almost another eleven hours to eat. I guess they make the third-stringers work on Memorial Day.
Anyway, I did have time to watch the DVR race broadcast so that I could get a better feel of the race. Now that I’ve seen it and had a day to reflect on everything, I wanted to get some of my thoughts down before I left on my honeymoon on Tuesday. Not to bring up an old subject, but I feel as I did Sunday that Dario Franchitti didn’t drive Takuma Sato down into the grass on the last lap.
One surprise that I did learn from watching the broadcast was how frightening Mike Conway’s crash was. The video board near our seats is small to begin with. Couple that with sun and you just can’t tell much, except that there was a crash and who was involved. The Speedway could do well to invest in some HD video screens, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. More on that in a bit.
Although Mike Conway was very lucky to not be seriously injured, I think the most fortunate in that incident was Helio Castroneves. Seeing how he barely missed that tire headed right for him was scary. Had that tire hit him in the head, it could have been disastrous.
Although my pick and personal favorite for this race, Tony Kanaan, didn’t win – I’m still pleased with the way this year’s race turned out. Then again, I don’t think I’ve ever left the track mad. OK, in 1965 I left mad because Parnelli Jones finished second to Jim Clark – but I was six years old. I look at this as more of an event than a win/lose competition. Of course, I have my favorites and there are some I would prefer they didn’t win – but if a driver can win the Indianapolis 500, they’ve earned my respect.
TV coverage: Overall, I was very pleased with the ABC/ESPN telecast. The pre-race show was one of their best. The opening was good, maybe not quite up to last year’s standards – but that would be hard to top. They had good camera angles, the cars looked great in the bright sunlight and I thought their pit work was solid. They have redeemed themselves since their only other telecast this season – that terrible showing at St. Petersburg back in March.
Other than a few flubs from the booth, I thought they did an excellent job – maybe one of their best in years. Minor mistakes from the booth are forgivable. Not that I’ve ever done it, but I hear that live broadcasting can be mind-boggling. we should understand if a car or driver is misidentified every now and then.
On the cheap: Throughout the two weekends I spent at IMS this month, there was this subtle subconscious feeling that things were done a little bit on the cheap this year. I realize that comparing this year to last year is an unfair comparison. All stops were pulled out for the Centennial Celebration last year, but there was this palpable feel of budget cuts throughout the grounds. Last week, I noticed how small the official program had gotten. When I got home from the qualifying weekend, I compared it to some of years past and I was right. It was still as thick, but the dimensions have shrunk. This year’s version is about a half-inch more narrow and a half-inch shorter. I suppose that saves a lot of paper when you consider they probably print close to a half-million programs, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
I had a lengthy conversation on Race Day morning with a Yellow Shirt whose location will remain a mystery to not incriminate him. I mentioned that we had noticed many young faces wearing the familiar yellow garb, that didn’t seem to have a clue this year. He told me that the new regime had made many changes to save costs. He revealed that two years ago, his station was manned with six Yellow Shirts at any given time. This year, it’s two. The disgruntled official also explained that many of the “old hands” quit after last year and they have replaced them with “clueless kids” that know nothing and are rude. I can vouch for the rude part. Normally, the Yellow Shirts are very friendly (so long as you’re obeying the rules). Many in this year’s crop seemed to have an attitude.
The merchandise in the gift shop was very ordinary and perhaps for the first time ever, I returned with no souvenirs other than my program. One name that was curiously absent throughout the gift shops was IZOD. Maybe I missed it, but I saw no IZOD apparel at all. The only thing I saw in the gift shop that said “IZOD” was merchandise that had the series logo on it.
This was probably my imagination, but even the bulbs in the scoring pylon looked weak. I’ve been in the same seats during bright sunny days before, and never had a problem reading the numbers. It wasn’t just me. Others around me were having the same problem. Maybe IMS management got a good deal on some cheap bulbs, but it made the information hard to read.
Finally – and this probably has nothing to do with IMS management – I had written earlier about my traditional “meat sandwich” which is (was) a grilled rib-eye on a French roll with peppers and onions. This year, the meat was thinly sliced small pieces placed on a regular hamburger bun. That tradition may have seen it’s last run this year.
Pre-race ceremonies: This may or may not be related to cost-cutting, but the pre-race ceremonies were a major disappointment for me. Being the traditionalist I am about this race, I put a lot of stock in the pre-race ceremonies and there were a lot of minor gaffes. First of all, the PA system was turned up way too loud to handle the singing – it also made Florence Henderson’s rendition of God Bless America sound worse than usual.
There was also a rushed and disjointed feel to what can be my favorite part of the day. At the track, PA announcer Dave Calabro introduced Martina McBride to sing the National Anthem. Then there was a long pregnant pause before she started singing. On television, Brent Musburger tried to hand it off to Calabro but McBride started singing.
The traditional singing of Back Home Again In Indiana was as awkward as I expected it would be. They tried using a recording in 2007 when Jim Nabors couldn’t make it and it didn’t go well. I’m not sure why they thought this would be any different. It wasn’t. The balloons usually fly when the song is singing. Someone apparently missed the cue, because they didn’t turn them loose until the cars were already rolling.
The one highlight was the video honoring Dan Wheldon just before the playing of Taps. It was tasteful and moving. Then when Bryan Herta took to the track during Taps, even my dry eyes felt a little moisture. In my opinion, that one moment saved the day for the pre-race ceremonies.
All in all: The race itself was tremendous. With all of the questions going in about the new cars, the durability of the engines and the engine shortages – who knew what to expect? But except for a lull after Bryan Clausen’s spin, it was a very entertaining race. With a record number of lead changes, this was certainly no parade. The last thirty laps were about as engaging was you could hope for. Then with the excitement of the last lap, this one will certainly be one remembered and talked about for a long time.
Please Note: This will be my last post for several days. Early Tuesday morning, we are hopping on a plane to begin our belated honeymoon. We delayed it by a week to attend the Indianapolis 500, but I think it would lead to a quick divorce if I were to blog throughout my honeymoon. Therefore, I will take the rest of this week off from here and part of the following week as well. I’m not sure what next week holds, but I may sneak in a post right after the Belle Isle race. Anyway, thanks for following along here during the month of May. I’m already looking forward to next year.