A Fun Night Was Had By All
What I strongly suspected might be a cheesy night befitting an appearance of Wayne Newton or Florence Henderson, turned out to be an exceptional evening. The 2012 IndyCar Championship Celebration was surprisingly a first-class event – at least in the opinion of this lowly blogger. The Red Carpet started at 5:00. We didn’t arrive at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway until 5:15 and judging on the amount of cars in the parking lot behind the Pagoda, I was afraid that this was going to be a sparse crowd.
As we pulled alongside the car next to us, I noticed the driver was none other than Tony George. I didn’t introduce myself. We walked over to the Plaza Pavilion and saw a red carpet leading to a door that seemed to have no activity. My first thought was “this is going to be bad”. When we opened the door however, it was like stepping into another dimension. Suddenly, we could hear a band playing and several attractive young women were greeting us. I guess we could have walked in on the “red carpet”, but then we would’ve had to explain to the bank of photographers that we were simply bloggers that had driven up from Nashville. We chose to by-pass the red carpet.
In the reception area, there were plenty of open-bars offering any type of adult beverage your heart desired. Fuzzy’s Ultra-Premium Vodka was everywhere. We both chose to drink wine. Susan had the Chardonnay that came from the Foyt Vineyards, while I had the Cabernet that was provided by Andretti Wineries.
After a lively cocktail hour, we were told to get to our seats. We were honored to be sitting with the same friends that had provided us with the suite in May, when we got married at IMS. As it turned out, we were sitting next to the table of James Hinchcliffe and his group. More on that later.
Not every driver was present. The Brazilian drivers were excused, because they were all racing in Brazil this weekend for a charity event. Dario Franchitti was attending a family wedding in Scotland this weekend. Other than those exceptions, most everyone was present.
The food was good, the wine was excellent and the program went quickly. Will Buxton of SPEED was the emcee and did a good job. The program followed a tightly choreographed script that lasted about the right amount of time. Ryan Hunter-Reay’s speech was the longest, as it should have been. There was levity and seriousness. The most moving part of the evening was when Bob Jenkins was called upon, apparently unexpectedly, to offer a few words about his retirement. He was eloquent, as always, and acknowledged the work that Ryan Hunter-Reay had done for cancer and noted how important that was since he had recently lost the most important person in his life (his wife) to cancer. I could go on and on, but Bob Jenkins is simply a class act.
One humorous part was when the Fan Favorite awards were given out. Each one was an actual electric fan that had been made into a trophy. Some in the crowd found it odd, but I thought it was funny.
Ryan Hunter-Reay gave a good speech, and it became obvious in person – he is going to represent this sport well as a defending champion. Will Power gave one of the evening’s most humorous speeches in accepting his second place trophy.
My personal highlight of the night and maybe of my whole blogging career came after the dinner. Since James Hinchcliffe was sitting just one table over, I went over and introduced myself and told him I was the one that wrote an article about him two or three weeks ago that he had acknowledged on Twitter. When I told him who I was, he said he had someone who wanted to meet me. He pulled me over and introduced me to his mother and told her I was the one that had written the article. His mother told me how much she appreciated the article and that she was the one that had told him about it. She went on about how happy she was that somebody gets it about her son. I don’t mean to brag on my articles, but to hear praise come from a driver’s mother and how much it meant, was very special. It’s probably the most memorable conversation I’ve had as a blogger.
We met up with our friend Pippa Mann, who was sitting at Sam Schmidt’s table. She was engaging as usual. I still say she is the best ambassador that this series has. Why she is not in a car full-time is beyond me. She has proven she can drive and she has certainly worked hard to get back into a car. Hopefully her efforts will pay off for 2013.
After the dinner, the party shifted to a reception in the Pagoda. There, it was more of the same. We struck up conversations with a curious assortment of people – from Will Power to Kevin Lee to Kathi George to Linda Vaughn. I didn’t tell Kathi George the things I had written about her brother, but oddly enough – she and Susan really hit it off. As we left the Pagoda, we shared the elevator with Scott Dixon and his wife Emma. They were kind enough to pose for one last pic.
I had never been in the Pagoda before and I couldn’t help but be distracted by my surroundings. As chilly as it was, I found myself going out on the side terrace and staring down at the front-stretch of the Speedway at night. It was a surreal moment to be at the Speedway in December and at night and in the Pagoda surrounded by all these drivers that I follow. I don’t claim to be on first name basis with many drivers, and to be in their midst on this night was fascinating to say the least.
We finally left at midnight. I found myself gravitating to either outside terraces or windows, where I could simply stare down at the track that I’ve been going to since 1965. No matter how many times I visit the place, I still get mesmorized when I’m there.
I said on Wednesday that I may not want to come back to the Championship Celebration after going to my first. That is not the case. We loved it. Everything was first class – all the way to how they had three DW12’s mounted to the wall behind the stage. Jeff Belskus opened his wallet for this night. Nothing seemed to be done on the cheap, as I had feared.
As long as they have the banquet in Indianapolis, we may try to make this an annual event, whether it’s in October or December. Actually, I sort of preferred the December date. There is something just a little bit different in being here in December as opposed to the month of May. Believe me – a fun time was had by all.