An Offseason Weekend In Indianapolis
What a strange experience it was this past weekend, to wake up in Indianapolis and ask ourselves – what are we going to do today? Normally when we go to Indianapolis for those two weekends in May, qualifying weekend and race weekend – neither one lends itself to what I would classify as a relaxing weekend.
After attending the IndyCar Championship Celebration on Thursday night, the plan was to hang around Indianapolis for the Titans-Colts game on Sunday. As it turned out, we passed on the Titans game. We had no tickets and had planned to go try to get cheap tickets from a scalper right at kickoff. The problem was that it was so cold and rainy, we didn’t want to stand in the rain to get tickets for what would certainly be another Titans loss. It was. But the plan left us with absolutely no agenda for Friday or Saturday. We slept in on Friday, since I had stayed up until 2:00 that morning putting up Friday’s post about the banquet. A racing friend contacted us that morning and offered to take us to lunch downtown. That gave us time to get moving and go to the Speedway gift shop to do some Christmas shopping, before heading downtown.
After eating some delicious, oversized sandwiches at a small downtown eatery – we were stuffed and decided to head back to our hotel, which was our same hotel as the weekend we were married. But on the way, I got thirsty so we stopped at the Mug-N-Bun for a frosty mug of cold root beer in the car. In our younger days, we would’ve headed to a local watering hole and gotten a head start on the weekend. Not anymore. With full bellies, we proceeded to our room where we both promptly crashed until the early evening. We went back out into the cold drizzle to go eat dinner at Dawson’s on Main in Speedway, where we had our post-wedding dinner.
Saturday, we got up in time to drive to the Northside to meet Pippa Mann and a group called Indy Cars and Coffee. They are a group of auto enthusiasts across all types that meet at McAlister’s Deli for coffee every Saturday morning from 10:00 to 12:00. There, I met several genuinely nice people that gather just out of the love of Autosport. As I pulled up in our Honda Civic, I was greeted by a bright yellow Lamborghini in the parking lot. I was afraid we were going to feel out of our league. Instead, everyone there was very friendly and informal.
As we left there, Susan let me know she wanted to check out a “quaint little bakery” she had heard about in Zionsville. Although I was now starving, I reluctantly agreed. I was glad I did. Zionsville was a very nice area that reminded me of Franklin, TN near Nashville. Susan rewarded me with an apple fritter to hold me over until we grabbed lunch.
Lunch was well worth the wait. It was now close to 1:00 before we made it to Charlie Brown’s Pancake & Steak House in Speedway. I had been dreaming of breakfast, but it was now lunchtime – so I had both. I had a stack of pancakes along with a hand-breaded tenderloin sandwich. As I waddled out, I couldn’t help but take time to gawk at all of the racing memorabilia in there. If you’ve never been to Charlie Brown’s go for both the food and the racing artifacts.
From there, we drove about three blocks up Main Street in Speedway to the brand new Dallara IndyCar Factory. We actually went there as an afterthought, but it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. There are collections of the four generations of Dallara IndyCars on hand. They also offer a ride in the street-legal two-seater IndyCar for thirty dollars. Since I had driven the one-seater at IMS a few years ago, I didn’t see the need to do that, but I offered for Susan to go. She declined since it was so cold. We also took the guided tour, which was excellent.
I’ll brag a little bit. It turns out that our tour guide, Sean Dunham (@seannyDMode) follows me (@Oilpressureblog) on Twitter and knew I was headed there from seeing my tweets from Charlie Brown’s. Maybe he gave us extra good service, but I have an idea he does it for everyone – this guy knows his stuff. Like me, he attended his first Indianapolis 500 when he was six years old and has followed this sport his entire life. His passion clearly comes through. Although the tubs are still built in Italy, they make all of the spare parts in Speedway. The tour gives us fans an inside look at how carbon fiber goes from a cloth-like material into the hard and brittle material found throughout race cars. We got to see the giant autoclave, and the step-by-step process from creating a part, to painstaking quality control to the final assembly of a DW12. No photography is allowed in the actual shop, but I was allowed to photograph this scale wind tunnel model.
The DW12 that Dan Wheldon tested throughout the summer of 2011 was in the back as we were allowed to pick Sean’s brain about the design of the new car. I learned a lot as I peppered him with trivial things that I had always wondered about. I was in heaven, but Susan actually found it enjoyable also. They also have several iRacing simulators (two of which allow you to sit in genuine IndyCars).
To top it off, there is also a gourmet Italian coffee bar within the Dallara factory. Lino’s Coffee has about forty locations throughout Italy and one location in the western hemisphere – at the Dallara IndyCar Factory in Speedway, IN. I am not one to have anything in my coffee except for coffee. I take my coffee black and put nothing in it. But on this cold dreary day, after the huge meal at Charlie Brown’s and an excellent tour of the Dallara IndyCar Factory – it seemed like the perfect time to try something different [shudder]. I asked for their most popular coffee drink – The Morocco. It had chocolate and frothy milk with robust coffee and was perfect. We spoke with the manager, Julie LaFore who was quite friendly and very knowledgeable.
Sunday morning, we headed to Fast Times – an indoor karting track on the north side of Indianapolis. Pippa Mann invited us to go there to witness, first hand, the Glass Hammer Racing program she is heavily involved with. Glass Hammer Racing seeks to get women involved in racing at a very early age. We were very impressed with what they are doing. So impressed, in fact, that there will be much more on Glass Hammer Racing here on Wednesday.
A race fan that finds themselves in Indianapolis for a couple of days in the offseason can still get their racing fix. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is still the obvious destination. The museum is always open (except for Thanksgiving & Christmas days) and the tour buses will always be offering rides around the track, along with the gift shop. There is nothing that can duplicate the thrill of going through the tunnel under the track, no matter what time of year it is. But there is now a new must-see destination for IndyCar fans – the Dallara IndyCar Factory at 1201 Main Street in Speedway. It is still new and in the growing stages. There is plenty of room for growth and added attractions, although I found it totally enjoyable as it was. With the guided tour, the available two-seater rides, the simulator and the coffee – this was a perfect way to spend a cold and cloudy December day in Indianapolis.