Opening Day Memories From 1994
And so it begins…Tomorrow morning begins our three weekend odyssey to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, weather permitting. Only once before have I made three trips in three consecutive weekends – that was in 1995. I had bought the bronze badges to get into the garage area. My soon-to-be ex-wife went with me to Pole Day weekend. Then my oldest brother joined me for the second qualifying weekend, including one of the most historic Bump Day’s ever – when both Marlboro Team Penske cars failed to make the race. Then it was back for the third weekend in a row with my wife for the race.
In the morning, Susan and I are driving up for Opening Day. We’ll spend the day at the track and then drive back to Nashville tomorrow night. The schedule works out well for a one day turnaround. The track opens at noon for veterans. Then Rookie Orientation is from 2:00 until 4:00, followed by another two-hour session for everyone (I assume).
I’ve only been to one Opening Day before – in 1994. What I remember most about that day was parking in the infield and immediately hearing the strange drone of the Honda engine that was new to CART that season. If you thought the early IRL engines emitted a sour note, it was nothing compared to the Honda in the back of the cars driven by Bobby Rahal and Mike Groff. It was indescribable, but if you ever heard it – you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I’m glad I was able to hear it then, because the Honda was gone by Race Day. It was way too slow. Bobby Rahal had already missed the 1993 race as a result of Rahal/Hogan Racing attempting to revive the old Truesports chassis, which was made in America. It was a sled when Scott Pruett drove it in 1992 and Rahal could do no better with it. The 1992 CART champion would have certainly been bumped for the second year in a row, had he stuck with the Honda engine. So he cut a deal with Honda to allow him to leave the developmental program for the 500. He and teammate Mike Groff struck a deal with Roger Penske to lease two Penske chassis with the Ilmor-D engine. Rahal finished third. By Milwaukee the next week, Rahal and Groff were back with Honda, where they stayed for the remainder of the season.
It is a matter of dispute who dumped who at the end of 1994. Some say that Honda was miffed with the way Rahal bailed on them at Indianapolis, and they terminated their relationship. Others say that it was Rahal who had lost faith in Honda and he decided to drop Honda. Whatever the case, they both went their separate ways for 1995.
Another strange sound that I heard – or didn’t hear – came from the pushrod Penske-Mercedes. It was noticeably quieter than any car on the track, including the V-6 Buicks, that were by that time known as Menards. The purpose-built Mercedes engine was a result of Roger Penske always seeking the unfair advantage and exploiting a loophole in the USAC rules. The engine was built strictly for the Indianapolis 500 in complete secrecy. It was rumored to put out over 1,000 hp, and would completely dominate the race. Emerson Fittipaldi had the field covered with his Penske-Mercedes, before crashing while exiting Turn Four and handing the victory to his teammate Al Unser, Jr. The engine was outlawed prior to the 1995 race limiting it to a one-race appearance in its short life.
The last two weekends in Nashville have been very un-spring-like. Heavy rain and temperatures dipping down into the thirties is not my idea of the Month of May, but that’s what we’ve had the last two weekends. I never thought I would have to go four hours to the north to have a warm weekend, but that is what we’re hoping for tomorrow. The forecast calls for possible early morning rain to be cleared out by noon – sunny in the afternoon, with a high of 66. Hopefully, Mother Nature is getting these rainy weekends out of her system and we can have a Month of May not too heavily influenced by rain.
We are probably overdue to have a cold Race Day. Maybe it will be this year, with the unusually cool spring we’ve been having. The last time I can remember being chilly on Race Day was in 2003, when Gil de Ferran won on a cool cloudy day. I wore a sweatshirt and a windbreaker and was still cold. That’s hard to even imagine now with the steamy hot Race Days we’ve had for the past few years. Of course, 2003 was nothing compared to the morning of the race in 1992. The crowd never warmed up and neither did the tires, as multiple accidents were caused that day by cold tires.
Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough – but that’s what I tend to do in the Month of May. I probably won’t be posting from the track tomorrow. We won’t have a lot of time there since we have to drive back. But I’ll have plenty of pictures on Monday of whatever we see of interest. However, I will be tweeting from the track and posting pictures on Twitter throughout the day tomorrow. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog and you may follow Susan at @chiapet58.
It’s the Month of May! I’m ready to kick it off for real.