Random Thoughts & Pics From Opening Day
Although I am paying for it this morning, it was a full and fun weekend. Opening Day was all I hoped it would be – even though it was probably the coldest day I’ve spent at IMS with cars on track since Race Day in 1992 (it was 48-degrees when we got there Saturday around noon). I feel quite certain that we are in for a cold Race Day this year. Why? Well, two reasons. First, it has been one of the coldest springs that I can remember. Second – I, and my entire group, have moved our tickets across the track to Stand A. We got so tired of getting battered by the sun and intense heat while sitting in the Pit Road Terrace, that sitting in the shade during the race sounded inviting. With my luck – now that we’re in the shade, I feel like we’ll have the coldest race in history. Oh, well – life’s a gamble.
Although we were at the track for less than six hours, we got a lot done. We picked up our media credentials and headed to the Media Center to go get checked in and see the friendly faces from IMS that we see each year up there.
Then we headed out. There were a lot of things I wanted to get done in a short period of time. The gift shop was on that list as well as the first tenderloin of the season. A stroll through the pits and garages were a must as well as just taking it all in by sitting in the stands.
New & Improved SM Garage: Before going to the stands, we reluctantly went into the Social Media Garage. I’ll be honest; I went in there a few times last year and was not impressed. I had heard it described as the place to be if you were a blogger, read IndyCar blogs or simply followed anyone associated with IndyCar on Twitter. However – whenever I was in there, it was not crowded and those that were seemed to be busy with whatever they were doing. Basically, I was very underwhelmed.
This year, I had heard it was going to be better. As we were on our way out to the track, we stopped by as an afterthought. I’m glad we did. I saw a lot of blogger friends and met a lot of people that I had exchanged Twitter conversations with for years. A few people padded my ego by coming up to me and simply introducing themselves and telling me that they have enjoyed this site for years. I talked with some of those heading up the Social Media Garage. They recognized the shortcomings last year and have moved to address them. Saturday was a big improvement over what I saw last year. I can tell you, I plan on spending a lot of time there next weekend.
Name-droppng: Pippa Mann dropped by the SM Garage and interacted with fans. She was gracious enough to join a bunch of us and fill us in with the latest that has been going on with her Dale Coyne ride. The best thing about Pippa is that you forget when you are talking to her that she is one of the drivers. She comes across as one of us. Most know I’ll really be pulling for her this month.
Later on, Nashville native Josef Newgarden stopped by – sporting his new Century 21 colors, which explains his number change for the month to No.21. He gave my ego an unneeded boost by speaking to me first. He completely remembered our Nashville interview a couple of years ago. He and Susan chatted about things going on at his high school. He and I talked about his good performance in Brazil just the week before. Just a couple of hours later, he was battling Ed Carpenter to see who could set the fastest time of the day. Carpenter won that battle, while Newgarden was second quick for the day – a day with no incidents. Watching the twenty-two year old interact with fans and the way he converses with this over-aged blogger, plus the way he is performing this season – convinces me that Josef Newgarden is going to be a major star in this series. I just hope he stays around instead of testing the waters in Formula One – or God forbid, NASCAR.
OK…I’ve done enough name-dropping for now, especially since I’ve discussed the only two drivers that know me by name.
The power of the tenderloin: We finally made our way to the stands, after buying a tenderloin. There’s nothing like the first bite of the first tenderloin of the Month of May (Susan felt compelled to record the moment), and it tasted just as good as I remembered it. The only problem was that with the cold weather and wind, it cooled off rather quickly after I opened it – but it was still delicious. I’ve had tenderloins at several respected locations in Indianapolis and I still think the best ones come from the track. I know that will rile some, but what do you expect from someone who comes from a region that has never heard of them?
On-track happenings: After I devoured the tenderloin, we finally made our way down to the pits. There was not a ton of action on the first day, but there was enough to quench our thirst for speed. Carlos Muñoz, AJ Allmendinger and Tristan Vautier all passed their Rookie Orientation and were all running laps in the final session. Muñoz seems to be adapting nicely as he finished yesterday at the top of the charts and is the only driver to top 223 mph after only two days of practice. He was the only one of the five Andretti cars that ran on Opening Day.
We didn’t see much of the early full-practice, but we were trackside for the second one. We saw Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti turn a few shakedown laps. The two KV Racing Technology cars of Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro seemed a little busier. They both ran about twenty laps each, but nothing trying to set the world on fire. The busiest driver was Newgarden, who ran fifty-nine laps and was just a tick slower than Carpenter for top spot of the day. Alex Tagliani was second busiest on Opening Day running twenty-nine laps.
Gift shop swag: We also went to the gift shop to check out to see what was new for this year. We just bought a few minor items. One thing that is very noticeable around the track and in the gift shops is the non-presence of IZOD. Most of the gear features the generic INDYCAR logo, which looks a little too big and needs some work. It lacks imagination. I’m hopeful a new series sponsor will be on board for 2014 and that they can come up with a better logo than the generic one that is prominent in the gift shops.
Tasteful nod to a legend: Last fall, we lost a true legend when motorsports journalist Chris Economaki passed away just about two weeks short of his ninety-third birthday. Anyone who follows racing knows of the career of Mr. Economaki. The IMS Media Center has chosen a very tasteful was to pay tribute to this giant. They have set up his typewriter at the same seat he occupied since the current Media Center opened in 2000, along with a tasteful photo of the legend. Oddly enough, it is one row back from where I sit each year and his seat was almost directly behind mine. There is a York Peppermint patty on the typewriter, which I assume he must’ve been famous for. I never had the chance to meet Mr. Economaki. I’ve been seated there since 2010 and unfortunately never saw him there. I don’t know if he stopped going before then, or if we simply never crossed paths. I’m glad to know I’ll be passing by this memorial for him often this month. It almost seems like a place of reverence. Whoever came up with this idea should be commended. Nice touch.
After the track closed: When the clock struck 6:00, the track was closed for practice and another Opening Day was in the books. We made another quick run through the garage area, before gathering up our stuff. Fortunately, the car was parked close by and we didn’t have to walk very far.
But once we left the track, we didn’t head straight back to Nashville. We had to squeeze more May traditions into one day. We first headed east onto 16th Street to another landmark – Long’s Bakery. I’m really partial to Krispy-Kreme doughnuts, but these may be even better. Perhaps it was because of Mother’s Day being the next day, but we literally waited in line about twenty-five minutes. But it was worth it. We munched on them for dessert and had some left for Sunday morning.
But before we tore into the doughnuts in the car, we also had to make the first of many visits this month to the Mug-N-Bun. They now have the dining room across the parking lot, but we chose to eat in the car – drive-in style. I still say there is nothing better than a frosted glass mug of their homemade root beer. That’s the only proper way to close out a fun day at the track.
Mother’s Day visit: We didn’t make it back home until 1:00 am Nashville time, but our driving wasn’t over. We got up Sunday morning and drove two more hours to my mother’s home in West Tennessee. She will be eighty-nine in July – but she is sharp as a tack, still drives and sings in the church choir. She is probably in better shape than I am because she still exercises (and I don’t). She has been to her share of Indianapolis 500’s, but hasn’t been back since she saw Mario Andretti win in 1969. I never thought she had any interest in going back, until she held up this makeshift sign for our picture together…
Anyway, I am lucky I can still go visit my mother for Mother’s Day and I am glad I went.
All in all: It was a very eventful Opening Day weekend and it was just one day. This Thursday, I leave immediately after work and will arrive back in town that night in order to be at the track first thing Friday morning for Fast Friday and all of qualifying weekend. I’m not sure I could have crammed more into a one-day turnaround. This weekend, should be just a little more relaxed and restful. I’m looking forward to what the weekend brings after a week full of practice at IMS. It’s the Month of May!