Selfishly Rethinking My IMS Travel Plans
The good thing about having a blog is that it reflects my opinion and my opinion only. Sometimes my opinion is in line with other fans. Other times it’s not. But it’s always important to remember that these are just my opinions on here and there will be some days where absolutely no one agrees with me. Today could be one of those days.
Last week, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway released its schedule for the Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May. There were some plusses and minuses compared to previous years, but if I’m being completely selfish and focusing only on how it affects me – there was one giant minus.
In a nutshell; Opening Day is technically Sunday May 3rd, when the oval aero kits are unveiled and tested for the first time. Then The Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis will take place the following Saturday. ROP and a full practice is slated for the following Monday May 11th to run from 4:00 to 7:00. Practice will run Tuesday through Friday from noon until 6:00. With Qualifications and Pole Day that Saturday and Sunday, with a final practice on Monday May 18th. A revamped Community Day will take place on Wednesday May 20th, Carb Day on Friday May 22nd, Legends Day honoring four-time winner Al Unser on Saturday May 23rd and The Greatest Spectacle in Racing – the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 to take place on Sunday May 24th.
In that schedule, I see a lot of positives. But when I get selfish and think about how it affects me personally; that’s where the minus pops up.
Last year, for the weekend of the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis; practice began on Thursday. I took a day of vacation and drove up Friday morning for qualifying that afternoon. With the support races, there was a full day of racing on Saturday leading up to the main event – the IndyCar race that started late Saturday afternoon. By the time the race was run and the place cleared out, the sun was going down. It was a full day and an early night at the hotel. The next day served as Opening Day for Indianapolis 500 practice. Some teams chose not to run that day, but many did.
One of the more fascinating things I came across that day was also one of the first things. I was taking a detour through the garage area like I normally do, just to see if anything interesting was going on.
Simon Pagenaud had won the Grand Prix just the day before in the Oculus-sponsored car; in the teal and white livery used prior to going to the bright orange used later in the season. So, what were they doing to preserve the collectable car that had just won the historic Inaugural Grand Prix? They were peeling off the vinyl wrap to prepare it to be Pagenaud’s backup for the 500. The crew guys were nice enough to give the few of us standing around wads of vinyl off of the winning car. That indescribable wad accounts for one of my more curious bits of racing memorabilia.
After two full days of watching not only IndyCars, but several different type cars run “backwards” for the previous two days, it finally felt “normal” to watch IndyCars being the only cars on the track and to have them going the “correct” direction. All seemed right with the world.
Perhaps it’s just me, but anytime there are cars running at IMS – I’m a happy man. Whether I’m with a group of people or just sitting there alone with my thoughts while one single car is running laps – I’m very content to just sit there and take it all in. I did just that until the track closed early for the day for lightening in the area. I headed back to the media center, did a wrap-up post and then hopped in the car and headed back to Nashville.
It was a fantastic weekend. There was the novelty of the first IndyCar race on the IMS road course and all the fun and excitement that went with it; and then it got down to what I considered the real business at hand – oval practice for the Indianapolis 500. As I was driving back to Nashville that Sunday night, I remember being tired, but very satisfied that I had done quite a lot, seen a lot of racing and knew that I still had two more full weekends at IMS ahead of me. Life was good.
The only thing that could have made it better was if my wife, Susan, could have gone. She was still in career transition then and her “survival” job made her work weekends. When she asked off for three weekends in a row in May, her employer laughed at her. They told her there was no way she was getting all three, and to pick which one she was willing to give up. She gave up the Grand Prix weekend. She now has her career job and no longer works weekends.
Since last May I’ve been looking forward to repeating those three weekends, and this time with Susan – since she had been the only missing component for the Grand Prix weekend last year.
But last week, IMS shot me a curve. Like last year; the Grand Prix weekend will still start on Thursday and conclude with the race on Saturday. But this year, there will be no track activity whatsoever on Sunday. Those of us that will burn vacation time for Friday and drive more than four hours are free to go home Saturday night.
So, if I want to see the opening practice (which I have for the last few years) – I have to spend Saturday night and Sunday night in a hotel and burn another vacation day on Monday. Sorry, I’m not doing that, since I’m already taking off the following Friday for Fast Friday and will be spending money on a hotel again.
I’ve heard and read all the arguments telling me why I’m in the vast minority. That Sunday is Mother’s Day, which is historically a crowd killer. Two years ago, we drove to Opening Day on Saturday and drove back that night only to get up the next day and drive two hours to visit my mother on Mother’s Day. Last year, I missed Mother’s Day entirely. I think she understood, maybe not.
I also understand that the crews are about to embark on a long string of Sundays when they’ll be racing. That will be their last off-Sunday (or Saturday night) until June 21st. Perhaps the new aero kits take longer to change over from the road course configuration to the oval kit. Maybe the grounds crew needs more time to convert the road course back to the oval.
Since I’ve been griping about this on Twitter, many people that were there on Sunday last year said they had the feeling of “What are we doing here?” Seriously? You’re at the most famous race track in the world, and it’s the first day of practice for the biggest race in the world and you want to know why you’re there?
Whatever the case; by the response I was getting on Twitter when I complained about it – I could tell I was in the vast minority. The thing is – those that were essentially saying “too bad” to me, all lived in the Indianapolis area. I guess they don’t really care that I take time off from work, pay for hotels that weekend and drive over four hours one-way to attend. The locals can go to the race, spend Mother’s Day with Mom and then take advantage of the additional hour the next Monday, when the track will be open for practice to all drivers from 4:00 to 7:00 following sessions of ROP. They’ll knock off work a little early and get to take in three hours of opening practice
That’s a change I am in favor of, by the way. I think they should do it for every practice day in order to bring back the old “happy hour” that sees the shadows creep across the main straightaway. With a normal closing time of 6:00; they haven’t had that phenomenon since Indiana adopted Daylights Savings Time in 2006. Nowadays, the sun still basks the front stretch in the final hour and doesn’t allow the speeds to creep up that the late afternoon shade would allow in the old days. I’ve always been a proponent of extending practice and qualifying times to 7:00 since the time changed. Of course, the new Pole Day format ends in mid-afternoon, but that’s another topic for another day.
Am I the only out-of-towner that went to the Grand Prix last year and stayed over for the opening 500 practice? Am I warped in my thinking to think that was a great weekend? I enjoyed the Grand Prix, but mostly due to its novelty. Honestly, my favorite day of the whole weekend was Sunday. Obviously, not many agreed with me.
But I now find myself rethinking the entire weekend. I’m not sure it’s worth it to burn a precious vacation day and go up there for only two days. Based on last year, it would probably be after 8:00 Saturday night by the time we leave the track. Is it worth spending money for a second night in a hotel just to wake up and drive home Sunday morning, since there is nothing going on at the track? Do I want to do all that just for the Grand Prix, which won’t be so unique in its second year?
Of course, another option is to go for a fourth weekend – for the day, anyway. On Sunday May 3rd, there will be a one-day testing of the new aero kits in their oval configuration. This, in effect, will be Opening Day. I’d love to be there to see the new aero kits in person. Maybe we’ll drive up for the day, but that’s a lot of driving. It’s just another decision to make.
No one can answer make these decisions or answer these questions for me. I’ll probably end up going to the Grand Prix anyway. Who knows, we may go all four weekends. But I’m really giving this some hard thought. Saving the money and the vacation day during the Grand Prix weekend is very tempting, but I can also see me kicking myself on Saturday morning for not going, if I don’t.
IMS President Doug Boles is a very smart man and I’m a huge fan of his. What I like about him is that he is like us – a fan. He is a fan first, and a businessman second. Boles is a native Hoosier that grew up going to every race since the seventies. Unlike the head of IndyCar; I’ve been on board with practically everything Boles has come up with. This was obviously a business decision, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. That’s why I’m disappointed they just gave up on the traveling fans like me and opted for a Monday opening practice. Here’s a video that Boles released on Friday, laying out all the plans for the Month of May.
Like I said, this is solely about my own selfish opinion and how I’m affected. Many are upset about the completely revamped Community Day on the Wednesday before the race. I’ll be at work that day and it doesn’t affect me, so I’m not the least bit interested in complaining about that. That’s me being completely selfish, but that’s what I do.
Now, about that new IMS tenderloin…