Random Thoughts On IMS Opening Day

Yesterday at IMS was a little surreal. As promised, Susan and I made the trek up to Indianapolis this weekend, for the first of four straight weekends at IMS. This was the earliest Opening Day in decades and there were signs of that. It didn’t seem like everyone was quite ready for May. There were signs in the garage area that some of the teams had not really moved in yet, as witnessed by the lack of signs over many of the doors. There were still some last minute projects for the upcoming Grand Prix weekend waiting to be done. The team’s hospitality areas were still in the process of getting set up. All in all, this was more of a soft-opening for Opening Day.


The media center seemed ready for business, but there was hardly anyone there. From our usual seats in the Media Center, you could hear Robin Miller grumbling behind us. Our friends Paul Dalbey and James Black from 16th and Georgetown were the only other occupants of what we used to call “Blogger’s Row”. I’ll be curious to see if any more bloggers show up this month or if we are the last of a dying breed.

But if a few things seemed out of sorts, you could tell that the maintenance crews had been busy in the last few weeks. There are tons of visible changes around IMS. Although most of you know how I feel about change, most of the changes here I actually embrace or at least don’t mind.

The most obvious changes are the new HD video boards. They are HUGE! Since I’ve moved my seats slightly further towards Turn One this year, I’ll be curious to see how well we can see them from our new seats. Unfortunately, most of the stands on the outside of the track were closed yesterday so that’ll have to wait.

The scoring pylon was another big change since last May. Some have muttered complaints about it, but I really like it. Most of the day, it maintained the look of the standard pylon. But during yellow flag down times, it ran ads for the upcoming events at IMS.


I’m also impressed how the stands in the Pit Road Terrace (where I sat for about ten years) now have individual seats with backs on them. They make for great sitting for hours and watching cars go by; and they are much easier on your lower quarters.

Susan seat

What I’m not impressed with are the solid green walls among the main straightaway with signage for Angie’s List for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. I know it’s temporary and will be gone by qualifying weekend, but this traditionalist would rather not see those iconic solid white walls turned into billboards. I know it’s the world we live in and I accept it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Angie's List

As far as the cars go, we got to see several new liveries. Helio Castroneves was in Verizon livery, but I think that is for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. If that’s the case, I’m a little surprised they are not running the car they have designated for the “500”. I haven’t heard what paint scheme Helio will be running for the “500”, but if history is any indication it’ll probably have something to do with Shell/Pennzoil.

Bryan Clauson’s long-awaited Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria sponsored car took to the track yesterday. It is being run in association with KVSH. It’s a good-looking car and it’s good to see an old-school sponsor return to The Speedway.

Conor Daly unveiled his Smithfield sponsorship. His No.43 car is in unmistakable Petty blue. The only problem is that it is likely to be confused with Tony Kanaan’s NTT Data car.


We also got to see Simona de Silvestro in her new orange & white livery which could pass for a Tennessee Vols car.


Pippa Mann’s Susan G. Komen car looked pretty much identical to last year’s. Oriol Servia is in a solid yellow car that screams Marmon Wasp. I don’t think that’s a coincidence since it carries the No. 32 in a font identical to that of the famous Marmon. I’ll be curious to see if any other touches will be done throughout the month to hint more at the 1911 winner.

Justin Wilson was in a car with the generic Andretti Autosport scheme that Simona carried in the first two races. Michael Andretti has hinted that they are still working on sponsorship for that car, so I’ll be surprised if that car still looks the same in three weeks.

Fortunately, the day went incident-free. The new aero kits must be working. Opening day one year ago saw a top speed of around 223.0. Yesterday saw twenty cars go over that speed. Juan Montoya set the top speed for Sunday at 226.772 mph. My early prediction for Pole Day is going to be around the 232 range. Some of my cohorts think it will be higher – around 235. I would like that, but that would be an awfully big jump from yesterday’s times.

Montoya’s Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, was second quickest at 226.468. Marco Andretti stuck a Honda into the Top-Five, just a tick slower than Helio at 226.268, followed by Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud. But Honda fared well for themselves. Takuma Sato was sixth quickest, followed by Simona de Silvestro. Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sage Karam rounded out the Top-Ten.

The weather could not have been more perfect. It was sunny all afternoon and warm – I’m guessing it topped out at around 78-degrees, but I’m really not sure.

Some in the media center thought we were crazy to drive all that way to watch a test. Actually, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. The sun was shining, it was warm and pleasant, I was at my favorite place in the world and there were race cars running in front of me as Susan and I spent most of the afternoon taking it all in. What could be better than that?

Anyway, it’s back to the day job today. We will both work today through Thursday and then be back at IMS on Friday for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It’s a great buildup for the Month of May.

George Phillips


18 Responses to “Random Thoughts On IMS Opening Day”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    When it wasn’t buffering I watched some of live streaming. IMS’ s coverage of things IMS as always left something to be desired.. One bright spot, was the sound of Bob Jenkins behind the mic.

  2. madtad1 Says:

    George, I wish you would have covered the more important news of the day!

    How was the track’s Tenderloin?! Still covered with junk and not tasty or back to crunchy yummy goodness? 😉

  3. Mike Silver Says:

    It was great to be at the track, especially this early in May again. I will make a point to find you this weekend.

  4. Ok. Excuse me for being a little fired up this morning but I have got to settle a beef with IMS. I ,like George drove up for a test like I have done more than once from Louisville. I have logged plenty of miles over the years attending IndyCar events. The whole family came with me. We ended up sitting on the outside of the track stands right at the start/finish line (not sure what stand that is). I agree with you George, It did not seem as if they were quite ready for people yet. We had piles of peanut shells under the seats from last year. We were all really dirty after sitting in the seats. We needed to send my two younger ones through a carwash by the end of the day. The mens restroom underneath us had no lights on, I mean nothing. The two or three times my 3 year old son and I had to use the facilities, we were in pitch dark wondering if we were peeing on the floor. We had to stand there for a couple of seconds for our eyes to adjust. The access tunnel underneath the main straight was dark as well. I am normally not a complainer with this kind of stuff and I normally would not even mention it especially at a place as huge as IMS but what really ticks me off is how when you enter the main gate under the south chute you never know what you are going to be allowed to do. Sometimes they let you access the infield sometimes they don’t and a lot of times they don’t seem to know. One year I was sent away and re-entered at turn 1 only to find out there was plenty of room left to park in the infield. Finally, this is what really ticks me off is it is 2015 and they do not take debit cards at the gate on the south end of the track. Why can’t they sell tickets inside at or near the security booth once you come out of the south tunnel? Especially during a test day?! That way traffic will not back up onto 16th. The other thing is the people that work the entrance. They often times do not seem to know what is going on. I am a stickler on customer service and the people that sit at the gate, more specifically this time, the people guiding the parking could use a quick refresher course on congeniality. The guys parking in the infield were downright impatient, non communicative and rude. One guy prided himself that he has been doing this for 9 years. Still a work in progress I guess. Sometimes I wonder if these people were just hired right off the street at the last minute. “Hey, want to make $10/hr? Here is a uniform, put it on and go park cars”. I wonder if some of them are even sober. The couple that parked right next to us vocally expressed their opinions on this as well so I know it was not just me.

    Other than that it is was a great day. The yellow shirts in our section were more than friendly and presented them selves as if they genuinely wanted to be there.

    One thing I did notice with the cars, and I am weird like this: the Honda’s are louder than the Chevy’s. Down the main straight with the echo effect of the grandstands the Honda ‘s have more of a bark to them while the Chevy’s are quieter. This means nothing. It is just a pointless observation. Overall though they are louder and sound really good. The video boards look great and are a great improvement. The scoring pylon looks awesome. I noticed they brought in some temporary cell towers to better accommodate all the cell phones as well. The new roundabout seemed benign- it will be interesting to see how people will like it on race day.

    George I enjoyed reading your memories of IMS. I too was totally disengaged after the split. I went in 2000 when Montoya crushed the field and briefly battled with a personal friend from childhood of my family Buddy Lazier but other than that those were really forgettable years.

    • Patrick Says:

      I completely agree that you never know from one day to the next what the procedure will be. I don’t understand why there were cars on the track at 9:30 but they didn’t open the gates til 9:30. Then I had a 15 minute walk from turn 3 to the pit area. My main complaint is they have most of the seats north of the pagoda roped off. My favorite driver is Simona and I was not allowed to sit behind her pit. I had to sit in an area where I could barely see what her team was doing. A few years ago I complained long and loud about this but it obviously did no good. I even got Robin Miller and Randy Benard involved but, even though they agreed with me, there was nothing they could do. Other than that I had a great time yesterday.

      • Patrick Says:

        A little more about the closed stands. I think Pippa Mann’s car was the last one on the north end. I know George is friendly with Pippa so if he and Susan wanted to sit down for awhile and watch her work with the team, they would not have been able to. Same thing with AJ Foyt’s cars. I stood at the fence behind Simona’s pit for awhile but that was pointless. Years ago you could stand behind a driver’s pit and almost feel like part of the team. Now all you can see is a stack of tires and a huge pit box with curtains all around it. In other words you can’t see anything. I have a bronze badge but if I can’t sit down and watch my favorite driver in the pits from a decent viewpoint it kind of defeats my purpose of being there. I guess the Speedway is too cheap to spend a couple hours sweeping the stands at night. But yet they pay yellow shirts to patrol the area and chase people away. I just don’t understand it. Maybe I will write Doug Boles a letter but that would probably be another waste of time.

        • It may not change anything, but I’ll promise you’ll get a response. Doug Boles is like Randy Bernard. He listens to fans and is very accessible. Remember, he is a racing fan first and a businessman second. He is a fan’s best ally these days. – GP

          • Patrick Says:

            I’m sure Doug is too busy right now to worry about my complaints but when May is over I just might take your advice. In 2012 Robin Miller was unaware of the seating situation until I brought it to his attention and he could barely believe it. He investigated and got stonewalled. Randy Benard agreed with me that it is ridiculous to keep fans away from their favorite drivers but he had no say so at IMS and was soon shown the door anyway. They spend a fortune on video boards but continuously fail, as Tonelok points out, at small and simple customer service. It’s pretty frustrating to someone like myself who’s been going to the track for over 50 years. Thank you, George, for your heartfelt memories on Friday of what the Speedway means to you. I know exactly how you feel.

  5. I admire your ardor for IMS, George. If IndyCar had 100,000 fans just like you they’d rule the world.

  6. Ron Ford Says:

    Hearing the sound of the cars reverberating off the grandstands once again was a wonderful thing. That never gets old. I turned my speakers on full loud which caused my dog to head for the bedroom. He will never be mistaken for Enzo.

    I feel that entry for a test day should be free. Since it was not, there is no excuse for the lack of attention to detail as reported above by Tonelok. Why there should be any problems with rest rooms as we approach the 99th running is beyond me. I still have nightmares about the barnyard quality of what passed for rest rooms back in the day.

    Good to see Simona in the top ten.

  7. JohnMc Says:

    Great report George. While keeping up online I started to think about what we will see in two weeks for speed. I am thinking more like you with 232. My guess is that Chevrolet will dominate, however the Honda kit did seem impressive.

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Always great to see the cars on track. I like how the little gull winglets on the back of the Honda make it easy to tell apart from the Chevrolet when looking at the cars straight on.

    Robert Graham shows up once again with a paint scheme I am not sure if I like or hate…

  9. Trying to follow the streaming yesterday was an adventure. I have a Windows PC, an iPad and an Android phone. Streaming didn’t work at all on the PC during the first session, the iPad displayed a message that streaming was not available on that device, so only the screen on my phone was available for me.
    I missed almost of the second segmentbecause the video was only intermittent at best, low quality most of the time it worked, and not available at all times on any of my devices.
    For the main session, it was better, but often very low quality image on my iPad and on that device the video seemed to be about 30 minutes behind the feed on my PC.
    So, George, my electronic experience led me to the same conclusion as you offered – the folks at IMS just weren’t really ready to get going yet.

  10. The Chevy kit looks fantastic. The dorsal fin on the Honda, which I normally like, looks strange with such a low rear wing. After just a tease, now back to road kits.

  11. SkipinSC Says:

    My sentiments about the streaming are similar to Mark Wick’s: In my case, my pc was the most reliable device, my tablet had almost no stream, and I didn’t even try my Verizon phone. Even the pc which was the best of the bunch was spotty at best.

    The restroom issue is certainly one of which IMS should be well aware, as MANY of us have complained for a long time. It would seem logical that if you are going to open a section of stands for the general public, the accompanying facilities should be prepared.

  12. Jim Gray Says:

    I find myself wanting to argue, but you’re dead perfect on every point. It really looked like they didn’t expect anyone to show up. The small things I want to add to the list are poles/fencing along the front straight looked in need of paint, the signage above the suites is horrid, not enough trashcans, all just normal stuff but things you don’t normally see on opening day. Yellow shirts at gates not knowing anything is always guaranteed and you’d think someone would make a point of driving home to them what is going on each day. Blah, blah, blah it is all just whining about the small things because eventually you get in the track, find a seat, and see cars on track. I know some will argue that it is the small things that make the day, I say get parking down first, let us in the track, have clean(ish) restrooms and everything else is bonus.

  13. You two are amazing!! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Do I get points for setting up the DVR for next weekend. LOL

  14. I wandered about and specifically came in on 30th st. I was shunted off to the turn 3 area and could not walk down the F1 course on Hulman Blvd because it is….CLOSED OFF. So, for Saturday, I look forward to crushing my pedometer and getting in a weeks worth of walking at one race. The place looked like a total work in progress and I am glad I have a bronze badge so all of my visits are pre-paid. I would have struggled to pay 15 bucks to have a frie4nd join me. Yhe cars are delightful and I tried to distinguish between the Honda and Chevy while at speed (an old spotters nemesis). I found that to be a bit difficult.

    I would love to be on bloggers row but I believe I do not have enough following to get even a sniff of a hard card…….

    Keep up the good work George! You continue the passion that fuels us all.

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