Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Epic Indy 500: Race Day

I got up stupid early. Let's just get that out of the way. Stupid. Early.

Still, I succeeded in my two goals: avoid traffic and crowds trying to enter the track and feel the racetrack come to life. Here's dawn breaking behind the pagoda as I entered.

My first stop was coffee, and after that, I headed for pit lane and the front straight. As the sun rose over the stands and the campfire haze drifted away, I wandered from one end of pit lane to the other, and out onto the racing surface. Teams cruised around at an unhurried but deliberate pace, hauling scores of tires out to their pit spaces. And local news shows competed for the best location for a standup shot.

Here I was standing at the first position on the grid, looking back up the track toward Turn 4.

I got another look at the Borg-Warner trophy, being maneuvered into view for media. I also saw Pippa doing a quick interview for a local news show, and learned from her PR person that they'd just arrived (around 8 a.m.), having gotten a police escort from Pippa's home to the track. 

That was something I couldn't get over: the ubiquity of police escorts going on during race weekend. Teams, drivers, special shuttles any fan can pay for, and who knows who else, all got police escorts through and past backed-up traffic, straight to the track. I'm used to that happening only for the President.

I spent a long time loitering in pit lane, simply because I could. But then it was time for the Indy Fans Tweet Up, where I met at least a dozen people I "know" from Twitter face-to-face and became new friends and social-media pals with a dozen more. Here are all my new friends (photo by Doug Patterson of OpenPaddock.net).

My last adventure inside the racetrack was going out to the grid to see the cars lined up. I ran around with a new buddy and fellow member of the #CrazyHairColorClub, and we took photos of cars, crowds, and each other. Here's Pippa's car on the grid, and a sense of the chaos around it.

Also, one of my favorites from the weekend: me and the bricks, about an hour pre-race. (Honestly, it was hard to find a space on the bricks that clear, since at least half of the people out on the grid had the same idea.)

And then all of a sudden, it was time to clear the grid, and I had to hustle (through the gridlocked crowds on the other side of the track—really, it's a good thing I'm not claustrophobic) to make it to my seat in the Southwest Vista, looking at Turns 1 and 2. But I made it there in time to hear Martina McBride sing America the Beautiful, Florence Henderson sing God Bless America, LeAnn Rimes sing the national anthem, and—most poignantly—Jim Nabors sing Back Home in Indiana, for the final time. (There's me in my seat, the yellow/purple star!)

Then, finally, after all that buildup, the green flag! Greg had a shared scanner for us, set to the radio broadcast and Pippa's transmissions, so we really had an inside perspective. And it all went by in a blur, really. When it was over, we slipped out of the stands, walked 100 yards to the shuttle pickup, and I got back to my hotel in half an hour. Still reeling from everything I'd experienced.

It's going to take a long time to decide how to use what I've seen, and it'll take a couple more trips to feel like I know enough to write about it. But there's time. I'm familiar with the place, the race, and the feeling now, and that's what's important.

Thanks to everyone for making me feel so welcome and involved! (And thanks again to Greg of Glass Hammer Racing for the guidance and this photo, taken mid-race.)


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