Friday, May 22, 2015

Excitement and Apprehension

Sunday is the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I made it to the 500 for the first time last year, and I'd hoped to attend this year, but didn't manage it. So I'm eagerly awaiting the race on Sunday, planning to be in front of my TV for every bit of action and to have Twitter open to chat with the friends I'd otherwise see at the track.

I'm obviously excited about the race—particularly about seeing Pippa Mann driving the pink Susan G. Komen car around, carrying a friend's name in the cockpit.

But I'm also apprehensive. This is one of the fastest races in the world, with cars consistently averaging in the high 220 m.p.h. a lap and touching 230 sometimes on the straights.

Which makes it exciting. And dangerous.

There are new aerodynamic kits on the cars this year, which probably contributed to three of them going airborne last week in practice. Cars flying = not what's intended.

Driving that fast with other cars around you means sometimes you can't recover when things go wrong, as Pippa found out last week when she spun trying to avoid someone.

And when parts break, as they occasionally do, sometimes there's a lot of damage. On Monday, the quick action of the safety crew seems to have saved James Hinchcliffe's life when a suspension piece on his car broke and sent him into the wall. The impact apparently measured 125 Gs.

It's astonishing anyone can recover from an impact that big, so kudos to all the safety workers, safety engineers, helmet makers, soft-barrier makers, and so on. And that gives a viewer (and more than one driver's family member, I'm sure) more confidence headed into the biggest race on the calendar for many.

But so much can go wrong, that while I'm excited, I'm also apprehensive in a way that I'm not when I watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for instance (coming up in three weeks!). I know this is the safest era of racing. One statistic tossed around on social media was as many as 25 practice crashes during one year in the late '80s. Compared to five this year.

But it's still a dangerous, dangerous sport. So I'll be watching closely on Sunday. But I'll also be crossing my fingers that nothing goes really wrong.

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