Wednesday, June 1, 2016

My Indy 500 Adventure

I still can't believe everything I got to do in the past week that I spent in Indianapolis. It was a dream trip, and I came home with exactly the kind of insider understanding I need to have to write a book about Kate Reilly tackling the Indy 500. I won't claim to have all the details yet, but I have the general idea!

Here are the highlights, with more details and photos below:

  • Book events: speaking at one high school, two libraries, and one bookstore
  • Talking books with racing driver Pippa Mann (right, at one of the libraries)
  • A hot lap around the speedway (up to 120 mph)
  • Walking the track's front straight and pit lane before dawn on race day
  • Working for ESPN in the pits during the race
  • Seeing friends and eating outstanding gluten free waffles and pizza
Book Events
I made lots of new racing friends and met quite a few readers also. And it turns out, when you invite a racing driver to a book talk—especially when it's a local favorite and the only woman in the field—you increase your typical audience by tenfold. 

Lucky for me, Pippa Mann is a self-proclaimed "book nerd," and was happy to come talk to the audience about helping me with the details of my book. She also told everyone about her Get Involved campaign to raise money for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and the pink car that she drove in the race (to an outstanding 18th place finish!).

A Hot Lap Around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
The track is big. BIG. Two and a half miles, which only take about 40 seconds during the race, but which took at least a minute in a street car. Yes, it was over too soon, but with the street car in the hands of a professional racing driver, I got a sense of the racing line.

Other funny note: I knew our driver, Martin Plowman (aka, Plowey), and as a result, he spent most of the lap skootched sideways to look at me, with only one hand on the wheel, and barely looking at the track. As he hit 120 on the straights. But hey, he's a pro, that was a Sunday drive for him!

Pre-Dawn on Race Day
We got there early with friends who are part of the media. And as my friend Tony DiZinno put it, "Ironically, it’s the quiet moments of peace and reflection – more than the noise of 33 cars and 350,000 of your closest, screaming friends – that make you appreciate this place most. You feel the soul of the place most on race morning, early, pre-5 a.m., out on the course before the gates open to the public and you walk on the pavement, a track where so much history has been written."

We were out there at 4:30 a.m. on race day, and it is definitely a magic time, to think of some much to come that day, and so much that's come before. My favorite part of every race weekend is being there in the days and hours before the race, feeling the adrenaline and tension ramp up, seeing the crowds appear, and it was more true at Indy this year with the size of the crowd and the epic nature of the race than ever before. (It even made up for getting up the night before to get there!)

The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500
I was in the pits, on official ESPN business (full ESPN team at top, pit reporting team below). I had a radio in each ear and a clipboard and pen in my hands. I tried to keep up with when 10 different cars stopped and what adjustments they made...although, thankfully, since I was covering the last 10 starters in the field, when I missed most of that information for most cars, it wasn't a big deal. I started to learn when to pay attention, and I sent at least one piece of useful information to the folks doing the actual broadcast. 

Mostly, I had fun. I saw in detail what happened throughout the race, and I gained a better understanding of the flow and changes that happen during the 500. I also had 10 teams' radio transmissions in one ear, so I got about as good a sense of what drivers and teams are saying and dealing with during a race as possible. 

The whole week, two thoughts kept running through my mind:
  1. I can't believe I get to do this.
  2. I hope I can write something worthy of these experiences.
I owe a massive thank you to a few people in particular: Steve and Liz, Tony, Patsy, Patti, Pippa, Meesh, Carolyn, and Jon. You all rock! I'm going to go away and write for three months, but after that...see you at Sonoma?!


  1. What a great experience to have--never mind research! Looking forward to seeing how you work it into the next book

  2. As a life-long resident of Indianapolis and a life-long fan of the Speedway, I'm thrilled you enjoyed your week in my hometown. IMS is the home to SO many stories, and I'm looking forward to reading yours!

  3. I just finished reading Red Flags - really enjoyed this book. Can't wait til the next one.


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