Exclusive INDYCAR Nation News

Indy Observations: What are yours?

by
Chris Estrada
| May 31, 2011

 

Some of my personal observations from the latest Race Day in Indianapolis:

The night before the Indy 500 is prime time for partying, especially outside the gates of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While I crawled up Georgetown Road in early pre-race traffic, it was clear that a very good time was had. The sidewalks on both side of Georgetown didn’t look like they were made of concrete, but of aluminum, glass, and burger wrappers. There were maintenance workers all over the place, raking and sweeping away the trash. But even so, it seemed like they were fighting a losing battle. 

--

I always enjoy my walk in the IMS infield as the sun rises and its rays reflect off the Pagoda. As I reached Gasoline Alley, I got the sense that I was about to see something truly special. I reckon those feelings will never get old for me.

--

The Indianapolis 500 has always had a strong relationship with the troops that defend our country, with the annual pre-race walk of the soldiers down pit lane being the most public element. But a few hours before the race, a large contingent of servicemen and women walked through Pagoda Plaza to the claps and cheers of an appreciative crowd. These brave souls are the reason why we have the freedom to enjoy events such as the 500, and regardless of our beliefs, they deserve our gratitude and respect.

--

I’m reasonably sure I would be freaking out if I was at the top of a giant ramp like Tanner Faust at the beginning of the Hot Wheels: Fearless at the 500 stunt. I was in the big crowd at Pagoda Plaza watching the stunt on the video boards, but even so, it looked like a terrifying drop just to get to the bottom portion of the stunt track. However, Faust is a different breed amongst humans -- and now, he’s a world record-holder after he and his truck jumped 332 feet. Respect.

--

Spotted in the crowd amongst the front stretch were three men holding up a sign that proclaimed a personal lubricant brand as the proud sponsor of Bruno Junqueira. If you know the story behind that joke, then there’s nothing more to be said.

--

The crowd seemed to be visibly much better than it was at last year’s 500, especially down the frontstretch and in Turns 3 and 4. There was still a bit of aluminum showing around Turn 2, but attendance still had to please Jeff Belskus and the Speedway, as well as INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard. All in all, it looked to be a sign that the 500 is continuing to regain status in these post-split years.

--

To spend the first laps of the Indianapolis 500 indoors seems like blasphemy to me. After the command by Mari Hulman George, the engines fire up with a chest-thumping power that you can feel from way up high. This becomes amplified at the start, which is a complete attack on all of your senses. As the 33 cars whiz by to take the green flag, your eyes and ears are immersed in colors and sounds. It leaves you exhilarated and excited for the next 500 miles.

--

Just as Dan Wheldon and J.R. Hildebrand will never forget this race for what they went through, I will never forget the reaction of shock and disbelief in the media center when Hildebrand crashed in turn 4 while leading the final lap. I was standing along the glass windows, expecting to see the No. 4 car zooming to victory when a loud roar came up from right behind me. I looked to the TV above, saw Hildebrand’s mangled car and was stunned speechless while Wheldon raced by to claim his second 500.

It truly was a dumbfounding result. As I took my seat in the Economaki Press Conference Room, I spotted a fellow blogger and sat down next to him. We didn’t know what to say for a few moments. Did we really just see that?

--

Hildebrand came in first to face the media. Had I been in his shoes, I’d rather just toss myself off the Pagoda than have to explain the mistake that lost me a place in Indy 500 legend. But the Californian managed to maintain phenomenal composure and that should tell you a lot about his character.

When JR left, my blogger friend uttered that there was no way he’d be that poised in those circumstances. I concurred. I truly hope that he’ll have a chance for redemption next year.

--

After Graham Rahal came in to talk about his solid third-place effort, a long waiting period ensued before Wheldon, team owner Bryan Herta and race strategist Steve Newey came into the room. Whereas Hildebrand was cool in the face of defeat, Wheldon was giddy and gregarious in victory. Up to last season, he had been part of the IZOD IndyCar Series’ nucleus. But with a one-off program, he showed everyone on Sunday he was still one of the best drivers in the game.

--

The drive out of the Speedway is always a little melancholy for me. After chatting with a relative about the day’s events, I stood in the infield next to Hulman Boulevard for a while and took everything in. Once again, this place came to glorious life. And now...it was asleep again.

After those moments of reflection, I got in the car and headed under the tunnels to get back on 16th Street. As I went by the grandstands, I let out a sigh. “Until we meet again, old friend,” I said as I went back home, the Speedway growing smaller and smaller in my rear view until it was completely gone.

2 Comments

  1. 1 Kiona 05 Nov
    I told my kids we'd play after I found what I neeedd. Damnit.
  2. 2 Sam Steadman 03 Jun
    This was my 32nd Indy 500. My first was in 1962 when I was a member of a marching band invited to the race and parade. All I could see from my vantage point under a tree on the backstretch was about 300 feet out of turn 2, but that was all it took to hook me. This year my wife and I sat in turn 2, my favorite spot, and saw an incredible race. I come from California to see the 500, and will continue to do so until I retire and move back to Ohio. I just can't imagine a year without the 500 on my schedule. It is truly THE best sporting event in the entire world.

You are not allowed to post comments.