2016 Indy 500 Turn 3 Diary
As we roll out into the darkness, the family is restive¹. There are murmurs of discontent from the younger element about arising at 4:00 AM. My explanation about heeding IMS president J. Douglas Boles warnings about traffic and long lines at the gates fall on increasingly militant ears regarding my tenure as high potentate of our annual pilgrimage. I will keep an eye on the more vocal of the group. My anxiety increases as we are already 10 minutes behind the scheduled time of departure.
We arrive at our first rendezvous in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood of Indianapolis. After the perfunctory comfort stops, we pose for pre-dawn pictures. I stay in the shadows, worried once again about lines, parking, and recalcitrant Yellow Shirts waiting at IMS. Our caravan grows to three vehicles, again increasing my anxiety as images of stop lights and blissfully unaware family members causes digestive discomfort.
We arrive on 30th Street via Moller Road and move briskly past the Coke Lot towards our parking in the North 40. Parking tagless drivers are denied entry to the Coke Lot, resulting in hooting and jeering from the line of cars waiting to park. Schadenfreude is strong in a race day crowd. Better you than us, bub. The traffic stops. We wait moodily.
We enter the North 40 parking lot, our lead car deftly maneuvering past a slow line and cutting in at the gate, both perplexing and irritating a yellow shirted whistle blower standing guard. Score one for the proletariat. We arrive at our parking spot.
The mood darkens. It seems that the celery salt for early morning Bloody Marys has been left behind. Like true pioneers, we persevere.
Breakfast, camaraderie, lies, and insults follow in succession. A small contingent breaks from the alcohol induced early morning lethargy and enters the track for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. I go along, acting as our all-knowing leader. I imagine myself as Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans and mention this to the group. My nephew says, “Last of the pains in the asses, more like it.” I take it as a compliment.
I enter the NE Vista alone as my “family” eats tenderloins and ascend to Row NN Seat 1 in Section 27. This is always a soothing moment. I watch the parade of dignitaries and was truly impressed by the 33 museum cars that rolled by in review. I imagined what the track looked like when it was full of those cars. Pretty cool.
One issue with the NE Vista is the disconnect with the action on the main straight. While most fans see what is getting ready to happen, we mostly guess. The upgrade in the sound system was noticed and appreciated. The absence of the Florence Henderson’s warble was much appreciated. Darrius Rucker’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was completely acceptable and the fast movers in the flyover were on point. “Back Home Again in Indiana” by Josh Kaufman and The Indianapolis Children’s Choir was as good as Jim Nabor’s ever was. There, I said it. Let that Indiana boy do it forever. The Hulman family’s multi-generational “Start your engines!” command was a nice touch, covering up an increasingly awkward moment. And balloons!
As expected, the Hondas were wicked fast and passing was nonstop. If we have to have spec racing, this is the spec racing to have. A radio or scanner was needed to help keep the leaders straight. The beautiful video screen is wonderful, as long as the information presented there is big enough to be seen. It’s not. The scroll at the top of the screen is impossible to see without binoculars. Either increase the size of the scroll or find a new style. This was very frustrating to everyone in our section without exception. I suggest the leadership sit in my seat and try to see the screen. If they do, they will make changes. The win by a fuel-saving Alexander Rossi was met by a collective shrug of the shoulders, not because he was a rookie without IndyCar pedigree, but because his ascension to the top spot caught everyone by surprise, announcers and fans alike. I memory serves, fan favorite Dario Franchitti won in similar fashion. This was expert strategy, plain and simple. If an earlier pit road incident had not taken out Andretti Autosport teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Townsend Bell, things may have been different. Rossi is an American driver in an American series who won the crown jewel as a rookie. That’s a good story. He never put a wheel wrong all month. An 82 year old Florence Henderson, denied an opportunity to sing, found her way into Victory Lane to kiss the winner. This is a rather dubious new tradition, but I can guarantee no other race has it.
It seems the denizens of the NE Vista were remembered by their overlords this year. Food tents and trucks were everywhere. Potent potables were all around, including a very tasty Fuzzy’s lemonade. It felt good to be part of the race again. Of course, the NE Vista was denied its opportunity to toast the winner with commemorative plastic bottles of milk. So we cheered, milkless, but not altogether bereft like past races. The Yellow Shirts were not in evidence as much as in the past. In fact, there were very few along the walkway in the Vista, which allowed a veritable throng to stand next to the fence and revel in the speed, noise, and proximity of the cars. Our exit down the back stairs, closed for the duration of the race, was fine until we stumbled across the carcasses of quite possibly two or three pigeons that were left on the landings of the stairs by a nameless predator. Ugh.
5:23 Post Race
I once again lost the race pool to a mocking relative. After food and more alcohol induced frivolity, we packed up our empty coolers and our sunburns and headed home. Many kudos to the soul who somehow managed to part the cable that kept the inhabitants of the North 40 from cutting unassisted onto Hulman Boulevard. It saved us at least an hour in line. Muchos gracias, my unknown hermano borracho.
Arrived home, spent but happy, and settled onto the back porch to begin planning next year’s foray. Maybe an earlier start is in order.
¹ restive – unable to keep still or silent and becoming increasingly difficult to control, especially because of impatience, dissatisfaction, or boredom.
An absolutely accurate account of the Wilkinson family race day activities. I am living this race weekend vicariously, and I can close me eyes and see with perfect clarity everything in the post. And I also made a pungent comment when I saw Florence Henderson in Victory Lane. Great job on this edition, Mark, and great job of wrangling the obstreperous Wilkinson clan once again.
Nicely said Mark. Family traditions are wonderful. Ours too used to be turn 3 (old Grandstand L) from the mid 60’s to the early 2000’s when the “split” made the annual trek just too painful. So we now have a new family tradition of togetherness at the cottage, pointing the antenna toward Cincinnati and eating roasted hog while we all together watch The Greatest Spectacle in Racing!!
I enjoy hearing of your day and your traditions as they pertain to the race. Traditions are great. Family traditions are priceless! Let both families keep it up!
I applaud you on your mostly-accurate rendition of the race activities and antics. We all had a great time and we are mostly-appreciative of your wrestling us out of our pre-dawn sleep throes. Looking forward to next year.
I enjoyed this very much as I share your experience by wearing the ‘captain’s armband’ of our group. Empathetic with your tenuous tipping point of no return at 6:56am, I’m glad a steady hand and cooler heads prevailed.
My trip into the Speedway has similar physical and emotional challenges, but chief among them is the subjective, and calculated disregard for some forms of traffic control devices that only comes through the blindest of luck or through decades of hard-earned experience.
On that day, it shall always be the mark of a great Captain.
Thank you for sharing. Reading the 500 experiences of others, like this, inspired me to keep a journal of my trip to Indy this year. It is not nearly as interesting as your account, though, except maybe the parts where I complain about all the highway construction in Illinois.