How did the Indianapolis 500 start for a citizen journalist (read: blogger)? I was up at 4:30 AM wrangling a household of relatives that included two from Greece, two from Virginia, and one from North Carolina. Add to the mix my own young adult son and daughter plus a family friend. I screamed, threatened, and cajoled until showers were taken, coolers were iced, and the van was packed so we could leave at 6:00 AM. Drove 20 miles to rendezvous with friends only to find that I had forgotten the new North 40 parking pass that I purchased for them. After formulating a new plan that required a split-second connection with my wife to get the parking pass, we left for the track. It was 7:00 AM. The difference between a real journalist and me is that I don’t relinquish being a fan to pretend to have objectivity. I am a fan of the Indianapolis 500 first and foremost. I saw the race live from our seats high in the Northeast Vista (Turn 3) and watched the replay on Memorial Day. Here are my Ten Worthless Opinions: Indianapolis 500 Race Fan Edition.
1. Hint to the brain trust at IMS: If you plan to search every bag and cooler coming in the gates, it might be a good idea to add lines and employees to facilitate it. I have absolutely no problem with security requiring these searches. Safety first is always the correct mantra when dealing with large crowds today. If IMS plans to make the fan experience the primary focus, then be aware that about 200,000 of your fans park outside the track. The weather might have been part of why it was a late arriving crowd, but having security lines rivaling airport TSA at its worst just might have slowed down the fans, too.
2. The fabled Yellow Shirts sure seemed to be spread much more thinly in the hinterland of the Northeast Vista, and they did not seem to have the zest for their jobs as the old-timers did. Many staircases were closed and security was not as evident as in the past. Cost cutting? New guidelines? The facility sure seemed to be much more bare-bones than usual. When poachers took seats for which I paid, I could find no one nearby to settle the dispute. Tension prevailed. This did not enhance my experience. Also, there were fewer concession stands open, and the ones that were seemed to have fewer offerings. I hope all that money from the state of Indiana will upgrade more than lights and video boards. The facility needs more than just cosmetic changes. The fan experience is not what is was.
3. Plenty of greatness ensued, too! The pre-race flyover of the B-25 was aces. Archbishop Joseph Tobin went a little long on the prayer, though. After asking for God to bless the Indiana Pacers, I would not have been surprised if he said the prayer was brought to us by Verizon and IZOD. He may want to dial it back a little next year. Or just go ahead and sell commercial time. Both work for me. Also, Jim Nabors can still bring it. Kudos.
4. According to the gossips at the Indy Star, Randy Bernard was a special guest of Josie George, who is on the Hulman & Co. board of directors. I LOVE politics. I assume this is to be continued.
5. Tony Kanaan! What a popular winner. All my thousands of new friends in Turn 3 agreed that he was most deserving. Regular fans were crying in the stands. It was very Lloyd Ruby-esque in that he is such a popular person and not just a great driver. The story of his receiving the good luck necklace back from a girl he gave it to years ago was made-for-TV drama. All hail TK!
Additionally, the NE Vista denizens gave a rousing Bronx cheer for Dario Franchitti when he was introduced. While some may find him a little whiny, he has been nothing but a gracious 500 champion. The NE Vista crowd is a surly lot.
6. Kanaan’s win also brought up the ugly specter of IndyCar adding the reviled green-white-checkered finish to spice up the ending to attract more NASCAR fans. Why else would they do it? The casual IndyCar fan is not aware of GWC, and the majority of hard-core IndyCar fans do not want it. The ONLY reason to do it is to attract the tin-top crowd since they are habituated to end-of-race carnage and bad behavior. Don’t do it, IndyCar.
7. Yes, IndyCar has spec racing. Yes, IndyCar’s all look alike. Yes, we need aero kits to separate and identify the cars. With that said, how can anyone who watched the race complain about the racing? For the first time in my four decades of watching the race live, I did not want to leave my seat for anything. There were 68 lead changes, breaking last year’s record of 34. As a fan, you had to watch the cars come by you every single time or you missed a pass for the lead. If ABC/ESPN and NBC Sports cannot find a way to promote this type of racing, then it’s on them. There is no need to put lipstick on this pig. Wow!
8. One or two popular journalists decry that IndyCar has (gasp) pack racing, and it will surely lead to the end of auto racing and Western civilization. I agree that the racing is awfully close, but the danger of pack racing with the old Dallara chassis lay in the fact that cars could not pass each other. The new DW12, while not creating separation, not only allows passing but almost requires it. Artificial it may be, but exciting it is.
9. IMS is certainly looking to the future. My tickets cost $80 and remain the same price for next year. A section or two over the price increased from $85 to $100. If you raise the price, the expectation of the level of service rises, too. It will be interesting to see how the new bosses of IMS make this happen. The ball, as well as the money, is in their court.
10. Even though I watched live at the Speedway, I feel obligated to comment on the ABC/ESPN coverage. The pre-race storylines, particularly the Tony Kanaan and Helio Castroneves segment, were prescient. Lindsay Czarniak is quite the upgrade, too. She may have been a little too reverent for my taste, but she gets auto racing and its personalities. The camera work around the track and the super slow motion shots are beyond cool. Now, I am sure that the trio of Marty Reid, Scott Goodyear, and Eddie Cheever are wonderful people. They are probably active in their communities and coach their children’s youth league teams. But their somnolent tones and torpid delivery make you forget that the race is so freaking exciting. Can they take some classes? Wake up! Make me sit on the edge of my seat. Make the race so exciting that I have to tune in, not next year, but next week.
The post-race celebration and libations with friends and family capped off another fabulous month of May. I am reminded of the liner notes from Jimmy Buffett’s Son of a Son of a Sailor. He used a quote from Robert Wilder’s Wind From the Carolinas that sums of my month of May every year:
“There had been a time when the settlement had made a profitable living from the wreckage of ships, either through the changing of lights or connivance with an unscrupulous captain…
There would be a time of riotous living with most of the community drunk and wandering about in an aimless daze until the purchased rum was gone. After that the residents sat moodily in the sun and waited for something to happen.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go sit moodily in the sun until next May.