“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”Ernest Hemingway
The Indianapolis 500 mile race is a Memorial Day Tradition going back over 100 years. The most exciting race in motorsports that typically boasts a crowd of over 350,000 people annually into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This was the third one I’ve been in attendance for and have vowed to not a miss another one for the foreseeable future. This is far and away the most incredible event to be at live if you’re a sports fan. Point blank. Period.
Luckily, for me, I grew up with one of the best up-and-coming drivers in the series and have access that most people don’t, however, even as a casual fan, getting access to the drivers and garages is not difficult. One of the things that the IndyCar series prides themselves on is being fan friendly so if you’re going to do it, it’s not hard to do it right and make the most out of the weekend.
I arrived in Indy late Wednesday night to get ready for the festivities. Thursday was a leisure day for all of us to get ready for the long weekend ahead. Friday, however, was another story. Carb Day.
Carb Day is the last practice before the race. Traditionally, it was a day for teams to tune their carburetors to be ready for race conditions on Sunday, though todays cars no longer have them. Carb Day Practice kicked off at 11 AM and we got to the track at about 10:50. Headed down to Pit Lane just in time for practice to start. We watched from behind our boy Spencer Pigot’s pit box in between him and the bossman, Ed Carpenter. Respectively, Ed and Spencer qualified 2nd and 3rd. There’s nothing like feeling an IndyCar go by from pit lane. The speed and horsepower that they carry down the front stretch is something to behold. When you’re only 20-30 feet from the track, you feel every vibration that the engine emits. Carb day practice ended with all the cars and teams working on different things, but to get the first feel of racing of the weekend is an awesome feeling.
After walking around the track and getting a few of the famous IMS spiked lemonades, we went to watch our friend, local Indy country star, Clayton Anderson,(You can check out his newest hit single “Run Wild” https://open.spotify.com/track/0yficttR8azHFXRhMkCA4r.) to kick off the Indy Freedom 100 IndyLights race. Another great part of the weekend is that other than the race itself, you can sit anywhere for any of the festivities, so we decided to go check out this race from the start/finish line. Indy Lights is like AAA baseball for IndyCar. It’s the feeder system and if you do well in Lights and can bring a some money to the table, you can secure a ride in the big dance. Spencer Pigot is the most winningest driver from Indy Lights so this has been a race we alway like to catch no matter what. It came down to a photo finish where Andretti Autosports Colton Herta pulled out on the back stretch to pull ahead of Ryan Normal to win by 0.0067 seconds, the fourth closest finish in IMS history.
When the Lights race ended, our day at IMS ended shortly after that as well and we went back to the house to get ready for a night on the town. We met up with our friend Deepu who took us to every empty bar in Downtown Indianapolis until he disappeared on us leaving us to our own vices. So we walked down the block, took a right, and then there it was. The Tin Roof bar. Last year, when the lines were long, our buddy Chuck (who was the runner up in Josef Newgardens Ping Pong Tournament knocking out Andrew Luck) would pretend to be Jordan King because he kinda looks like him. Well, he looks like the version of him who would go party until 3AM. The bouncer at Tin Roof wasn’t a racing fan so the shtick ended up costing us $40 to skip the line. The buffoon then comes back at us looking for a cigarette, to which I replied, “Sure, for $40.” Not happy, he left. We left no too far afterwards.
The Saturday before the race is the parade. We hit downtown, ran into our old math teacher, got a little buzzed with him while waiting for Spencer to come through the parade (which is pretty much just like every other parade ever), finished off our beers and had to rush back to the track. This was the day we were most excited for besides race day, Legends Day. Legends Day is when IndyCar legends have their own race down at the track, a much slower and less technologically advanced race than the 500. It’s fun for fans and the legends alike to see guys like Mario Andretti behind the wheel again, but we were there for the concert. Clayton(the same Clayton from earlier) was set to open up for Zac Brown Band and boy did he put on a show. Halfway through the set the sky opened up and it started down pouring on is making the whole event that much better. Clayton absolutely shut the place down before Carly Pearce took the stage and while Carly is talented, compared to Clayton and ZBB she didn’t have much of a stage presence.
ZBB then came on and played a sick hour and a half set. All their hits plus some others including Bohemian Rhapsody which caught me by surprise. Of course, ending the night off with Chicken Fried and some paratroopers flying down an American flag, it started to feel like Memorial Day. Up next, the big one.
We all woke up Sunday morning antsy to just get over to the track. We had a police escort set up at the Stutz Building in Downtown that might just be the coolest office space you could have if you were looking to lease out some space. The first floor was lined with vintage cars including a vintage Lamborghini like the one seen in The Wolf of Wall Street, a vintage firetruck and my personal favorite, a Willy’s Jeepster. The escort arrived right after 10AM to take us to the track. We got entered IMS around 10:45AM and parked over in the drivers motorhomes section waiting for the race. After a little drinking we headed out to the grid to meet our friends at Spencers #21 Autogeek Chevy on the front row, mingled for a while, tried to find Matt Damon with no luck but did get to see Mike Tirico do his thing up close. At 11:30 we headed to the garage to walk Spencer out, went back to the motorhome for a few more drinks, then hit out seats for the race and boy what a race it was.
We were sat directly across from Jordan Kings pit box on the main straight so with all of the action that happened in the pits, we got to see it all in real time. Marcus Ericsson was a victim of the pit wall late in the race, Jordan King ran over a tire that shattered one of his crew members leg, Ben Hanley’s crew couldn’t get his car going after his axel was snapped, Will Power had to serve a penalty for hitting on if his crew members, essentially ending his bid to repeat as Indy 500 Champion but that was just the action in the box. Out on track, underdog Kyle Kaiser who had an incredible roller coaster of a month of May got up into the marbles, took a line a little too high causing his car to spin out of control and while he had a valiant effort to save the car, he ultimately hit the wall and his race was over. Then with about 20 laps to go, Graham Rahal and Sebastian Bourdais were fighting for position when Graham thought he had a run on Bourdais. Sebastian, thinking Rahal would back off because he believed he had the position, pinched in causing their tires to touch and wreck both cars, while also taking the cars of Zach Veach, Charlie Kimball, and Felix Rosenqvist. Rahal hopped out of his car pissed off and went to have a few words with Bourdais while he was still stuck in his car.
For the better part of the first 150 laps, there weren’t many changes for the lead. Simon Pagenaud pretty much had a handle on the race from the start, with Ed Carpenter and Alexander Rossi becoming true leaders of the race for brief stints. Pagenaud’s cars have been hooked up since the Indy GP, and while he deservedly came home with the win and smelling like milk, he faced a lot of adversity down the stretch. Alexander Rossi was Pagenauds biggest threat after moving through the field like a man possessed and he faced more problems on track and in the pit box that weren’t crash related than anyone. Oriol Servia and Marco Andretti pretty much pissed off the entire field all day. Both cars were slow, but the drivers behind them refused to be respectful on course. At one point, Marco Andretti pushed Spencer Pigot up into the wall in Turn 2, Oriol Servia blocked Rossi multiple times coming down the front straight, and the worst part of all of that? They weren’t on the lead lap. They were laps down ahead of the leaders so at this point, they’re only competing with a handful of other drivers for points with no real shot at winning. Rossi sounded off on IndyCar and the drivers that were a lapped calling it a “Fucking joke” and that IndyCar needs to do something about it.
In the end however, it would come down to the last 10 laps where Rossi overtook Pagenaud, then Pagenaud got Rossi, then Rossi got him back and then with two laps to go Pagenaud got him one more time and that would be it. Pagenaud used the entire track to break the draft of Rossi, virtually giving him no chance to catch him and claiming his first Indy 500 victory.
After the race was over, we went back to Spencer’s motorhome to celebrate a great effort, got ready to go party, and I’ll leave a party including a bunch of the drivers from the field, Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce, and flowing alcohol to your imagination.
Until next year, Indy.