Wow! Ok, I'm not a big race fan. Races have two real moments of big excitement, the start and the finish. Other than the occasional wreck it's a bunch of cars going around in circles. Well, that's how I thought.
But it's not just a race, it's the Indy 500. It's an event. It's 400,000 people in the stands, watching one of the largest car races on American soil.
For my stepfather this was number 42. Since 1966 he has only missed three races (the college years). Going to the race with him gave me an interesting perspective to tap into, because he is an avid Indy fan, knows the track, and has been here enough times to know how it all works.
We had perfect seats, right across from Danica Patrick's pit. We were high enough up that we could see over the box seats on the other side of the track, far enough down (to the right of the flag) to have a perfect view from turn four all the way down through turn one, with the ability to see both turn two and turn three in the distance. See, if you're behind the flag then the tower blocks your view of the other side of the track. If you're too low then the box seats behind the pits will block your view. No, we were in a great spot.
We got in nice and early, so we went through the tunnel to the inside of the track to walk around the garages and do a little star gazing. Although, the only star we saw was Rupert of Survivor fame, and a couple of front runners for the NBA draft.
We came back around, found our seats, picked up a hot dog and a coke, and settled in for the pre-race activities. Daughtry performed live (I wasn't impressed), the cars started to come out. Then they opened up the pit to those with pit passes. David Letterman is part owner of a team, whose driver's pit was right behind Danica. He was out hamming it up.
They began their celebrity parade, a long line of Corvettes with celebs waving from the back. I recognized The Commodores and a few others.
Then Chevrolet pulled a bunch of Silverado's on the track, with two to three servicemembers in the back of each, waving to the crowd. No one forgot what weekend this was, and the military received the royal treatment (as they should).
After that they pulled the cars from the pit to the line, and the pit crowd migrated with them. The drivers began to come out then. Danica had a huge press corp in tow, and we watched Ashley Judd kiss her husband Dario (the eventual race winner) good luck prior to him getting in his car.
A huge joint services procession marched down pit row, stopping in front of the grandstand for Florence Henderson singing 'God Bless America', which is a long standing tradition. The National Anthem played, and some of us remembered to sing along with the joint services choir (I'm embarrassed when others don't stand, sing, and put their hand over their heart).
The fateful words, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines', began the roar. This is when I put on the headphones that John had preprogrammed to all of the driver's frequencies. The noise is deafening, and very exciting. Patrick Dempsey, who is part owner of the Vision racing team, drove the pace car to start the cars around the track, and Peyton Manning waved the green flag to truly start the race.
Three women drivers qualified to race this year. Milka Duno, the rookie from Venezuala with four masters degrees, crashed out around lap 103. Danica went from the 20th position after the third caution to 3rd position at the fourth caution, and finishing 8th overall. Sarah Fischer came from last place (33rd) to finish 18th overall.
The race was delayed after lap 113. A heavy storm came in, putting a halt to everything. John listened to the weather and found out that they were expecting it to rain for 45 minutes, which would require two and a half hours to dry the track afterwards. Knowing that the race wouldn't resume until 6pm (if it resumed) we decided to pack it up and head back to Dayton. In John's experience it was very possible that another storm could come through before the track was dried, which would end the race. If the race resumed (which it did) we wouldn't get back to Dayton til nearly midnight, so it was time to head out. We weren't alone.
Just after six the race did resume, with us listening on the radio while just pulling into the outskirts of Dayton in the pouring rain. They did get another 53 laps in before the rain began again, finally ending the race. Dario Franchitti, husband of Ashley Judd, won the race.
During the first part of the race we saw the lead position change at least 12 times. Every caution came off of turn one, to which we had a fantastic view for most every one. With Danica's pit directly across from us I spent a lot of time tuned into their frequency on the scanner. Very impressive how well they communicate and coordinate, at one point with her gaining five positions by coming into the pit for gas and tires. The stretch between turn four and turn one, and at the beginning of turn one, was where you saw all of the power players really competing for position.
Listening to the rest of the race, the biggest event we missed was 20 year old Marco Andretti flipping his car. Thankfully he walked away from it, as did every driver today who took a hard turn. By the way, there were three Andretti's racing today, Marco, Michael, and John.
So, a very exciting time. While writing this I've pulled up all of the stats on IndyCar.com, which is dragging incredibly slow (should have used ColdFusion instead of PHP;), but is otherwise pretty well done. My one big downside is that I found out how badly I need a better digital camera, as the digital zoom really degraded the image quality of most of the shots I took (nothing fit for publication).
Now, about next year....