Monday, May 26, 2008

Dixon Dominates Indy 500

Scott Dixon's Target Chip Ganassi Racing team maintained their month-long stranglehold on Indianapolis by holding off my darkhorse candidate Vitor Meira to take the win at the wild & woolly 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500. Chip said afterwards his team is in this business to win races and championships, and certainly winning Indy from pole position looks like an excellent springboard for the Indycar series season title.

With Indy's 500 miles the longest race of the season, for me it was more like the 24 hours of Indianapolis, beginning with the 500 drivers' meeting and the Indy Lights race at IMS Saturday, then driving to Kentucky Speedway to shoot the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Enduro race that evening, returning home at 1:30 Sunday morning to catch two hours of sleep before heading back to get parked inside IMS at 5:30 in the morning. Then the wait for the 500 began and was it ever worth it.

I decided to stay put inside Turn 1 to shoot the 500 this year rather than wander as I had done for most of practice and qualifying. A mammoth race day crowd was greeted with a gorgeous spring day and one of the hairier races in recent memory. From my vantage point, there was not much racing in the corner as the relatively equal equipment among the leaders meant Indy was a one groove track to navigate safely except on the long straightaways. Many drivers found out why. The youngest driver, Graham Rahal, and the oldest driver, Marty Roth, both found the marbles and the SAFER barrier in Turn 4 early in the race. Debris from Roth's wreck rearranged the nose wing on Helio's car which put him in traffic the rest of the day. AJ Foyt's horrible month continued with a pit fire. Jaime Camara bounced of the fence in 1 and then slid helplessly into the Turn 2 wall with a bang. Shortly after taking the lead, Tony Kanaan was left with nowhere to go by teammate Marco Andretti in Turn 3, slid wide and then was collected by Sarah Fisher, putting an end to a very eventful (and forgettable) month for her and stealing TK's chance for victory. Alex Lloyd bounced off the Turn 4 wall and spun into pit lane, narrowly avoid a "Cogan moment" with the pit lane attenuator. Justin Wilson spun off in the south short chute and hit the inside wall. Danica and Briscoe tangled leaving pit lane knocking them both out on the final pit stop of the race. Danica was spitting nails mad and went looking for Ryan after the incident while the crowd roared its approval of her competitive spirit. In the end, whoever was in clean air had the advantage all day, and with a near record number of cautions, the race never settled into any kind of rhythm. Dixon made the most of it and led 115 laps to taste the best winner's trophy in racing: a cold bottle of milk.

All in all, I had my best month of May at Indy in many, many years. The Indy Lights race was very entertaining (for once) and I got to cover more of the month's events at the Speedway than ever before. So the photo galleries I have linked below cover more than just race cars - scenes from race day before dawn to victory lane; Indy Lights racing; and the meat in the weekend's racing sandwich, the street stock race in Kentucky.

It doesn't get much better than this. Next up for me is the Rolex series at Mid Ohio the third weekend in June. Seems like I was just there a couple of weeks ago.

By the way: is it May yet?

Indy 500 Race Day 2008

Indy Lights Indianapolis

Kimmel Street Stock Enduro

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Indy 500 Carb Day Washed Away

Carb Day for the 2008 Indianapolis 500 was just about all wet. There's a surprise. NOT!

In what seemed to be a fitting end to practice for the race with all the rains this May, Carb Day runs for the Indycar Series started late and then were reduced to just 12 minutes by rain. I think the only people that didn't care about the rain were those watching the Stone Temple Pilots concert held on the road course in the infield.

The pit competition was washed out completely and the Firestone Indy Lights race was postponed to noon today. I'm going back out for that shortly and then heading directly to Kentucky Speedway from there for the Kimmel Street Stock Enduro where local short track guys get the chance to run on the big track. They've got 89 cars entered so it should be fun. Last year, I got to shoot from the pace car during the parade and pace laps, and I don't know if I will get the chance to do that again tonight, but it's great to see these guys get a chance at a superspeedway.

The following pic from yesterday shows a glimpse of what it was like on Carb Day. The puddle reflection shot (above) of the Pagoda says it all however. Safe travels everyone.

Indy 500 Carb Day

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Indy 500 Carb Day Preview: Drivers to Your Cars

When I started my work for American Motor Journal at Indy this month, I had two primary goals: shoot from as many places as I could, and get driver shots of every entrant. On the first goal, I am very happy with the variety in my pictures, plus I got lucky on the second weekend with accident shots of Dominguez and Mutoh on Saturday, and Foyt's fireball on Sunday. On the second goal, the only entrants I missed were Giebler, Simmons and Yasukawa. Giebler wasn't around long enough to get a driver picture, and I didn't happen to be in the pits or garage area when Simmons or Yasukawa were around. At any rate, I did get every car that saw track time and besides, I have a blue million race car pictures in the can, plus I've posted bunches in my photo galleries, both on picasa and on my flickr site at so tonight I decided to put up just driver shots of those actually starting the race Sunday for my Carb Day preview.

The link to the photos on my picasa gallery at has a current pic of every driver except one: Jeff Simmons, and his is from Nashville last year before he got canned by Rahal Letterman. I hope to make up for that tomorrow. All 33 starting drivers are depicted for Sunday's 500. You can also click on the following photo to go to that gallery.

Indy 500 2008 Starting Field - Drivers

Carb Day is always one of the best days of the month, as the whole field is out and often running in packs of 10 or more cars nose to tail. Race day conditions prevail in the pits, and although I don't expect anyone to run too many laps, you will still know who's ready and who's not by the end of the one hour practice session. I will stick around for the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race and hope to post another update after tomorrow's action is over. Saturday I head down to Kentucky Speedway to shoot the Frank Kimmel Street Stock Enduro race and then will be up with the sunrise and out to the 500 Sunday morning with my Mom, my brother and his son. Seventy-two hours from now, the winner will be on Speed Channels' "Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain" and my pick remains the same:

Helio Castroneves. He knows how to pass on this track and will have his car set up to pull off the 2nd & 4th turns so he can get under people at the end of the long straightaways. Two-wide racing in the turns could lead to calamity, especially with so many rookies in the field this year, so let's hope everyone gets through Carb Day with their cars intact. Don't be surprised if Buddy Lazier makes a charge from 32nd folks. Don't forget 1992 when Scott Goodyear almost won the race from the last row so although I don't think Buddy's got the team to repeat that feat, watching a veteran like him come from the back should be fun. He's a sentimental favorite of mine anyway, along with John Andretti, so I hope they fare well.

God bless everyone involved this weekend and may everyone get home safely.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Indy 500 Field Set After Bump Day May 18th

If anyone needed more rationale for why unification in Indycars is the best thing that's happened for open wheel racing in America in decades, today's action on Bump Day at Indy should be enough. It certainly lived up to its name and the drama was there right up to the 6 o'clock closing gun, just like it used to be. The roller coaster began at noon when AJ Foyt IV qualified to knock Marty Roth out. This is all from memory so bear with me for a moment. Around 3, Foyt had a scary crash in Turn 3 when the fuel cover came off and a fireball erupted as he spun into the wall - he actually seemed to accelerate as he slid backwards into the wall. My full sequence lasted over 50 images on my Canon 40D and he nearly flipped over as he slid through the north short chute. American Motor Journal will get the best of my shots for their next edition where I'll be covering the 500 from all angles.

Then Lazier got bumped by Roth. Mario Dominguez got in. Yasakawa was out. Then Yasakawa tried twice to get back in sandwiched around an awesome run by Buddy Lazier to put Dominguez out and put Roth back on the hot seat. With about 3 minutes before Bump Day qualifying was to end, Dominguez made a last run but crashed entering Turn 1 on his second lap after he had run a 219.7 on his first lap that would have put Roth on the sidelines. What a day. What a week. When I get some more time this week, I'll put more pix from the first two weeks on my picasa site, but for now, my feet hurt and I've got to get back to the real working world tomorrow, so this post will be brief.

Everyone seems to love lists, and here are a few items I thought of today while standing and watching lap after lap in Turn 3:

Best Decision: Marty Roth hiring John Andretti for his experience and setup savvy. No way Roth finds the 219's he ran today without John's help.

Worst Month of May: tie - Mario Dominguez and AJ Foyt IV. Mario for his three crashes and AJ for his struggles throughout qualifying and then wadding up a good race car after a mechanical failure.

Best Paint Jobs: Both of the KV Racing cars had gorgeous paint schemes and Powers looked best in green and yellow.

Worst Paint Jobs: All the white cars, especially Graham Rahal's. These cars just disappear against the white walls in photos when it's bright and sunny.

Worst Deal: Sarah Fisher's phantom sponsorships. Fans were giving her checks to help with costs but those firms that promised the moon should get sent into orbit.

Most Impressive: Graham Rahal. He could be rookie of the year and he seemed to learn every time out, and was fearless in attacking the track no matter what the conditions were. Vitor Meira and the Dreyer Reinbold teams were also impressive, but they had the advantage of familiarity with equipment.

Worst Luck: Chuck Buckman of Dale Coyne's team - wrong place, wrong time. Get well soon.

Shortest Month: Phil Giebler. he got on the track for the first time during Saturday morning's practice in a year-old Panoz and was in the hospital by 4:30 that afternoon.

Most Resilient: The IMS SAFER barriers. A dozen crashes and still standing, albeit dented.

Heartbreak Award: Mario Dominguez. The Bump Day mantra is crash, get in or go home. He crashed.

Happiest Driver: Buddy Lazier. He ran faster in the last 30 minutes than he had since he first turned a wheel Friday May 16th. They went to the garage before 5 today and came back to run two banzai qualifying attempts to put it in the show. Great Job for the Hemelgarn Johns on bunch.

Now the Speedway is quiet until Friday for the Indycars. It's one thing to get in the race. It's another thing entirely to race to win. Back with more soon.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Indy 500 Qualifiers Fill the Field May 17th

On another beautiful spring day when qualified and non-qualified drivers alike tried to knock down the IMS walls, Saturday qualifying at Indy wrapped up with a full field and a woefully slow Marty Roth on the bubble. Hideki Mutoh (shown) slid way high in Turn 2 and bounced off the fence during afternoon practice, but four drivers in all wrecked today. Mario Dominguez spun entering Turn 1 and crashed in the morning practice and Max Papis pounded the Turn 3 barrier as the checkers fell on the session. Around 4:15, not long after Mutoh's incident, Phil Giebler punched a hole in the Turn 1 SAFER barrier in the last (and loudest) crash of the day. I was in Turn 2 when it happened and my first reaction was "BIG HIT" it was so loud. But the wind was wicked from the west all afternoon and many drivers struggled.

Most notable among those struggling was AJ Foyt IV who got sideways in 2 on an early qualifying attempt and never took the green flag on a second attempt at around 5:45 p.m. So he's on the outside looking in with more teams pulling all-nighters tonight fixing damaged cars and a promising bump day ahead tomorrow if the weather holds out. Conditions are likely to be different again tomorrow with scattered showers predicted and wind from the north-northwest, so it will probably be chilly. Today's lessons are probably lost on those yet to qualify but the teams at the front will be running lots of race setup laps just like today. I feel like I covered 5 miles at the track on foot today so I've got to sign off with another big day ahead tomorrow. I shot my first two crashes of the month today and filled two 1-gig memory cards with over 500 images so I had a great day. My 73 year old mother went out with me today too, and we had a blast. You don't see too many gray haired "old ladies" at the Speedway but she got her autographs and enjoyed all the action on pit road while I was roaming from the pits to Turn 1, to the F1 garage roof, to the Penthouse to the outside and inside of Turn 2, and then finally back to the pits. I'm getting tired just writing about it! More later folks so y'all come back now, ya hear?

For some of today's pix, click on the following image. To see all my galleries from the month of May so far, then follow this link:

Indy 500 Qualifying May 17, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

Indy 500 Final Qualifications Next

What a difference a day makes. After a cold and dark Thursday practice session, the changeable Indiana weather delivered a masterpiece today as crystal clear blue skies and temperatures near 70 greeted everyone at IMS on Friday for the last full practice day before the final weekend of qualifying. The forecast for the weekend has improved as well.

Unfortunately, three drivers found the SAFER barriers today - two rookies (Power and Viso) and one surprising veteran: outside front row starter Ryan Briscoe. The only good things were that no one was hurt and Briscoe was in a backup car. The teams for Power and Viso are probably pulling all-nighters tonight though, and the newcomers are finding out how difficult Indy truly can be. I'm sure Roger Penske can't be too happy though...

Buddy Lazier (pictured) got on track for the first time for Ron Hemelgarn and Roger Yasukawa's money must have shown up since he was out in Greg Beck's 98 car. I saw Jay Howard in the garage area and he seemed in good spirits even though he's lost his seat for the month to John Andretti. Buddy Rice worked hard today, but no one moreso than Vitor Meira who ran at least a half race distance today. It was great seeing the packs of cars running together - all four Andretti Green teammates were out together on several occasions, trading places with each other drafting. Saturday should be really interesting and I hope the field gets filled tomorrow.

I was in Turn 3 again today since I got out around 2:30, but I did have time to run through the pits and garage area briefly. The lighting was superb in 3 this afternoon, and even though the wrecking was going on elsewhere and before I got there, I'm a happy camper so far this month! Back with more later. Until then, click on the following image to see a few other pix from today.

Indy 500 Practice May 16, 2008

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Back on Track at Indy: Practice May 15th

On a cold and blustery May day, the cars returned to the Speedway in earnest today, running over 2600 laps in the first full day of practice since Pole Day. With yesterday another virtual washout, I didn't miss much and I couldn't get out today until around 4 and man was it dark! The wind was brisk out of the east-northeast, and in Turn 3 today, it was right in your face. When I got there, the Andretti Green teammates were running race day setups in pairs, and were later joined by the Target boys. Scheckter ran a bunch of laps while I was there, and even Marty Roth ran some good laps above 219 around 5:45. Even today was cut short by "moisture in the air" around 5:55. You could see it coming though as the weather radar on the track's big video screens showed a clear "donut" in the rainy weather system that surrounded Indianapolis. But as so often happens in May at Indianapolis, it didn't rain at the Speedway until everyone got some serious work done.

Jeff Simmons was out in Foyt's 41 car. Will Power had fast time of the non-qualified cars at over 222 with John Andretti in Roth's second car next, along with three more who have yet to qualify also over 222. Alex Lloyd was back out in the 16 car, with a new paint job and sponsor too. My focus was on getting shots of cars I had not seen yet, so I hardly shot anything today in the two hours I was out there. Tomorrow should be a different story however, as it should be a nice day and I expect to get out for most of the afternoon.

Weather forecasts for the weekend are iffy and if the current pattern holds, I'm sure we will see some rain. Of course that just makes filling the field all the more interesting (or nerve wracking, depending on which side of the catch fence you are on) and I expect it will take at least 219.5 to make the race. Temperatures are not supposed to crest 70 all weekend and cooler track temps often mean faster speeds, unless the wind is up, so you never know who's got what until they actually head out for their 4-lap runs. Spots 12-33 are up for grabs Saturday and then Bump Day is Sunday, so it looks like about 5 teams are likely going home disappointed Sunday night.

An example of how dark it was today can be seen in the above pic, which shows Jaime Camara bottoming out with sparks flying. I enjoyed listening to the PA system identify Jaime as Bernoldi this afternoon, but this is clearly Jaime as Bernoldi's helmet is blue. No one bothered to tell the track announcers that they had apparently swapped cars for the day! Oh well. When you see as many laps through the lens as I do, it's hard to miss which driver is which, especially when the cars are painted the same - the helmet style is the only way to tell them apart.

Here's a couple others from today. Enjoy! See you tomorrow from the Brickyard.

Indy 500 Practice May 15, 2008

Sunday, May 11, 2008

More Rain in Indy - Quals Day 2 Washed Away

For the third day out of the last five, rain has completely wiped out track activities at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Counting Friday's rain-shortened session, rain has cut more than half of the week's track time. For those who qualified yesterday and were going to take today off anyway, it's no big deal. But everyone else now has to wait until Wednesday to try and get ready for an even bigger task this Saturday, when qualifying will resume again with the remaining 22 spots up for grabs. Then the real bumping will begin. If the weather cooperates, it should be fun.

Speaking of fun, I've had more fun at the Speedway this week than I can remember in years. The freedom I've had this year through the American Motor Journal to cover all aspects of race preparation has enabled me to shoot from a variety of locations. I've been able to get loads of people shots, which was just about impossible as a turn shooter, and I've been where I needed to be to cover the story of Indy. For example, this picture of Scott Dixon was taken as they escorted him from pit road to the ceremony area after the pole runs were completed and the masses were all around us. This is why I shoot races - to be part of it, and not just a spectator.

I got another example on Friday morning when I was walking through the garage area looking for people shots and I saw John and Aldo Andretti talking with Larry Curry outside the Roth Racing garage. I wondered what that was about but knew John has been known for hopping in other people's cars to get them set up, and Lord knows Roth's team can probably use the help, even with Curry on board now. Then I saw a friend who told me he was working with John on sponsorship and he wouldn't say why he was talking with Curry, but I knew Jay Howard had struggled early in the week and appeared to be losing rather than gaining speed. So then Saturday morning, the announcement was made at the track that John would take Howard's seat for Indy only, and sure enough, he was on track in the 24 car in the morning practice session.

Friday also brought the scariest moment of the month so far, when Danica hit Chuck Buckman of Dale Coyne's team on pit road. I had just walked through the pits not 10 minutes before that happened and the crowd around Danica was just ridiculous. By the time I got to Turn 1 to shoot for awhile, photographers were listening to scanners and everyone was talking about what they had heard since there was no video at the time. And when there's downtime, photographers talk.

Anyway, there's nothing going on now until Wednesday and I won't be able to get back to the track until Thursday afternoon, so I've got time to regroup and finish editing the 2,000 or so images I've already shot. Thank God for digital! Here's a group from featuring those who locked themselves in to the top 11 during Pole Day. Until next time, be safe!

Indy 500 Pole Day

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dixon on Target - Takes Indy 500 Pole

Congratulations to Target Chip Ganassi Racing which put Scott Dixon on pole for this year's Indy 500! Scotty-D had to sweat out a late challenge from his teammate Dan Wheldon to hang onto P1. Snagging a Target 1-2 and pushing Penske's Ryan Briscoe to the outside of the first row had to sweet for the Chipster. Dixon took his first Indy pole with a second attempt in mid-afternoon and then waited everyone out that tried to challenge. I wonder what happened to all the speed Andretti Green's drivers had shown in the morning practice session... It doesn't really matter now since they all got in the top 9, and Ryan Briscoe surprisingly outran the dancing man, Helio Castroneves. Great efforts by Hideki Mutoh, Ed Carpenter and Tomas Scheckter to get in the first 11 will allow them to rest easy and work on race setups from here on out.

It's been a very long day, so I'll be back soon with more pix when I get ny batteries recharged.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Indy 500 Fast Friday: Dixon Fastest; Danica Hits Coyne Crew Member

In a rain shortened Fast Friday, Scott Dixon led the way with a top lap of nearly 227 mph. This came amid a very scary pit road incident when Danica Patrick clipped a crew member for Dale Coyne racing as she came into her pit box. Thankfully, reports are now good for Chuck Buckman who ended up with a concussion after getting flipped in the crowded pit lane. I had walked through that area just a few minutes before the incident happened and by the time I got to Turn 1, the rumors were flying of something far more serious having happened. As if anyone needs another reminder of how dangerous this sport is, hopefully this will be a wake up call for everyone heading into Pole Day tomorrow. By 3:15 the rains came and ended a very busy and dramatic day at the Speedway. Back with more later.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Indy 500 Practice Day 5 Washed Out - Fast Friday Next

Rain fell throughout the day today, May 8th and not even the track drying equipment made it out at the Brickyard. I didn't go out either and I'm excited about Fast Friday which should be furious as everyone gears up for Pole Day and a spot in the Top 11 which will be at stake Saturday. Rookies had better watch their mirrors in practice Friday and be ready to give up the line into the corners if they are not running at the speeds of the top teams. Hopefully, it will be a safe and fast day for everyone tomorrow and I'll be back to write about it all and post more pix.

Watch for AGR's Hideki Mutoh, Newman Haas Lannigan's Justin Wilson and Alex Lloyd with the Ganassi/Rahal Letterman combo to rise to the top this weekend. They have the teams behind them that could catapult them towards the front, but they must be patient and not try to do too much too soon. Jaime Camara paid the price for that earlier this week and Indy is a stern taskmaster for those who don't pay attention to the lessons of others. See you soon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Rain Washes Out Day 4 of Indy 500 Practice

Now things will start to get tough. No one turned a wheel today as Mother Nature brought intermittent showers which prevented the track from even opening.

Tomorrow's forecast is even worse - maybe as much as 2 inches of rain over the next 24 hours! So by the time the teams hit the track again Friday, they will encounter a green racing surface with all the rubber of the first three practice days washed away. Cooler temperatures are also predicted so setup work done so far may no longer be relevant. These are conditions rarely encountered in a two- or three-day race weekend and the good teams always rise to the top. This is also the time when experience shows and it could be tough sledding for many of the newcomers. But that's one of the things that makes Indy so great - so many variables spread out over a two week preparation period.

Another thing that makes Indy great is the people - names to be more precise. From A to Z, driver surnames run the gamut. Oddly enough, there has never been a Smith make the race! The old guard: Rahal. Unser. Andretti. Foyt. Parsons. Rutherford. The flavor: Helio. Kanaan. Mutoh. Dixon. Bruno. And my newest favorite driver name - Will Power. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture.

Speaking of pictures, I have spent so much time over the years just shooting race cars, that I almost don't know how to act this year with the flexibility I now have. So today since there were no cars on the track, I decided to post people pictures, drivers all, many of them champions. Could the next Indy 500 winner be in this group?


Indianapolis 500 People 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Indy 500 Practice Day 3: Marco Tops Speed Charts

Today was warmer and windier than either of the first two practice days so far this month, but it didn't slow the veterans down who were getting on the track for the first time. Marco Andretti led the way today and I got out to Turn 3 just as he was setting his fast laps for the day. The usual suspects filled the top 5 with Kanaan, Dixon, Briscoe and Wheldon following Marco's top lap of over 226 mph. Over 1383 laps were run today and time may get short for some teams as the weather forecast is typical for this time of year. It is still early spring in Indiana and warmer weather usually brings showers, which are predicted for parts of Wednesday and Thursday. So tomorrow we'll either be watching the weather radar or it could be an extremely busy day as all of the full month teams will want to get track time before "Fast Friday", the day before Pole Day. A handful of other teams will join the fray next week with their Honda mini-leases.

I got the chance to walk pit lane again today and never cease to be amazed by how workmanlike the teams are in the pits. The Firestone engineers are everywhere, dutifully taking tire temperatures as the drivers run a few laps and pull in. Helio looked happy. Townsend Bell looked bored. Alex Lloyd, yesterday's fastest driver, excitedly talked with his crew about what he was experiencing. Dixon looked serious. Buddy Rice was animated in the cockpit, talking with his hands. Milka Duno never raised her visor. EJ Viso caught a lift out of Gasoline Alley on the sidepod of his car. Even though I couldn't get to the track today until almost 3, the routine of visiting the pits and then going to the turns is working out well and so far has made this one of my more enjoyable Mays in years. I have more flexibility than ever before and feel like I can really cover what's going on, rather than being nailed to a spot in a corner waiting for someone to spin or hit the fence. So instead of 3 seconds of action, I'm seeing the whole track again. Next I'll try to hit Turn 2 since I've been told the fence has been moved for the Moto GP course and the shooting spots are better than in years' past.

Will it be tomorrow, Thursday or Friday? Guess I'll just have to check Intellicast in the morning to time my trip down I-65 from work to catch whatever action I can. And when I get a break, I'll come back and post more pix as my goal has been to get car and driver shots of every competitor, plus helmet and scenic shots of the Speedway. The variety I have been looking for is there this year, and today alone I shot almost 1.7 gig of pix in a little more than 3 hours. I shudder to think what it will be like when I get a whole day out there. That should come Friday, weather permitting. See you next time!

Indy 500 Practice 2008 - Day 3

Monday, May 5, 2008

2008 Indy 500 Practice Continues - Vets & Rookies

Day 2 of practice runs for the 92nd Indy 500 continued today with an interesting mix of rookies going through their orientation paces, and veterans getting back up to speed through refresher courses. The first wall contact of the month sent Jaime Camara to Methodist Hospital but I heard late in the day that he had been released. Among the vets getting track time were Max Papis (pictured in Turn 3), Bruno Junqueira and Davey Hamilton. Max was out for the second straight day while Bruno and Davey were shaking off the rust by getting out today for the first time. Davey was last year's "feel good" story as he traded in his pilot's role for the IndyCar two-seater and ran his first race of any kind since his horrific Texas crash a few years ago. For Bruno, this is his first time at Indy since getting clipped by AJ Foyt IV in Turn 2 in the 2005 Indy 500 and breaking his back. It's good to see them both back on the track.

Will Power continued to show impressive speed today, as did Alex Lloyd and several others. Seat time cures all ills for race drivers, especially at a place like Indy where you have to thread the needle every time you dive into Turns 1 and 3, and the wall comes right out at you on the exits of 2 and 4. That is the fast way but everyone I saw today looked nice and smooth. No one runs the Cogan Line" or brushes the fence the way Tom Sneva used to, but I did see Servia have to go high to pass Jay Howard on the entrance to Turn 3 when Howard probably should have been in the warmup lane. He will learn - the price is high at Indy for slow learners and Howard was the Indy Pro series champ in 2006 and very impressive in the races I saw him run. Besides that, he has a good first name...

I couldn't get away from work until 2 this afternoon so I got out late and then was hoping to go outside Turn 3 to shoot the action coming right at me. I shot Turn 1 from the outside on Pole Day in 2006 and the head-on shots with the drivers' hands up high on the wheel are simply awesome. But it's dangerous as hell and the special vests are almost impossible to come by, so I had to settle for walking pit lane to see who was out, and then went to the inside of Turn 3 to shoot. It's the last corner where the fence is low and you're not shooting through a slot (or through the fencing itself like I did last May in Turn 2). The late afternoon sun shines right in the driver's faces as they come through 3 and exit into the north short chute so I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn't go to the outside of the wall today. Maybe later this month (if I'm lucky).

I still have a ton of photo editing to do, even though today was just the second day of practice and a limited number of teams have been out. It's incredible how many images you can shoot with high speed digital now. It's the best thing since they invented the motordrive. I'm packaging up the rookie crop for American Motor Journal and expect tomorrow to be action-packed as all the teams hit the track. I think Moraes still has to finish his last speed bracket in his rookie test, but I'm pretty sure everyone else is ready to go flat out for Pole Day. Of the newcomers, Power, Wilson and Rahal have all been very impressive, but my shining star so far is Alex Lloyd, who is attempting to start his first IndyCar race of any kind, and he's doing it on the most well-known stage in the world. I ran into him yesterday on pit lane and told him it was good to see him out there, and after his dominating run through last year's Indy Pro series, he could be one to watch. The race within a race for Rookie of The Year should be very entertaining this year and I can't wait to see how it all pans out. As the late Sid Collins used to say on the 500 radio broadcast: "Stay tuned race fans, for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

Indy 500 Practice 2008 - Day 2

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Indy 500 Opening Day: Will Power First On Track

It would be hard to believe that there could be a better opening day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than we had today. Not a cloud in the sky all day and the temperature was just right. I've seen snow on opening day before but this year we had some beautiful Tony Hulman weather for one of the most active opening days in years. Australian Will Power was first on the track and almost all of the new rookie class hit the bricks before the day was over, plus veteran Max Papis warmed up for a refresher course. No one had any problems getting up to speed and the day went off without incident - no spins and no contact with the walls. I'm sure all of the new teams are breathing a sigh of relief. They all got valuable track time with roughly 600 laps run on the day.

Driving home when the track closed at 5, I felt like I was in some kind of time warp. The names at IMS today were legendary: Foyt, nearly the whole Unser clan, Rick Mears, Johnny Rutherford. The Andretti name was represented with Michael on pit road watching over Hideki Mutoh's rookie runs. Two Rahals were out: overseeing Ryan Hunter-Reay's orientation, father Bobby was managing his team and probably taking a peek now and then as his son Graham was working his way up the speed ladder. Add in the other new guys - Wilson, Servia, Viso, Bernoldi, Lloyd, Howard and Camara- and I counted 12 drivers that got acclimated today. Monday is expected to be almost a carbon copy of today's weather and I'm sure the remaining drivers will pass their rookie tests with room to spare. Then they can push the button as hard as they want and be ready for the veterans to join the newcomers on Tuesday when the track is open to all participants.

It was chilly this morning when I got to the Speedway around 10:30 but the methanol has rarely smelled sweeter. Lots of folks in checkered attire as I expected and other memorable scenes which are quintessential Indy in the spring: gorgeous blue Indiana sky as a backdrop for the Pagoda tower and the Borg Warner trophy, railbirds seeking autographs behind pit lane, and the "Alley Cats" manning their post at the entrance to Gasoline Alley like they will all month long. I spent a couple of hours shooting from the inside of Turn 1 which now looks totally different since IMS added the new infield turns for the Moto GP track. It's actually a pleasant place to shoot now with great visibility all the way back to the end of the Tower Terrace stands at the entrance to Turn 1. The slots in the fence were even at the right height! The strangest sight involves the creek: it's gone, and the new catch fencing on the inside is extremely close to the warmup lane for pit exit. It's going to be an awesome place to shoot on race day for the start.

I'll be back out again Monday but probably not until late in the afternoon. I do have to work to feed my racing habit, you know. Until next time, here's a link to several pix from today's wonderful Opening Day at Indy.

Indy 500 Opening Day 2008

Countdown to Indy: Day Zero

The countdown to Indy is over and the time has finally arrived for the teams to hit the track to prepare for the Indianapolis 500. I will be heading out this morning for rookie orientation runs and all the opening day ceremonies. It will be my first chance to see many of the new teams and it's likely that this opening day could be one of the busiest in years. By the time the track closes at 5:00 p.m. today, we could have a very good idea of which teams are really ready to be considered contenders. Rookie orientation continues tomorrow and I should be back online later today with a rundown of today's action on the track, in the pits and in the garage area. Until then I want to talk about the magic that is Indianapolis in May, and how this town becomes a special place imbued with race fever every year. If you are not from Indy, the infection with all things racing may be difficult to understand, but the Speedway and the 500 are what gave this community its identity for decades and that is not likely to change anytime soon. Even with the Colts' success, Indy is still known for the race wherever you go in the world.

Of course, there are thousands of people who have lived in Indy their whole lives and have never even been to the track or the museum. Many even hate the race with a passion - for the crowds, the increased traffic, and the inundation of race-themed events. On race day, the Speedway becomes the second-largest city in Indiana and the track grounds and surrounding neighborhoods are teaming with people, a human zoo which has only recently been tamed somewhat with the elimination of the legendary "snakepit" areas in the infield. Increased police patrols have basically eliminated the "anything goes" atmosphere that used to prevail in the infield through the 1990's, and for some of us oldtimers, that is a bit unfortunate. Certain photo ops are no longer available, but for women who attend the race, that's probably a good thing since the drunks with the "show your t___s" signs have largely disappeared.

If you're in town in May, there's no way to escape the race. Everything seems to take on its identity and there are all kinds of races promoted in the media, or available for people to participate in. Yesterday, the 500 Festival Mini Marathon took nearly 35,000 runners from downtown to the track and back and it ended in a photo finish. Retailers promote their own "races to savings" in advertising - car dealers arguably cash on in this theme the most, and there are show cars and driver appearances all over town in connection with team sponsors. Kids race big wheels or run with boxes decorated as race cars at schools, day care centers and community events. And then there are the folks like me who put out race flags or banners to decorate their homes and yards.

You want to talk about parties? The 500 has often been referred to as the biggest party in the world, but the action is not confined to corporate events or the neighborhoods around 16th & Georgetown. If you can't find a party the night before the race, then you probably aren't looking very hard and you need to get out more. Race parties in Indy are as plentiful as Super Bowl parties as people come back to town for the 500 year after year - to renew friendships and talk about their memories of races past. Tickets are handed down generation to generation and you see some people at the track every year and nowhere else, some of whom you don't even know by name, but the race connection is the bond with lasting ties. My family moved to Indy in 1968 and at my first race in 1970, my dad and I sat in the third turn infield bleachers, ate fried chicken and oreos and watched Al Unser Sr. win in the Johnny Lightning Special. I think I spent as much time watching the drunks in the infield as the cars on the track and I've often wondered whatever happened to the guy drinking from a leather bag who every few minutes would holler out, "Hi! I'm Sparkel Farkel". For Gen-X, the Farkel's were a dysfunctional family on "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" TV show, so that should give you some idea of how old I am. Today the Unser family will be honored with a ceremonial lap around the track and autograph session so I am looking forward to seeing them in their winning cars - Al Sr. and Jr., and Uncle Bobby. The Unsers have been called the "first family of racing" and among them they own nine Indy 500 wins so the title has been well earned, both in Victory Lane and in family tragedy associated with the race.

I'm an oldtimer and although my memory isn't what it once was and I can't run down the winners like Speedway historian Donald Davidson, it takes me no time at all to wax nostalgic about the races I've attended and things I've seen at the Racing Capital of the World. This year promises to be among the best ever and I couldn't be more excited. And I will not be alone in saying I live for the Month of May. Even though we don't have the "30 Days of May" anymore, there's still nothing like going to the track. Where else can you get a whole day's action for five bucks? I wonder how many people I will see this month dresses in black & white checkers? If all you know about Indy is what you see on television, then I urge you to set aside what you think you know and get to the track as TV just does not do the cars justice. There's nothing like the smell of ethanol in the morning. But if you can't get to the track this month, then I hope you will enjoy these pix and many others I will post this month - scenes from past months of May are linked today and I hope to post more from each day I'm out there.

When Al Unser, Jr. won Indy in 1992, he said with tears in his eyes in Victory Lane, "You just don't know what Indy means." My hope is to provide a glimpse into the world at the track this month and what he meant by that statement. See you there!