Thursday, April 17, 2008

Countdown to Indy Part 2 - Is It May Yet?

I saw my first new Indy 500 pace car on the streets of Indianapolis last weekend. What's the big deal about that? Well, living in Indianapolis, seeing the new 500 pace cars for each year's race being driven around town is the surest sign of spring around here this side of robins in your yard. Indiana weather this time of year is notoriously unpredictable - Salem last weekend was a perfect example and I've experienced snow on opening day at Indy in May in the past . But seeing pace cars out and about means May is almost here.

Dignitaries and "500 Festival" personnel are typically loaned the new pace cars to drive each year as rolling promotions and to reward folks for their service to managing the events and hoopla that surrounds the buildup to the 500. Soon enough the echoes of "the world's largest PA system" will bounce between the giant grandstands at one of my most favorite places on earth.

I've jokingly said to family and friends that when I'm gone, they can take my ashes and sprinkle them on my "spot" in Turn 2 and my soul will be happy. I am sure the Speedway would frown on that, but as I said, it's a joke. A couple of years ago, I estimated how much time I had spent at IMS over the years, first as a fan and then as a credentialed photographer. In round figures, if you put all the days I have spent out there back-to-back-to-back, it would amount to something like 14 straight months of my life. Every day. In a row.

And it's probably more now than when I did that estimate, but that amount of time spent at Indy tells you all you really need to know about me. And I'm not the only person who schedules vacation time to work at the Speedway or sneaks away at every opportunity just to watch a few laps. Yellow shirts. Safety crew guys. The numbers of people who feel just like I do would probably surprise people who aren't from around here.

My birthday in late May falls right around the running of the 500 every year too, so the whole month is a celebration for me. If the weather's good, I'm either at the track or thinking about being there. If it's raining, then I'm probably looking at the weather radar and trying to time my escape from work to the moment the track gets dry and the green light comes on for the cars to hit the track. With IMS timing & scoring now available live on the Speedway's website, total immersion in May's track action is now possible. Not only that, but if you're on the westside of Indianapolis while practice or qualifying is going on, if the wind is right you can hear the cars miles away, so you don't even need to be at the track to know they're running. Drive down Georgetown Road or 16th Street now and you can already see the "Welcome Race Fans" banners or the people selling race day parking spaces in their front yards.

All of these signs of spring and speed lead me to ask another question: I wonder how many laps I've seen run out there? My head spins just thinking about it. So I better stop there before I hit the wall and someone takes my picture.

On this weekend of Motegi and Long Beach, I can't help but think about my own personal history at the Speedway, and it is THE SPEEDWAY as far as I'm concerned. Next year is 100 years since the track opened. In 2011, they will run the 500 for the 100th time. It's still hard for me to believe that this will be my 35th Indy 500, with an unbroken string of 33 straight starting in 1976. God willing, I'll make it to the next 35 (or more). They'll probably have to pry my camera from my hands if the cars are still on the track and I'm within earshot.

Motegi qualifying was rained out so point standings set the field with: Helio, Dixon, Kanaan, Marco, Wheldon, Danica, Carpenter, Foyt 4, Mutoh and Hunter-Reay fill the first 5 rows. Another good opportunity for the Vision team, and a great shot for rookie Mutoh in just his third oval track race to show well in his home country. Not sure if I can manage to stay up for the live telecast tonight, but I'll let you know what I think once I see the race soon enough. Count on it.

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