Monday, May 27, 2013

Never Say Never: Tony Kanaan FInally Wins Indy 500

Tony Kanaan finally tastes the milk at Indy
Never say never. At long last no one can ever say that Tony Kanaan has never won the Indianapolis 500. He did it yesterday with the same style and passion that has made him a fan favorite at Indy for years. He did it with a late race pass of my pre-race pick Ryan Hunter-Reay on a restart, then the racing Gods finally smiled on him as a crash brought out a final yellow flag and he cruised to the win at Indianapolis where he has led so many times but never before won. Now he's an Indy 500 champion and his image will be added to the Borg Warner trophy alongside his former teammates Dario Franchitti and the late Dan Wheldon. In a race for the ages which obliterated previous records for lead changes, the new standard of 68 lead changes may never be topped. Tony got the last one, the one that truly mattered, and I'm sure he was thinking of Danny when he pulled into Victory Lane.

Tony starts the winning pass...
After Friday's four-car photo finish in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race, I wondered how the 500 could top that in terms of drama and excitement. I should have known better, as I had seen many times during  practice days how passes were abundant on the straightaways and whoever was in the lead car was a sitting duck with the slingshotting that drivers are able to do in the current Dallara design.  The 97th Indy 500 will be remembered for fast, furious, clean wheel to wheel racing at its finest but I will remember it for other reasons.

...and completes it into Turn 1
My reasons fall into the "never" category, as in never done before. I've never had a Victory Lane pass for the 500 and it was the most chaotic and crazy winner's circle I have ever been in, with people in the way and photogs getting upset that their shots were being compromised. I've shot a lot of race victory lanes the last few years at a bunch of different racetracks but never anything like this one. I hope I get the chance to do it again.

The grid from the roof of Stand E
In all the years since shooting my first Indy 500 in 1984, I've never shot the race from on top of the Penthouse stands. I was on top of Stand E where it starts to curve around the outside of Turn 1 and only got the opportunity  because the person from who normally takes that position was unable to make the race this year. What a view from up there! It's too bad the field never really got aligned into the classic 11 rows of three but I had the chance of a lifetime to shoot from the rooftop and victory lane in the same 500. I've also never worked so hard to shoot the 500 and never shot pit stops from the outside grandstands. I went from the roof to ground level at the end of the frontstretch, then to the drop gates outside of Turn 1, back to the Penthouse stands, then inside the track to the top of the F1 garages, then to the roof overhang by the Pagoda, and finally to Victory Lane. After getting up at 3:30 on race morning and getting into the track at 5:00 a.m., the stairs and the walking were quite a workout, but I didn't really feel it until late last night as I was running on adrenaline and Excedrin on race day.

Kanaan races through Turn 1 ahead of pole sitter Ed Carpenter
Tony Kanaan never said never, and he got it done on an overcast and chilly day that was perfect for speed. Last week I wrote about odds on various driver's winning Indy this year, and I never mentioned Tony as he has not been topping the speed charts or generating headlines this month. He has quietly gone about his business as the consummate Indycar pro and showed everyone how to really race on Indy's flat oval. At 15-1 odds, a $10 bet on Tony would have paid off nicely, and those who aren't around Indy much will never know all the people Tony has touched with his spirit and generosity over the years, like newspaper salesman Chuck, The "Wolfman", who got one of the biggest hugs of all from TK during the kissing of the bricks after the race. This guy is special, having nearly been out of Indycars a few years ago after Andretti Autosport did not renew his contract. Tony has driven the KV Racing Technology team to the top and although we may never see another race like the one we had May 26, 2013, we can never again say  Tony didn't, or can't, win Indy.

TK's winning pit crew in action

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