Monday, May 30, 2011

The Indy 500 Experience

Yesterday I kept an important streak alive as I once again attended the Indy 500. I have been to the 1989, 1992, 1993 and then every one since 1997. The event is more than a race to me as it is the one day I look forward to above all else.

The Indy 500 is a race, but it is more than that as it is an event; the largest single day sporting event in the world. Yesterday over 250,000 people came to watch the 33 cars compete over 500 miles. Many of these people come year after year, some of these people came for the first time, and some of the people in the infield came for the party. Whatever their reason, whatever their interest, each Indy 500 will be remembered for a lifetime.

Traffic yesterday was about as bad as I could remember. The only other year that compared to this was the year of the cold, 1992. (the wind chills were in the low 40's!) Every year I worry that the race will be ran, but no one will show up. You see, this race means everything to me. I grew up a mile and a half from the track and have the fondest of memories of having my dad take me to see practice and qualifying. The memories of hearing Tom Carnegie say, "It's a New Track Record!" still sends chills up my spine.

As much as I enjoyed practice of qualifying my dad, for the 3 races I went to before 1997, had to make special arrangements to go to the race because he had a church in Indianapolis and pastors typically are busy on Sundays.

Since then though I have been to many in a row and it is truly more than just the race. I think everyone should go this race once in their life. Not everyone will have the moving experience as I do as when I pass through the gates on race day I feel light and have the strongest of butterflies. Some may get intimidated by being one among 250,000, and I must admit I usually don't like being among the masses, but for the Indy 500 it is like the whole crowd does not exist; it is one mass body watching 33 drivers risk it all for racing immortality.

The prerace festivities are scheduled much like the strictest of church services. Each portion of the program has been done for many years and is expected to go off on its designated moment. The run up to the start of the prerace festivities is almost painful for me. I wait every second of the year for this, and at this point it is so close.

One hour before the race the IMS Radio Network begins their radio broadcast, which I listen to while at the track, and the words of the opening and the song they play, year after year, makes me shake. It is only one hour until the start of the race I wait for every year.

The next hour flies by. Florence Henderson sings God Bless America and eventually the National Anthem is sung and then a military flyover (this year it was a B2 better known as a stealth bomber. What a sight!). By this time there is always someone around me that has, perhaps, already had to much to drink. The mood, of course, is festive, but there is always one or two who are getting into that festive/rowdy mood. I like for this to happen because every year when the playing of Taps the hush among the crowd is something that one has to experience to understand the impact. I'm on the spectrum and often miss social cues, but there is no denying the solemn respect and impact of having 250,000+ people collectively be quiet. Think of that, before it starts the noise is loud. People are talking, laughing, drinking, and without a notice, without saying what is coming, the 21 gun salute and playing of Taps begins and the audience isn't told to be quiet, but it just happens. Following the song there is silence; no applause, no cheering, just respectful silence from a quarter of a million people.

The next song sung is "Back Home Again in Indiana" and at this point I usually lost control of my emotions. Tears are fought back as this is it. This is the final thing before the saying of, "Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!". Also, the song hits me hard. During this song I remember growing up. I remember my dad taking me to the track on those practice days of May. If anything, the Indy 500 is much like mile markers for my life. I remember how I felt each year, where I was sitting, and who I was with. My life has changed drastically just in the past 5 years, and I remember all that during the song.

By the time the song is over I usually have watery eyes (thank goodness for my sunglasses!) but then it is time. The engines are started and then the field of 11 rows of 3 begins their slow trek around the track. The crowd is on its feet and the anticipation is crushing. Three pace laps are done before the race begins and when it does it is 200 laps, 500 miles, and the best three or so hours of the year.

Today is a depressing day. My special interest, if you haven't gathered or are new to my blog, is auto racing. There is no bigger race than the Indy 500 and no more sacred ground, in my opinion, than the ground of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and today, well, today is the point in time I have to wait the longest until the next one when the whole process of fighting traffic, being among the masses, and once again hearing the singing of "Back Home Again in Indiana" will happen. Yes, everyone should experience this race, this "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" at least once!


  1. Beautiful blog post Aaron. I could really imagine how you must've felt at the track.
    Also: Welcome to your version of the after-convention-depression.

  2. Good post Aaron. Sheila and I were there as well. It looks us 4 hours to get to our seats yesterday. Usually I can do it in a 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Traffic was at a stand still. Great race and it was all worth it for us as well. Oh and by the way, you probably don't remember us, since you were pretty young, but we went to Messiah in the 80's, your dad was our pastor.

    Take care,
    Rick and Sheila Owens

  3. When I was a kid we lived in Indy. My Dad took me to the time trials several the race got into my blood. Is it the sounds or the smell or the vibration that sets the hook? It just doesn't seem right not to listen to or watch at least part of the race each year.