Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Memory in Senses

“Standby starter…” those are the words I hear over the radio each time a practice session is about to go green. I had the green flag in hand eight days ago for the Indy 500 open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I get the alert with ten seconds to go, and I looked up at the pagoda, which now had sunlight reflecting off of it. I get chills each time I step onto the grounds at IMS, but when I heard “green flag starter, green flag” and as I let the green flag fly, the smell of the race fuel hit me, and I was… I was brought back to 1987, and my first-time seeing cars at the track going faster than my childhood brain could have ever imagined.

I felt a sense of warmth unlike anything else. I smiled with a peace that was almost to the point of being unexplainable. Thankfully I can, and the smell brought back memories of my favorite place on Earth, but also of those that I've been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with.

The few cars that stayed out on this opening lap got my waving green and as I put the flag back in the holder and listened to the cars going through the south chute the sound, as well, took me back in time. Yes, the volume, and pitch of the engines have changed over the years, but the sound of engines echoing off of the stands is a sound that hasn’t changed. Once again, an overwhelming sense of emotion flooded over me. I looked over my shoulder to the spot I sat in 1992 when I had one of the best seats in the house to when Unser Jr. just barely edged out Goodyear in the closest finish of the 500. This made me remember the man that was flagging that day, Duane Sweeney, and all that he did for me in the kindest act I can ever know, and can never repay.

As the hours progressed and I allowed myself to fully be immersed in the senses I couldn’t help but tear up. This wouldn’t happen in the middle of the race mind you, as that’s a full on assault of focus, but as there were just a few cars on track I was able to reflect on what I was experiencing and I smiled as the near irony that I, for once, wasn’t looking at the senses in a negative light like I so often do, and many of us on the autism spectrum will as well, but the memory in these senses brought back the warmest and safest of thoughts.

Time was running out on the session, and the smells of race fuel once again fueled my memories. The smells kindled up memories of my dad, and all the years we’ve been going to the track together. I smiled as time expired, and the cars flashed underneath me, almost in a mock finish as there were a lot of passes for a test session, and as the final car went by and disappeared into turn one, I finally allowed myself the full immersion in these emotions.

I smiled. I believe the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of, if not the most magical places on Earth. Since 1911 people have been making the trek to the Speedway for the 500, and the love of the place and race has been passed down through the generations. I thought back to Sweeney, who had his last race in 1997, and that his legacy will live on forever. I thought about my dad and when he’s no longer here I know that each time I get the whiff of race fuel I’ll be taken back to cheering the cars going by in 1987. His legacy will live on.

In one month the 106th Indianapolis 500 will be run and as hundreds of thousands of race fans gather, I know there will be many, many thousands that have an emotional response as I do. We will remember those that came before us be it those that first showed us the track, those that attended with us, journeyman drivers that tried, and the champions that excelled. We will also be cheering on the drivers competing that day, and perhaps some will be sharing the Speedway with those that will be exposed to the place for the first time. This will be my girlfriend’s first 500 and I hope there will be dozens to come thereafter. And of course, for someone like myself who tends to think way too much, I will be thinking about what is to come. Someday, maybe, there will be a fan like I was that will take my spot in the flagstand and maybe, in 75 years, they too will think about those that came before them, they too will be taken aback by whatever the smells of whatever energy is powering the cars, and they too will become lost at the most magical place on Earth.


1 comment:

  1. Beautifully written, Aaron. Whenever I read of your Indy adventures and memories, I immediately think of my Dad and brother, both gone now, and the time that they went to the time trials. I will never forget my Dad's imitation of the "buzz" as the cars sped by. Dad was a very quiet man with a subtle sense of humor. One thing that he did that was a bit out of character was his "sound effects." I can still see his smile. How he and my brother loved vehicles of all kinds -- the engines, the designs, the sounds. Thank you for being a frequent memory-igniter for me. I am so happy for the joy that you get from your favorite "office."