If you have a bucket list, I hope the Indy 500 is on it. In fact, it’s worth starting a bucket list just to go the Indy 500.
Amazingly, I managed to ignore the marvels of this race my whole life. Had I known that Florence Henderson (aka Carol Brady), an Indiana native, sings “America the Beautiful” every year I might have paid more attention.
I had the good fortune to go to Indy 500 this weekend, thanks to Rich and Kristin, who are the best Indy 500 buddies (and Indiana guides) on the planet—thanks, guys for answering incessant questions about race rules, Danica Patrick and Crab Rangoon! (Incredibly, those deep fried dumplings have a Wikipedia entry.)
Never again will I refer to Dario Franchitti as “Ashley Judd’s husband!”
I’d expected the fun to come from checking out the scene. The Indy 500 is the most popular single-day sporting event in the world (bigger than the Superbowl!). Supposedly 250,000 people attend.
I guessed that with so many strangers nearby, there would be some pseudo-anthropology-fun to be had in the town of Speedway. (Isn’t that an adorable name for a racing town? Speedway!)
Indy 500 feels like a giant party combined with a national holiday, which is exactly what it is. And sure, I noticed a few cultural differences that made me smile: apparently it’s totally OK to go shirtless. A Catholic bishop gave the official race invocation. (We prayed for “good weather, a safe race, and lots of speed and excitement on the track.”) Hot Wheels sponsored a Monster Truck jump, and it set a world record before the race.
Neat! But no big whoop.
Because guess what?
The race was faaaaaaaascinating. (I’m trying to make that word look like the Doppler effect.)
Surprisingly, it’s very easy to appreciate the race without being engineeringly-inclined because we all drive cars and ride in cars. Thus we can all relate to the action.
Except not really. Here is the difference between me and Dario Franchitti: I get scared when a cab driver goes 55 miles per hour on the West Side highway, and I actually feel grateful for being alive when I get out of the car. Indy Car drivers go 220 miles per hour! On purpose!
Rich has a video of it here.
Take it from me, you do not have to be a mechanical engineer to find that amazing when you see it happen, three rows from the track, which Eric and I were, thanks to Rich and Kristin.
This is why I am newly obsessed with Danica Patrick. I completely misjudged her as “that girl from those annoying GoDaddy ads who wants to be sexy and quirky.” I thought it was no big deal that she can drive a car fast. “After all,” I told myself, “how hard is it to drive a car? I drive a car.”
I WAS SUCH A DUM-DUM!
I bought this book at the airport. I loved it.
Danica is amazing: 1) She finishes consistently in the top ten; 2) She gets more sponsors than anyone in the sport—and one’s ability to race is contingent upon sponsorhip; 3) She finished the race, which is a big deal.
Lots of people don’t actually finish. More than 60 people have died competing since the race started one hundred years ago. The cars have gotten safer, but crashes are still a big deal.
Like when rookie JR Hildebrand tried to pass and instead clipped the wall, lost a tire, and rolled into a second-place finish—while Dan Wheldon passed him and took the lead. (The only thing sadder than that for me is the fact that I lost Eric’s camera with all our Indiana pictures.)
At least we all got to go to Indy 500.
From now on, Memorial Day Weekend is not “the unofficial start of summer” in my book.
It’s Race Weekend.