Everyone should go to the Indianapolis 500 once. Once is plenty, but everyone should see it once. I got the chance to go in 1994, when a client/friend of mine who sold auto parts talked his way into tickets and couple of passes into the garage area, and I tagged along. I’m not sure, but I think I was the only person there wearing a Cleveland Indians’ cap. If they’d have done that old Sesame Street game, “Which of these things doesn’t belong”, they would’ve picked me out right away.
The ambiance of the 500 was really interesting. A sociologist would have a field day. It is a combination of the ultimate high tech gearheads and the ultimate in hard selling, with a little hardcore redneck pride thrown in for good measure. I got there on Saturday practice day and went to the track to meet my friend there. While I was dawdling at a souvenir stand looking at all the many types of t-shirts when the skies opened up in a sudden downpour. In the blink of a eye the t-shirts all disappeared, to be replaced by rain slickers and umbrellas that hadn’t been there 30 seconds before hand. Those vendors had obviously done that trick before.
We got into the garage area with our passes and I was just in awe. I am the last thing from a gearhead, but I was standing right next to a car that would be in the next day’s race, saying to myself, “Don’t trip and fall onto the car, don’t trip and fall onto the car, don’t trip and fall onto the car.” Normally, standing upright and walking isn’t a problem for me, but I was just so nervous being so close to those amazing machines and knowing how much was riding on them being in the next day’s race that I talked myself into a near panic.
The race itself was a beautiful sight. The crowd was large and fun-loving, the day was bright and sunny, I had my sunblock with SPF 1.5 million, there were a huge number of scantily clad women with numerous tattoos, many of said women were good-looking, and the beer was flowing. We had seats high in the last turn as the cars head into the straightaway towards the start/finish line. The noise of the cars was deafening. Being a newbie, I didn’t realize that everyone in the crowd brings headset radios, to block out the sound of the cars and to actually keep track of the race, which spectators can’t really follow without the benefit of radios. The only crash of the race happened right in front of us so my urge for bloodlust was satisfied. (Just kidding. No one was hurt, but the insurance adjuster totaled both cars.)
The funniest thing was that we left in the middle of the race. My friend said, “Neither you nor I care who wins this race, and considering the traffic jam that’s likely to occur, if we don’t leave now we’re going to be here until midnight.” So we left, went back to the motel (where we actually stayed in a motor home in the motel parking lot) and I headed northeast to Toledo to visit my brother and his family. As I cruised north on I-69 I mistakenly figured that I’d be able to find a ballgame on the radio, ie, the Cubs, White Sox, Tigers or Reds, but every single radio station in Indiana seems to be contractually required to broadcast the 500 on race day, except of course for those playing gospel music. That’ll teach me.