My Indy 500
I arrived at the track just after 8am on Sunday morning to watch my 17th consecutive Indianapolis 500. As per usual I opened my first beer on the walk to the track just before 8:10 am, and it tasted delicious. My seats are in the Southwest Vista, in between turns one and two. The people I was meeting to tailgate were in the snake pit, which is located in turn 3. Needless to say that with the 90+ degree heat, by the time I got to turn 3 I had drank three 16 oz beers, and was completely exhausted. I walked from the Junior high school on 14th street, all the way to turn 3. This took over half an hour for me to get over to the snake pit. I took several breakes on the way, because my cooler easily weighed 70 lbs with all the ice and beer in it. I have been to 17 Indy 500s, but this was my first real adventure into the snake pit, and what an atmosphere!! I can’t mention all the sights and sounds, since this is a family site, but the crowd over there was young, enthusiastic, and honestly most seemed they could have cared less about the actual race. Many in the snake pit were more focused on playing bags and shot-gunning beers, but as long as they keep coming each year I’m fine with it. I stayed over there until about 11am hanging out and tailgating. We went to our seats before the race began at 12. All the prerace festivities were spectacular as expected. Though my favorite Jim Neighbors was unable to attend, thank God they had a video recording of him singing, “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Another bright spot before the race was the prerace prayer; it was one of the best I have heard in the 17 years at the track, due to the crowd participation required during the prayer. After every few sentences the father would say, “Can I get an amen.” Hearing hundreds of thousands of people saying “Amen” simultaneously gave me goose bumps, and is something that will stay with me from this race forever.
Soon after the race began, and with a torrid pace Briscoe and Hinch made several early passes for the lead. With each early pass, no matter which driver it was, the crowd went crazy for each lead change. As hot as it was, it looked like today was going to be a great day, with lots of passing… turns out I was right with the racing having a record number 34 lead changes!! Throughout the day I noticed whoever was leading the race off of turn 4, was passed just before the start finish line and turn one. Seeing several of these passes before the finish line had me primed for an exciting photo finish.
As to my surprise, there weren’t as many cautions as I thought with the high track temperatures. With the lack of cautions I commented fairly early that this would turn into a fuel mileage race. Though Chevy has had better gas mileage during other races this season (Esp w/ Will Power), it was fairly obvious that the Ganassi cars were getting better mileage all day, as they were staying out 4-5 laps longer than most of the other cars. Before the race my family and I always make three driver picks that they want to win, think will win, and a dark horse. I picked Marco to win, Rahal was who I wanted to see win, and Justin Wilson was my dark horse. At one point during the race I looked up and noticed all of my drivers were in the top six spots. At that point I was feeling pretty confident in my drivers, and reminded my family of the picks I made before the race. Shortly after my braggadocio statements and a green flag pit stops, aside from Wilson my picks would struggle. With about 40 laps left, after the Josef Newgarden caution, this race was no longer a 500 mile endurance race, it was going to be a 40 lap, sprint car type shootout. On the restart from Newgargens caution cars were going everywhere jockeying for position, and the big question was, who has enough fuel to make it to the end?
Then with about 20 laps to go Ed Carpenter spun out just in front of our seats and threw the fuel strategy out the window. The crowd was cheering the safety crew on to get Ed going, so he wouldn’t lose a lap, but they were unable to get the car restarted in time. Carpenter was running in the top 6 at the time and finished 21st. I thought the last two restarts were exciting; the next one was jaw dropping. I have watched the replay several times, and I still don’t know how he did it, but Kanaan stormed into the lead from about P6 or 7 and the crowd around me went absolutely nuts both times he took the lead. After TK took the lead again Marco, his former teammate and probably the strongest car in the race, spun out in turn one. Marco went into turn one a bit too low, and it cost him a solid finish in the race. At this point we had 7 total cautions in the race, and the last 4 were in the last 50-60 laps or so. All I could think of before the race went back to green was how amazing this restart would be if there were double file restarts like last year. Then the green flag waived on lap 6 and Dario took over the lead from TK. TK then fell to fourth place and suddenly with four laps to go Dixon was in the lead with Dario second and they were pulling away from the field. With the tow as strong as it was throughout the day Sato and TK started to close the gap on the two Target cars. With two to go Dario passed Dixon and Sato followed him though the hole to take second place. The crowd was going absolutely insane with all the action in the final laps, and as the white flag was waving, I was yelling at Sato to take him in turn four. I really thought it was his race to lose at that point, even though he was in second place. A majority of the lead changes during the race happened off of turn four, and I was hopping Sato would be able to do the same. As they headed toward turn one I saw Sato go low and put his nose under Dario. I was cheering for the pass, but at the same time was thinking he made his move too early. Our whole section stood as Sato went to the inside, and as he and Dario’s wheels touched one could hear 500,000 people in chorus give a disappointing moan. In live action I thought Dario came down a little on Sato, and didn’t give him any room to complete the pass. As I exited the track I was pretty disappointed that Dario got away with another incident like this. After watching replays I don’t think Dario came down on Sato at all, but he didn’t give any room either. On the last lap, of the most important race I can’t say I would give any room either. With that said Dario definitely anticipated contact with Sato. If he didn’t anticipate the contact he would have been in the wall with Sato as well. When the wheels touch in these cars in is nearly impossible not to spin, unless you are initiating the contact or anticipating it. If Takuma had more space into turn one he wouldn’t have had to go so low and touch the white line. Sato went too early, and it cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars. Had he waited to pass until off of turn four, Dario wouldn’t have been able to pinch him low on the straightaway. The crowd around me was very disappointed in the finish and many, including myself, booed Dario in the winner’s circle. Had Sato made the pass, I would have considered this one of the greatest 500s I had seen; instead it goes down as an eventful, but disappointing day for me. I always DVR the race and watch it again, because you can’t catch everything at the race. Of all the things I missed because I was at the race, the thing that stood out to me the most was Ashley Judd’s interview after Dario had won. I couldn’t help but be absolutely turned off by what she said. I’m not sure if it was her tone of voice, her brash statements, or that she didn’t mention Dan Wheldon, but to call your husband a legend just really hit me the wrong way. He maybe a legend one day, but that is solely due to him winning at the most legendary race track in the world and nothing else.