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Women had raced Indy before. Guthrie, Fisher, St. George. But, they were “women racing at Indy”. Danica was a contender. Fastest speed in May. Fourth on the grid. Posturing for a win. A racer who just so happened to be a woman.
The race would be different for us, too. It was a family trip this year. You have to understand, I've been blessed by three beautiful daughters. Long before Danica Fever, we had decided Indy would be a family affair starting in 2005. Some debated, but when it came down to it, they all wanted to do.
First stop of the trip was for souvenirs. Two secrets. First, buy the officially licensed merchandise. It's quality stuff. Second, don't buy it at the track, unless you enjoy feeling like a pack mule. The mall in downtown Indianapolis has an official store. Get in Saturday. It may be crowded, but you'll thank me later.
Race day could have been a concern. C'mon, three girls, all day, bathrooom breaks, “boring” racing, and a few unsavory characters could have added up to nastiness. But it didn't.
The weather was flawless. There were some concerns about late day thunderstorms (see my 2004 report to appreciate storms and Indy), but it was a brilliant, sunny day. Our oldest daughter opted out since she was fighting a nasty cold, so it was just four of us. The later start time meant we could head out a little later. We made our way to the north free parking lot at about 8 a.m. and drove right in.
After an obligatory trek to the Pagoda and nearby souvenir shop (OK, we missed a few items at the off-track shop), we settled into our seats on Turn 4.
Pre-race highlights included great by Three Doors Down, the Purdue Marching Band and Jim Nabors belting out “Back Home in Indiana”. I still get choked up by the B-2 flyover, despite seeing it three years in a row.
It all came to a head when Mari Hulman George declared “Lady and gentlemen, start your engines.”
The race that ensued included some of the best, purest racing I've ever seen. Leaders were duking it out, challengers took risks. The Foyt Boys help up the rear until they either caused an accident or just pooped out.
The darling of the day, though, stole everyone's hearts. Every time Danica’s progress was announced, the crowd cheered. every regression was marked by a collective sigh of disappointment.
There were two young couples behind us enjoying their first race. One of the women was on the phone with her mother for ten minutes ranting, “Oh my gawd, this is awesome. It’s so noisy. The cars are so fast. We’re so drunk.” When Danica’s hopes seemed dashed by a long pit stop and near collision, the two couples wrote the race off and left. Thank you, God.
The most amazing thing happened as Danica was able to take advantage of several conditions and climb to the front. That’s when it happened. Her 400,000 fans climbed to their feet. Every race fan had seemingly become a Danica fan. It wasn’t just mothers and daughters. They were joining, and they were joined by everyone else. It didn’t seem to matter who you’d normally cheer for; Danica was everyone's star. As she passes, everyone rose; some waved their hats, some waved hands, most cheered. DanicaMania was in full swing.
Her decision to run without refueling showed her true competitive heart. It was the way she was able to take the lead. It was also her undoing. It cost her the lead; it even cost her a podium finish. The crowd cheered her to the finish, though. The last-lap caution brought on by Bourdais’ mishap likely saved her from falling farther; a fact no one seemed ready to recognize.
The final show of the day was unintended. Dan Wheldon took his victory doughnuts right in front of our seats. At least until he stalled the car...or ran out of fuel. The crowed jeered him for his failed bravado, then cheered the marshal who pushed the car back to the pits...solo. (Postscript: the “marshal” was the track’s VP of operations).
She wasn’t near the podium, but Wheldon shared the victory limelight with Danica.
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© Steve Simpson
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