We took a big step with our trip to the 2008 Indy 500. Our two oldest daughters opted out after getting their fill at last year’s rain soaked run. We invited Erik and Sara Phillips, our good friends from church, to join us. We got together the month before to talk about the trip and our plans. OK, so it felt a little more like we told them our plans and expected them to follow them. I guess that’s the advantage of experience, right?
The trip was much as we’ve come to expect, with the addition of great travel companions. Our hosts at the Drury Inn did another fantastic job caring for us. I was even greeted by name, despite the fact that it had been a year since they’d seen my mug. Janet and her folks treat us and their other Indy fans like royalty, even rolling out a full hot breakfast early Sunday morning.
Things took a bit of a turn...wait, it’s more appropriate to say we drove straight into a new adventure...the morning of the race. As we were entering the free North Lot to park, we were waved straight instead of left into the filling lot. We first assumed we were headed to a different lot as North was filling up. We were stopped and asked to pay for parking, but showed our race tickets. At that, we were directed toward the tunnel to the infield. Understand that infield parking typically requires waiting in line overnight, so we were a little excited.
Just before entering the tunnel, we spied several guys in fatigues trying to catch a tram into the track. One of the traditions behind the 500 is the celebration of our military and the people who protect our freedom. Throughout the day, fans show their support as commanders speak from the Pagoda, troops from all branches parade around the track in the back of trucks, and squads march down pit lane. There’s an air of respect, remembrance and celebration shown through standing ovations, waving of hats and a few shed tears.
On this day, though, one tram driver left four soldiers behind. We stopped, without any need for discussion, threw open the sliding van door and invited them in. There were five of us and four of them in a seven-seat van, so we had desert drab camo shoved everywhere we could fit; a couple guys shared one seat and the others squeezed between the middle seats.
“We’re supposed to be by the Pagoda at 8. Where’s the Pagoda?” one of them asked.
We pointed to the tower. “It’s 7:55, so we’ll get you as close as we can.” Close meant not very close. We were forced to turn onto the infield grass inside Turn 3. We let our soldier riders jump out on the mid-line road, bid them farewell and thanks, and watched them run off.
Infield parking seems like a great idea. We had visions of walking back to the car before the race, or making a quick exit at the end. More later on the glories of infield parking.
It’s not my intention to bore you with details of the actual race. I figure if you’ve read this far, you either watched it on ABC or followed it elsewhere. Two quick comments, though. First, the long cautions made for a long race. When they raced, it was grand. Second, for all the hoopla around Danica Patrick, she finally got caught on international TV being the “Bad Girl”. Let’s get a better representative of Indy racing than Danica (see my article on her by clicking here ).
My eyes still well up at several key moments on race day. As part of the Memorial Weekend link, “Taps” is played long and somber for those who served and gave their lives. (Just thinking about it now causes me to pause....) When Mary Hulman George makes the “start your engine” declaration, it’s not hard to feel the entire crowd of 400,000 swell and cheer in anticipation. And, as the cars whine around Turn 4 on their way to the green start flag, the whole spectacle comes together. I’m even finding that reviews and previews of the festivities cause my heart to race.
It’s easy to say the Indy 500 is more than a race. C’mon, they’ve trademarked the phrase “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” During NBC’s coverage leading into the weekend, they called it the largest Memorial Day celebration in the US. It was easy for us to feel a little jaded, especially as we met with Erik and Sara before the trip. But it is truly a spectacle, a festival, a ceremony and a celebration. Despite the best efforts of some who see such events as drunken orgies, the Indy 500 truly is a grand celebration of motorsports and a day of remembrance for those who serve our country.
See a few photo on my PicasaWeb site by clicking here .
Postlogue: I’ve intentionally buried these comments here, because I don’t want to detract from the positive messages that Indy weekend carries. Infield parking was a novelty, until we returned to our van after the race. First, the partying was excessive. Stumble-drunks were plentiful and their antics were less than comical. I’d say the traffic was bad, but don’t you have to be moving for it to be considered traffic? The infield is the last to empty out, so we sat for a very long time before we were moved out. My advice? Stick to the North Lot!
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© Steve Simpson