Monday, May 26, 2014

Almost Sublime

When I left my home early Sunday morning 
to walk over to the track, the first thing 
I noticed was the smell of smoke from grills
that had actually formed a haze in the sunlit air. 
The aroma of sausage was joined 
by the rhythm of dance music, both inviting me 
eastward towards the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 
to join a quarter-million or so friends for the 
THE! Indianapolis 500-Mile Race!

While my immediate neighborhood was quiet,
 I only had to walk a block or two before the stream 
of people walking towards the Speedway, 
about two miles away, began to increase in density.
We were all joined in the same mission --
the identical journey, to participate in a colorful rite
that for nearly 100 years has alternately
thrilled, enthralled, and frightened every one
of us, as we watch drivers test their skills
with machines going 230+ mph.

After reaching the track, I stopped at the on-track office 
of the Indianapolis Star to greet photographer friends 
who were working at the race, then proceeded towards 
the viewing mounds inside Turn Two. I hadn't gone more than
a few feet before I saw Dario Franchitti, surrounded by
people, near the black Chevrolet Camaro Z28 pace car
he was to drive later that day. He's a handsome, kind,
and soft-spoken man who seemed to undergo some sort of
personality change behind the wheel of a race car.
Now retired due to injuries received in a race last year,
we are so happy to have him back and hope he chooses to
remain with us for many years. 

Behind Franchitti, standing in the shadow of the
Pagoda, were Ray Harroun's Marmon Wasp,
winner of the inaugural "500" in 1911,
and one of Team Penske's championship cars.
I overheard someone say, "That's an old Indy car."
I couldn't help myself; I turned around to respond with
"That's not just an 'old' Indy car, that's the first
Indy car, the one that won the first race in 1911."
There it stood, only a few feet from a contemporary
machine, yet with thousands of miles between them 
of discoveries about physics, chemistry, aerodynamics, 
and the will to win. Looking at those two cars
made that history almost palpable, something I could touch 
with my heart and mind, if not my hands.
I continued into Turn Two to find 
a place to watch the race.

After having taken pictures from inside Turn One
for over twenty years, I've never found a grandstand
seat to replace that spot. Separated from the track
by the pit lane and a creek, I could watch the cars as
they swept into the turn, a blurred mass of color
and power, then rush away to return forty 
or so seconds later. Two hundred times, slowed
only by accident, rain, or the races' end.

My Turn Two spot was the closest to that pleasure
I've found. I did not sit down, but leaned against
the fence to watch the cars as they streamed past.
The data on the video board gave up just after
the start of the race, but I found I could tell 
the progress of the race just by paying attention
to the cars' green flag pitstops, which occurred every
twenty laps or so. I was surprised that my
estimates were correct when I figured they must
have completed over 100 laps because
they'd come in for fuel and tires for the fourth time,
and the intensity of the race had increased; 
the cars seemed a bit faster and closer together.

There were no cautions until 150 laps into the race, 
just when one would expect madness
and craziness to ensue. Drivers began to take
chances they would not have taken earlier.
The real racing began and we had a 125-mile
shoot-out. Driver Townsend Bell suffered a hard
crash into the Turn Two SAFER barrier and
the race was red-flagged to allow personnel time
to clean up scattered debris and to make repairs 
to the wall. Other than for a mighty soreness 
later on Townsend would be OK.
 The race resumed with eight laps to go, 
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves
passing and re-passing each other one, two, three times. 
Helio ran out of opportunities and finished second, 
his fourth Indy win just a car length away, while Ryan
dashed across the line for his first.

Overall, the average speed for the race was
186.563 mph. Rather than having the men finish
the race under the caution flag, they were
allowed to settle it on the track, racing for the win.
People cheered with each lead change and,
when the checkered flag flew, the crowd left 
knowing they had seen an excellent race.


Stefan Jansson said...

This must have fantastic day.

Anonymous said...

It was also great on the radio ;-)
I love races with no yellows or reds but just high speed "chess" moves to get to the front.

William Kendall said...

Such a contrast between that 1911 car and the contemporary ones.