A First-Timer’s Take on the Indy 500
March 28th 2015
Target Chip Ganassi Racing Garage
The 98th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was exactly that: spectacular. From round-trip police escort on Sunday to Race Mode access to pit ally during the race, the Indy 500 is easily the most impressive tradition I have ever experienced.
On the day prior to race day I explored my new and exciting surroundings. From the Bricks that lay on the Start/Finish to the classic cars on display in the Plaza to the Target Chip Ganassi Racing (TCGR) Garage, the sheer magnitude of everyone’s passion for this sport is almost overwhelming. After the track I headed to the TCGR Shop with the sports contributor from CraveOnline.com and saw exactly what goes into building a racing machine. Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Target and Chip Ganassi Racing partnership, the shop had been decked out in past winner’s fire suits, trophies, and a great selection of hors d’oeuvres.
Inside at the TCGR Shop
Race day began at 5:20a.m. with a pre-sunrise departure from the JW Marriot via police escort. While there wasn’t too much traffic to contend with at that time, we still passed droves of fans getting ready for their Indy 500 to begin. The smell of campfires and a slight fog greeted us at the hospitality tent.
We then went on a tour of the inspection area, garage, pit and start/finish (including picture time with the Borg-Warner trophy. I was given great insights into the TCGR strategies and Indy Racing in general. After this tour it was time to eat, and I was hungry. Breakfast was prepped, cooked and served from a motor coach and tent. With everything from oatmeal to bagels and lox, frittata to fruit I ate my fill and awaited further instructions. Once Chip arrived, the buzz began. First all the sponsors arrived and with them came the family and friends. Fans started to crowd around the tent as Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon arrived for the pre-race pep talk. Speeches were given humbly and received with applause and cheers, everyone hoping one of our drivers would be drinking the milk a few short hours later. The drinking of milk after winning the Indy 500 tradition started with Louis Meyer in 1936 after winning his third Indy 500 on a hot summer day (FUN FACT: Both Scott and Tony would chose to drink 2% milk).
With our “Race Mode” passes we were now granted access to the race mile long stretch, with all the cars in position and the pre-race convoy getting ready to make their lap. We watched as teams went through their final pre-races checks. Following this we saw God Bless America, the National Anthem and Nabors’ last time singing “Back Home Again in Indiana.” There were thousands of balloons released and a fly-by of 4 fighter jets (which, now looking back, probably flew by slower than the Indy Cars I was about to watch).
“Start your engines!” These three simple words began the most incredible race I have ever witnessed. After 3 laps with Dario Franchitti (2-time winner and TCGR adviser) driving the pace car the racers really started to roar. There was a glorious feeling when the hollow sound permeated the earplugs and Radio headset I was wearing, immediately followed by the vibrations of the cars flying past. After watching a dozen laps in the brilliant Indiana sun we went to the TCGR suite and enjoyed some sweet tea and southern classics.
Access to the pit
After lap 78 we headed down to pit alley to watch a real time pit stop. Kanaan was scheduled to come in within the next 10 laps. Standing 6 feet from the wall the smell of seared rubber filled my nose. There were stacks of tires in every pit with all the used sets being brought out by hand truck. When Tony came in I barely had time to snap a picture, before he was burning rubber pulling out of the pit (60 mph speed limit on the pit row). After observing a few more laps from the pit I made my way back up to the suite. The last 10 laps were quite incredible, after a caution, and a red flag (all the racers had to stop without pitting) there was a beautiful game of follow the leader between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves ( although they were both in yellow cars so it was difficult to tell who was actually in the lead without tuning in to the TV). The race finished in spectacular fashion with the second place car only meters behind Ryan Hunter-Reay.
We proceeded to the caravan for another police escort, although you can only go so fast when 230,000 people are trying to leave the venue. We listened to the “U-S-A” chants as we left, a reminder that this is only the first time since 2006 that an American had won.
It took a few hours for the adrenaline to wear off and the fatigue to set in, but I slept with a smile after watching the most spectacular race ever.
By Spencer May