Tomorrow, hundreds of thousands of us in person and millions more at home get to experience the Centennial Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. It seems like it's been building so long, and now it's finally here. Are we in for a letdown? Bad weather? Our favorite driver crashing out early?
Some would say the expectations for the Centennial have been raised so high, nothing less than a perfect day will ruin it. I'd say we're in luck then, because even imperfect days at Indy are pretty fantastic.
Much has been written and will be written about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in this Centennial Era, trying to explain why it's special, why it isn't "just another race" or "just another race course". Like so many things precious and worthwhile in life, it isn't something that's easily explained, only experienced.
If you attend the Speedway, in the late afternoon or early, early mornings, sometimes you catch what I call a lull. The noise and humanity of the place dies away, and for a minute there's nothing but you and the Greatest Race Course In The World, listening to one another. I don't mean it to sound hokey or some faux-mystic thing, because it isn't. It's a pure moment, wherein the history and legacy of the place quietly impress themselves upon you.
In that silence, the quiet between PA announcements and the scream of motors and, lies the soul of the place. You think of Ray Harroun, Tommy Milton, Wilbur Shaw, Eddie Sachs, Jim Clark, Scott Brayton, men who played such an integral part of making this place what it is. And then the PA system kicks back to life, the engines fire up once again, and the silence is broken--but not forgotten.
No matter who wins tomorrow, no matter what transpires, we will have have been participants in a once-in-a-lifetime moment. The driver lineup will never mirror this one; the inevitable cautions and crashes will never be the same. Luck will show her face to some, and turn away from others. Some drivers will have their one moment at Indy, never to return and race again. Every Indy 500 leaves its own mark, though, its own layer of history upon the many others that blanket this place.
I can't sit here and give you a direct answer as the precise reason so many of us love Indy so deeply, I can only say I hope you get a chance one day to have those quiet moments at the track as well. In that silence, and the calm before the storm, is what you need to know.