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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

25 Thoughts From The Indy 500

Once the checkered flag has waved at Indianapolis, and the winner has taken their victory lap, I usually like to go home and spend Memorial Day with the family, in the hopes that they have not completely forgotten who I am during my frequent absences in the Month of May. I also usually like to let my thoughts on the race steep for a day or two before doing any really in-depth writing, as well. I was excited enough about Tony Kanaan’s victory to scribble a bit on Monday, but waited until Tuesday to really start writing about the race as a whole. With that in mind, here are 25 thoughts from the 97th Running of the Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May in general:

1) Others have already waxed eloquently on just what TK’s victory meant to the fans, and I think we all have a pretty good idea that this is one of the most popular 500 victories in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Still, it was gratifying to see fans in my section become truly emotional over this victory for a driver they’ve cheered for over a decade. It was genuine emotional investment in the outcome of a race, far more than just a simple, “Oh, good for him”. That’s pretty great to see.

2) Whatever folks outside the 500 experience think of grown men and women with tears in their eyes from Jim Nabors singing, or getting emotional during a flyover or the site of cars forming into 11 rows of 3, I’m happy that there’s something out there that still causes that sort of emotion. We live in a cynical, jaded world, where items such as patriotism, tradition, and home pride are increasingly devalued and mocked. But every year, the tears flow for me during “Back Home Again in Indiana”, and I’m galvanized when I hear the “Start Your Engines” command. Looking around and seeing everyone from the elderly to burly biker guys have the same reactions, that’s a good reminder that Indy transcends modern expectations.

3) It was chilly enough in the stands early Sunday to warrant buying a hot chocolate and Brickyard Burger—both for warmth as much as taste.

4) Quick thought: Since Tony Kanaan won, is Marco Andretti the new Lloyd Ruby of this generation? Next year will be his 9th Indy 500, and few have been better or more exciting to watch over the years at IMS. I suppose you could make an argument for Ed Carpenter, though his finishes at Indy haven’t been quite as good overall. Something to think about, I suppose.

These guys put on a heck of a show.
Courtesy IndyCar Media. Image: Forrest Mellot
5) Speaking of Marco, in case you hadn’t noticed, he’s leading in points for the IZOD IndyCar Series title. I know Indy is huge to him, but he’s just been uniformly excellent this year. And without that Dario crash, don’t tell me you don’t see a massive four-way shootout for the win coming. I still think he’ll get his Indy win in due time, but for now, there's a great title fight afoot.

6) You also have to like what Ryan Hunter-Reay is doing. He isn’t in the points lead yet, but he’s certainly in the discussion after that performance of Indy. Plus, he’s got some tracks coming up where he’s done quite well indeed. It would seem the hope of a repeat title is very much alive and kicking.

7) Fans who watched Versus/NBC Sports a couple of years ago probably remember the “Hoodie Ninja” commercial and song. I’m fully convinced Justin Wilson and Charlie Kimball are “Honda ninjas”. You sort of lose track of how they’re doing mid-race, you aren’t paying attention, and then suddenly—POW!!!—Top 10 finish. I’m not sure how they do it, but I suspect it involves smoke pellets.

8) Honda had been at least competitive in the first four races before Indy, but Chevy grabbing spots 1-4 and not really having a Honda in serious contention for the win this past weekend has to hurt. Moving back to the twisties, I wouldn’t be surprised if Honda comes storming back, but man, did Chevy power ever go roaring to Victory Circle in a powerful way.

9) Believe it or not, but I totally missed the entire uproar over the security lines outside some of the gates. I’m usually at the track when the gates open, and was just a little bit later this year thanks to a stomach bug that wouldn’t go away. I understand that folks who arrived later on in the morning had delays, especially those arriving in the last hour. IMS has apologized, and hopefully next year goes a bit smoother. That said, avoid lines, traffic, and the joy of easy access are two of the big reasons I camp across the street.

10) Speaking of camping, I’d really like to see some more family areas for camping. That’s probably a tall order, given how the campsites are laid out, but I was in Lot 2 this year (a more sedate lot by reputation versus the Coke Lot), and I still saw enough to guarantee I would never take my kids tent camping there on race weekend. Honestly, Lot 3, which I believe is supposed to be family-oriented, isn’t much better. That’s probably a losing battle, and I’ll just have to look for another solution.

11) Getting to interview Marco Andretti, Buddy Lazier, Ryan Hunter-Reay, EJ Viso, and others is amazing. Whether you’ve got a ticket for practice, a bronze badge, or a media credential (and I’ve done all three in my time at Indy), you aren’t going to leave without getting to interact with drivers if you want to. My daughter was able to see all her favorites this month, and that’s pretty special, I think.

12) I really thought at several points during the month Carlos Muñoz would have a rookie “moment” and lose it in the turn. His line was a bit iffy at points leading up to the race, but he certainly proved himself amply this past Sunday. He was patient when he needed to be patient, aggressive when he could be aggressive, and looked like a veteran for 200 laps. He has a bright future in INDYCAR, I think.

13) For the record, Muñoz still has a 27-point title lead in Firestone Indy Lights after last Friday’s Freedom 100, though Peter Dempsey did a nice job of jumping to P2 after his insanely exciting, last-second victory. We won’t see Lights again until the Milwaukee Mile in a few weeks, but I am really excited to see how Muñoz and Dempsey mix it up with guys like Sage Karam and Gaby Chaves the rest of this season. I truly believe all of them are or will eventually be next-level talents.

14) Keeping with Mazda Road to Indy news for a moment, congrats to Neil Alberico and Matthew Brabham for their Night Before The 500 victories. Matty Brabs is opening up a big lead in Star Mazda competition, while Alberico (and all his peers) have plenty of work to do to erase Scott Hargrove’s still-demanding lead in USF2000. Also, it’s great to see “The Viking” Anders Krohn back in an open wheel car again, even though I’d much prefer it be a Firestone Indy Lights program (or even a shot in the big cars).

15) I want to give a huge thanks to my fellow blogger and social media fan types for a great month. Seriously, most of us exist in a wasteland of racing conversation for 11 months out of the year in our homes and workplaces. Talking shop and racing, without any of the meta angst, was hugely enjoyable. It’s great to see people writing and participating not because they want some form of micro-celebrity or recognition, but for the simple, pure love of INDYCAR and the 500. To the crowd watching quals from the inside of Turn 1, that was the best. BSing over the 500 and trying to guess what drivers will do on their qual runs beats just about anything else.

16) Huge cheers to Ana Beatriz; she fought through some tough portions of the race to be Sunday’s biggest mover on the day and net her all-time best finish at Indy. +14 positions in a race like that is nothing to sneeze at.

17) I largely avoided the idiocy of the knee-jerk calls for Green-White-Checkered finishes after Sunday, but I’ll just say this: there is almost nothing that would make me stop following INDYCAR. Incorporating the G-W-C would very likely do the trick.

18) Moving on from that unpleasantness, getting to see a team throw together a last-minute effort as Lazier Partners Racing did was really cool. I sincerely hope that the Lazier crew makes Indy an annual obligation—and I’d love to see them get something together for Texas or Pocono later this season. It figured they’d have mechanical issues with as little time as they had with the car, but I still came away impressed overall. Let’s see what they can do with a proper ramp-up.

19) A.J. Allmendinger is not only one heck of a driver (and probably the 500 Rookie of the Year in just about any other year), but he’s funny, occasionally self-deprecating, and a fun addition to the lineup. If he keeps adding races, I think he can finish Top 20 in points, even if he misses a couple of rounds. For now, I’m looking forward to what he can do at Detroit. He definitely belongs in open wheel racing.

20) Overheard in the camping lot this past weekend: “It’s our first 500! We have great seats—all the way at the bottom” (they were sitting in a turn). It’s an experience thing. If your regular bill of fare is baseball and football games, that probably seems like a good deal. They probably figured it out in pretty short order when the green flag flew.

21) How disappointing was JR Hildebrand’s early out? I really thought this might be a big year, a resurgent year, for Panther Racing, but both Hildebrand and Townsend Bell ran into issues that ruined their race. For Hildebrand, leading at the white flag in 2011 seems pretty far removed right now. I hope he grabs a good result in the next few races. The series would benefit from him going on a nice, competitive run.

22) I really think Simon Pagenaud is getting back to the form that wowed so many of us last year when he was a rookie. Since St. Pete, we’ve seen all Top 10s, but after last year, I think we all expect a podium or two by this point in the season. There’s still plenty of racing to be had, though, and I still think we’ll see plenty of good things from him on ovals and street courses alike.

23) IMS should have a chili dog stand inside the grounds. A dedicated chili dog stand, where the focus is just chili dogs. Tenderloins and soft pretzels have their place, but I think a specialty hot dog/chili dog vendor would be aces.

24) Being a fan is cool. Being creepy and following a driver or drivers around to excess is not. I saw several examples of the latter this month. There will always be creeps, be it at IMS or elsewhere. Courtesy is a great thing, as is not obsessing over a driver to the point of discomfort. Some fans just don’t get it.

25) Looking back at the month, it isn’t just one thing that really makes the month special. It’s the accessibility of drivers like EJ Viso and Pippa Mann, who don’t have to be as friendly and pleasant as they are, especially when they’re under pressure, but do it anyway. It’s getting to listen to Bobby Unser turn a question about the weather into a 30-minute monologue about the 1970s. It’s getting to hang out with my buddies old and new, who spend every minute at the track that they can because they get it. It’s getting to see little sneak peeks of what we can expect with Turbo. It’s the first and last pork tenderloins of the month (ok, and all the tenderloins in the middle). It’s seeing the fans’ champion, Tony Kanaan, finally get it done. It’s Peter Dempsey and Belardi, Alex Tagliani and Team Barracuda. It’s sharing what you love with others. It’s tuning out the bad for the good kind. It’s knowing that we just went through another 500, and know even a bit more now of what Indy means to each of us.

Is it (next) May yet?

5 comments:

  1. Ken @AbuelosDeTreceMay 29, 2013 at 7:34 AM

    Very Nice Zack... Very nice.

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  2. Great piece, Zach. This is the longest post-Indy hangover I've ever had. You summed it up beautifully.

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  3. Do you think your stomach bug that wouldn't go away was due to those tenderloins? ;-)

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  4. Good call on Lot 3. I made that mistake last year with my 11 year old son. Camped next to a group of former Marines that did their best to ruin whatever Memorial Day goodwill the rest of us had towards the U.S. military. So much for family friendly camping.

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