One of the things on my bucket list was to go to the Indy 500. Well, it has happened, and it was a week I will never forget. The speedway is huge, the museum is fantastic and the people are friendly. Since my adventure lasted a whole week, this story will go day by day. While I was there I heard things and observed things, which I will interject throughout this story.
FRIDAY the 17th — Usually when I am up at 0-dark hundred it is to go to a car show or cruise-in. Not this time. I was on my way to Portland to catch a flight to Indy. My wife drove and we picked up my friend Steve Veltman. Steve was my guide on this adventure because he has been there and done that many times. As we were making our landing approach into Indianapolis Airport you could see the Speedway.
“That place is huge.”
After we landed we picked up our rental car, found our airbnb and went grocery shopping. We went out to dinner at White Castle, a hamburger place in Indianapolis that I had never been to. Then we drove by the Speedway. Even at night that place has a presense.
SATURDAY the 18th — From our airbnb we walked to the track and sat in the seats that we would have for the race, in the middle of turn one. Great view! We could see the cars coming out of turn four, down the front straight, through turn one, down the short shoot into turn two. Then we walked to the tunnel that led to the infield. We went to the Pagoda Plaza where we met Steve’s daughter, Cora. Cora works for the Speedway Museum and for NBC Sports. She was very busy.
I went through Gasoline Alley for the first time. All the cars and race teams were there. Every race team had their own garage area. With the garage doors open you could see the teams at work. When qualifying time approached we went back to our seats in turn one.
“Oh my goodness, those cars are fast.”
After qualifying we went back to our airbnb. I saw wildlife in the neighborhood.
“Racoons, squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, an opposum hissing from under the porch and the smell of a skunk. More wildlife than at my cabin at Detroit Lake.”
Later we went to a local hangout, the Union Jack Pub for dinner. The place was filled with memorabilia. Diecast cars, photos, posters, shirts, helmets and even a real sprint car in the corner. Oh yes, the food was great, too.
SUNDAY the 19th — We went back to the track and it started to rain. We walked around gasoline alley trying to find my friend Davey Hamilton who works for Harding Steinbrenner Racing as a coordinator. Davey was busy so I will try to catch him later. The rain finally stopped. Qualifying was a go after the track was dried. I thought the Indy cars were loud, but the loudest things on the track were the jet track dryers. After about an hour of that noise the track was dry. Qualifying was on. The fastest and pole winner was Simon Pagenaud at 229.992 MPH.
“Beats watching old westerns.”
MONDAY the 20th — When Steve and I decided to go to the 500 he suggested getting a Bronze Badge. The badge works like a pass to go almost anywhere. One of the perks is to be able to go on pit row Monday only. A great chance to get up close and personal with cars, teams and drivers. After practice we finally got to talk with Davey. We talked about his racing supermodified in the Northwest and California. He told us about another supermodified racer who has a shop in the area, Chet Fillip. Both Davey and Chet are two of a small group of drivers that went from supermodified to Indy cars.
TUESDAY the 21st — Nothing going on at the track. So we went to Grant King’s shop. The shop restores vintage Indy cars. He also displays vintage sprint, midget, and quarter midget cars, along with several walls covered with photos of old race cars from the northwest. While we were there we met John Martin. He is a former Indy car and Trans Am driver. Nowadays he is a specialist in rebuilding Offy engines and VW engines for vintage midgets.
“Frankenstein engines: an Offy engine built from several different Offy engines,” and “I can fix junk, it only takes a little longer.”
The next stop on our shop tour is Chet Fillip’s Advanced Racing Suspensions. Chet raced a very unique supermodified throughout the country. The car is a Hyte built offset rear engine powered by a fuel injected big block Chevy. It sits so low the top of the roll cage is only about 2 ½ ft high. Chet still has the car. It’s in storage on the second story of his shop. Even if it is covered with dust and spare parts it is all together and so cool.
“‘I asked, didn’t you race the 500? “Once a while back,” said Chet very modestly.’”
Back to the speedway to get a guided tour of the museum by Cora. She worked on the display to celebrate Mario Andretti’s 50 years at the speedway. She did a great job, we saw all of Mario’s cars, driver suits, helmets and photos.
WEDNESDAY the 22nd — Time to kiss the bricks. Steve and I took the tour, a bus ride around the 2 ½ mile speedway and stopping to take photos and the kiss. Back to the museum and to the photo archives. It’s a room where they have thousands of photos taken at the speedway. You can buy any photo 8×10 for as low as $10.00.
On the way back to our home away from home we stopped at Dallara Race Cars. The shop was closed, but the display area was open to look around. About a block down the road was an indoor go-cart racing track for all ages to participate. It has a road race course, a flat oval, and a high banked oval.
THURSDAY the 23rd — Back to the track for Legends Day, a day of vintage Indy cars both on display and racing on the track. The display was of 70 vintage race cars. They had everything: diesel powered, Offy powered, Ford and Chevy powered, custom built engines and a turbine. There was such a variety of cars: uprights, roadsters, laydowns, rear engines and front engines. It was great to see the old cars out on the track. The sounds of the different engines was exciting to hear.
“When restoring the Boyce vintage race car transport truck , it was like a scene from NCIS with body parts all over the floor,” spoken by the driver of the transport truck.
The question came up about vintage racing: “When was the first car race? Right after the second car was built.”
FRIDAY the 24th — Carb day, Beer Day. The day that a lot [ cont. from p. 13 ] of people take a day off work and party. “Take the lawn chairs out of the garage put them on the driveway and party.”
As we went to the track we saw dozens of parties even early in the morning in driveways and yards.
“A beer keg in a baby stroller.” I kid you not.
The speedway was full of fun loving partyers and unusual dress. I saw a man with cut off bib overalls held up by one strap, cowboy boots, a sparkling star spangled cowboy hat.
It’s the last practice for the Indy cars. We sat in our seats and watched the practice. Then we went out to Lucas Raceway to watch the USAC sprint cars. We were able to take advantage of a chance to watch the race from the press box. It was great.
SATURDAY the 25th — This is the day after Beer Day. As we were going to the speedway and to the Memorabilia Show therein, you would never have known there were any parties the day before. The neighborhood and Speedway were cleaned up, no litter or beer cans could be seen. If you are looking for anything about the 500 you could find it at the Memorabilia Show. Poster, pins, yearbooks, photos, books, shirts, jackets, and even a brick from the original paving of the speedway. I even bought an original brick dated 1901 from turn three that was used in a local flowerbed. It was great just to walk through the show.
SUNDAY the 26th — RACE DAY! And for once the weatherman was wrong. All week long they said it was supposed to rain Sunday. The weather was high clouds, mild breeze and no rain. We arrived early to the Speedway so we would not miss anything. As I watched all the pageantry, marching bands, releasing the balloons, the crowd of people just kept coming in. Everything I dreamed of. Corvettes were the official pace cars. “Back Home Again In Indiana” sung by Jim Cornelison, the national anthem sung by Kelly Clarkson. The pace cars hosted former winners. Then the flyover: four planes led by an F-16, trailed by an A-10 Warthog with a P-51 Mustang on one side and a British Spitfire on the other side. It was cool! Then came the familiar announcement, “Drivers start your engines”. The pace laps, the green flag, the deafening noise of the cars and the crowd, 400,000 strong. Three wide down the front straight diving into turn one.
It was hard to get any good photos due to the crowd and the speed of the cars.
The whole race was great, especially the last 15 laps. It was a battle for the lead between Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud. Passing back and forth right in front of us in turn one.
As you probably know Pagenaud came through as the winner with Rossi a close second.
MONDAY the 27th — We took the day off and tried to unwind and relax before getting ready to go back home. It took a couple hours to pack with all the souvenirs I got, but well worth the time.
TUESDAY the 28th — Made it to the airport only to find as we were checking in that our connecting flight in Chicago was canceled due to mechanical problems. There were no other flights to Portland on Tuesday. Southwest took very good care of us though, and we finally got home Wednesday afternoon after a stop in Vegas and beautiful downtown Burbank. It was a great adventure, fun and exciting, but it was great to be home.