Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Indy 500

So, I've decided to treat our move here as if it were a cultural experience on the level of Russia. It's been a rough transition so perhaps if I think of it that way, it'll help with the adjustment.

Anyway, Memorial Day weekend, Robbie and I got invited to go with his best friend and some other people to the Indy 500. For those of you who don't know, it's a race. With cars. But not cars. More about that shortly however.

Robbie's been and I guess if you live near Indianapolis you go at least once and then (especially if you live near the racetrack) you spend every other year hiding and waiting for traffic to clear. In any case I said "Sure, let's go. It'll be an adventure." So we did.

On the way to the track, Robbie explained to me a little about racing since apparently everyone in Indy knows all about it by osmosis. Me, not having that benefit, had to be educated. I learned that there are different colored flags for different things (Green means go, yellow means follow the pace car) and that while the Indy 500 is 500 miles (Which I did know) it's actually only 200 laps around the track. I asked Robbie how long it would take for them to race. "Oh probably about two hours." I didn't realize how fast those cars go. I was also informed that approximately 200,000 people show up for this shindig.

We decided to park at my in-laws because they conveniently live a semi-short walk away from the track (Although Robbie spent a good amount of time telling me how the walk used to be even shorter but this company called Allison Transmission bought the road that went directly to the track from the city and basically commandeered it so now everyone had to walk clear around. You learn fascinating things from the locals.) In the long run, it was a smart decision because we didn't have to pay for parking. I said it'd be no big deal to walk there and Robbie informed me that it wasn't the walk there that was rough, it was the walk back.

It wasn't hard to find the track. We just joined the great exodus of people. Which got bigger, and bigger and bigger the closer to the track we got. Once we got near the track, our first task was to find the rest of our group and thus was the first of many interesting conversation I was to have with my husband over the next several hours.

Me: Where did they say they were?
Robbie: Two o'clock on the round about.
Me: *Looking in that general direction How are we going to find them in this seething mass of humani...
Robbie: There they are!

So we met with our group and headed into the track. When you go to the Indy 500, you are allowed one cooler and one backpack per person. I had a backpack, our friends had coolers. We were told to go through this special line where they were checking these things. After making our way through the line without being checked (I have no idea...) we were in the stadium proper. Not gonna lie, it was pretty impressive. When they told me track, I was thinking track like for the sulky races at the far. You have a seat on any one of the bleachers and you can see the whole thing. These were our seats:

This is turn one. Yes. Turn one. There are four turns total.

This was from our seats looking in the other direction. You can't really see it but at the other end is turn 4.

Yeah, so basically this thing was huge. We had amazing seats. Right in the middle of turns 1 and 4. In the shade which was epic and believe it or not, that metal thing that was our little shady roof had more bleachers. I was told you could see the whole track from those top bleachers, but you also had to sit in the sun. I was glad we had the shade. 

There was a lot of announcing and fanfare before the race started. A tribute to America's armed forces, many patriotic songs, A song about Indiana. It was cool to hear America the Beautiful and God Bless America sung since you don't hear those songs sung much. Florence Henderson (Mrs. Brady) sang God Bless America and Jordan Sparks sang the national anthem. They introduced all the drivers and I also got to see Jeff Gordon. Okay, it was a ways away but it was still pretty cool. 

While we were waiting for things to get started, Robbie continued to tell me about the Indy 500 and we had yet another epic Abigail moment.

Robbie: Yeah, so this is different than NASCAR
Me: Wait, this isn't NASCAR?
Robbie: No, NASCAR uses more like regular cars and these aren't.
Me: So this is more like drag racing? Wait are there parachutes?
(People in front of us turn around and give us an odd look)
Robbie: Just be quiet...

I'm not an idiot I promise. I just am not familiar with these sports, although in my defense as soon as he said that about NASCAR, that clicked in my head. I've seen bits and pieces and realized that yeah, they do use more regular cars. 

Finally, after lots of waiting, the track was cleared, the racers were strapped in and a woman was brought to the microphone to utter those immortal words "Drivers, start your engines." I put on my ear protectors that my husband kindly brought for me and the engines went on. The drone of a billion bees could be heard. Seriously that's what it sounded like. The whole stadium was vibrating with the sound of it. I was super excited.

The flag was waved and the cars went off. Slowly. I looked at Robbie. "That was it? That wasn't very impressive" He replied that they did a couple of warm up laps first.Well, right off the bat, a couple turned into something like five. There was a car that immediately caught fire and a wreck so the race was off to a slow start. Eventually though, the green flag was waved and the race actually began. 

I had been joking about seeing a crash but let me tell you what, this years race was ridiculous. There were something like six crashes and a couple of pit crew members even got hit. (Link to Article About Pit Crew with Footage) It was insane. It was exciting though, even the not so exciting part in the middle. Once the cars got up to speed and spread out, the hum of the engines was almost constant, vibrating you, your water bottle, the stands and so on. In some ways, that was my favorite part. You're sitting there with ear protectors on and the engines are so intense that you can still hear them and feel them. It was really cool!

Eventually, we fell into this rhythm. Watch the cars come around the fourth turn, watch them as they go by, watch them go around turn one and then watch them on the giant TV screen as the go around turns 2 and 3. Then you pick them up live again at turn four. 

The race is intense the whole way, but where it really gets intense is toward the end. I felt kind of bad because there was this huge group of people sitting in front of us who were part of this one racing team. The driver was doing super well the whole race and then around like two thirds of the way through he crashed. He was okay, but his car wasn't and so he was out of the race. 

Even if you're not a racing fan, the last twenty or so laps are exciting. Everyone is trying to maneuver and so there's a lot of back and forth between the top racers. Robbie's best friend wanted a guy named Powers to win because he'd won the race twice already. Winning it a third and coming back next year for the 100th race to try and win it a fourth time would make for great marketing according to John. 

So there we are, it's getting down to the wire and suddenly there's this three car crash. So it's close to the end and everyone has to follow the pace car while they're cleaning things up. Robbie tells me that he hopes they don't end on a yellow flag because that's a lot more anticlimactic ( I mean really, who wants to finish a race not going full speed.)

Thankfully though, the mess got cleaned up before the end. It was a very dramatic finish and Juan Pablo Montoya ended up winning. It was kind of funny that he won because apparently the first time Robbie ever saw the Indy 500, Montoya won as well. After the race I looked at him and said "Well Robbie, you've come full circle. Montoya won the first time you came to the race and Montoya won today. Now you never have to come back."

The crowds dispersed pretty quickly after the race ended. And Robbie was right, the walk back was terrible.