It was 8:15 a.m. when we pulled into the parking lot across from our hotel to wait for the police escort to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As I triple checked that we had our tickets, pit passes and parking pass, Jim chatted with some of the occupants of the 25 or so other cars waiting with us. Then we were off. We blew through Race Day traffic, past the parking lots full of RVs and tent campers, the people walking back down the road after breakfast, the vendors selling food and souvenirs and into the parking lot to get ready to see the greatest spectacle in motor racing – the Indy 500.The race started at 1:11 pm and the festivities kicked off around 12:45, so we had plenty of time to explore the garages, the grounds, and close to race time, the cars getting prepped in the pit.
We spent most of the morning watching the cars being fine tuned in the garages and exploring our “dining” options. But at 11:00 am we headed down to the pits and the track for a closer look at the pit crews prepping the cars in the pits.
We also got to view the Borg-Warner Trophy while we were down there – each Indy 500 winner’s face is added to the Trophy (which is a little creepy actually).
Once the cars had been pulled onto the grid it was time to find our seats. At 12:45 pm the race proceedings opened with the singing of America the Beautiful. Over the course of the next 15 minutes we heard Florence Henderson sing God Bless America, Jewel belt out the National Anthem, we were treated to an F-18 (I think) flyover and heard Jim Nabors sing Back Home in Indiana. A bevy of red, white and blue balloons were released and then it was time for the invocation – a traditional prayer to keep our Indy drivers safe from harm.
At 1:05 pm the most famous words in motor racing were said by Mari Hulman-George: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.”
The Pace Car Laps had a twist this year. Following the pace car and eventually working its way into the field of racecars, was a special 2 seater car driven by Michael Andretti with passenger Mark Wahlberg (who will always be Marky Mark to me) riding in the second seat.
And then the pace car and Wahlberg’s car pulled off, Jack Nicholson waved the green flag and the race began. Franchitti quickly pulled ahead of Helio Castroneves and Will Powers and into first and stayed there for 155 of the 200 laps of the race – a domination not often seen.
While we love Franchitti, Tony Kanaan was the excitement of the Race moving from 33rd (last place) to 2nd (he eventually ended out of the top 6 due to a need for fuel in the final laps). He passed 7 cars in his first lap and 31 cars overall, so it was funny to hear Danica Patrick talk about how hard it was to pass during the race – obviously not for TK.
The first accident of the day happened within the first 1 1/2 laps and the race ended under a caution. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, although we didn’t find that out until long after the race. During the final laps there was a nasty accident when Mike Conway hit the front edge of Ryan Hunter-Reay’s car which had slowed down due to low-fuel. Conway flipped over Hunter-Reay’s car, into the fence and sidewall and his car burst into pieces as it came back down and hit the track. The pod surrounding Conway was intact but upside down when the ambulances raced out to him. He escaped with a leg injury. A welcome miracle.
Dario Franchitti won the race under the caution from Conway’s accident – and with fuel conservation concerns – leading to speculation that if the final 2 laps had happened, Dan Wheldon might have overtaken Franchitti for the win. Given Franchitti’s total domination in the race, I doubt it. With Franchitti’s win, we also got to witness the mark of a happy marriage. When Franchitti won the race, his wife, Ashley Judd, chucked off her shoes and ran – and I mean ran – down to the track and the winner’s circle to give him his congratulatory kiss. She was as excited for his win as he was and it was truly something to see two people so obviously in love with each other, even after 9 years of marriage and more than 11 years together. I hope Jim and I are still that happy when we hit our 11+ year mark!