Lost in a Lost World- Indy’s Day Without a Race

The city’s heart and soul vanished Sunday, stolen by the pandemic that dictates our lives nowadays. Race Day 2020 was not to be. Having the circadian rhythms of your life abruptly altered is a jarring experience. In Indiana, we are programmed for this day.

I awoke suddenly at 4 am, my usual race day rising time, then went back to sleep for a couple hours. I felt I should be somewhere, should get  the cooler loaded,  should meet my friends for breakfast. I kept looking at the clock and thinking, ” I would be entering the track now; I’d be heading to my seat now; It’s time for the opening ceremonies to start.”

Yesterday was the first time I had eaten breakfast at home on the fourth Sunday in May since sometime in the 1990s. A check of social media showed me that many of my friends were feeling the same way I was. feeling – lost. Watching the 2006 race on You Tube provided some solace. There may have been some dust in my eyes at the playing of”Taps’ and “Back Home Again in Indiana.” The Indianapolis Motor Speedway  website’s #500AtHome link had some content as well.

Around noon I went to a friend’s house for a small birthday celebration. On the drive I listened to the 2016 race on WIBC. I passed the track on the way and saw several groups of people gathered on the plaza in front of Gate 1. Most had lawn chairs and coolers.

It was comforting to be with some of my racing family for a couple hours. We watched the beginning of the NBC show, “Back Home Again.” The porch was silent during “Taps.” We discussed the August date and what other races we might attend. None of us can be sure any of the race dates are certain, but there was an air of hope.

I went back to Gate 1. The crowd had thinned considerably. Someone had the radio on. It was last year’s race playing at this point.

On Main Street, things were a bit more lively. All the outside tables at Dawson’s were full. Down the street people were just sitting in lawn chairs on the sidewalk, talking.  I ran into a couple of friends there. The highlight for me was seeing this vehicle.

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After all, what is Race Day without a salute to the past?

In spite of the few hours of time with friends and at the track entrance, it was a day I hope I never have to go through again. There aren’t many people alive who remember the last time, 75 years ago, when there wasn’t a race on Memorial day weekend.

As for August, we need to keep hoping the race will run, but I can’t see how the Speedway can allow a huge group of fans at that time.  We have to hope that something will break like the rain on race morning gives way to to a sunny perfect race day.

Classic 500s Abound on Television, Web

It won’t be the same as being at the track and seeing the 104th running of the Indianapolis 500, but ESPN and NBC will feature several old 500s tomorrow.

The schedule:

Saturday:

Noon-ESPN- Virtual Legends Race from IMS

Sunday:

ESPN2

6:00 am- 2018 Monaco Grand Prix

8:30 am 2019 Monaco Grand Prix

3-5 pm  2006 Indianapolis 500

5-7 pm  2011 Indianapolis 500

7-9 pm  2014 Indianapolis 500

The races have three of the best finishes in 500 history.

NBC

Sunday

2-6 pm Enhanced replay of the 2019 Indianapolis 500 featuring interviews and commentary from Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud.

Other viewing options

Classic races on You Tube

The IMS website will have virtual content all day today and tomorrow, including a race to be determined tomorrow afternoon.

 

Make the best of this weekend. let’s hope for the best come August.

1970: The decade Begins With the Birth of a New Legend

Note: I know we all miss not being at the track today for Carb Day, one of the greatest days of May. Sunday will be a difficult day for most of us. I plan to immerse myself in old races. Whatever you do, stay safe and wash your hands. Please enjoy this piece about the 1970 program and race.

The ’60s belonged to A. J. Foyt. It appeared the ’70s would be the decade of Mario Andretti. It didn’t turn out that way.  Al Unser became the star of the era beginning with the 1970 race.

1970 was a milestone year for Tony Hulman. It was the 25th year of his ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, by far the longest tenure of the three track  owners. Oddly, the program does not make a big deal about this. there is a one page article on page 14 titled “Tony Hulman and the 500.” That is all the program says about an important anniversary. No one knew at the time that the Hulman family was merely a third of the way through their time as stewards of the track. On page 16 are two photos, one of the track in 1945, and one of the start of the 1969 race.

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Ads in the program were for Goodyear tires, still a factor in Indycar; Chase & Sanborn coffee (endorsed by Andretti); Monroe shocks, Thermo King, and Muriel Cigars. I can’t remember what year the last tobacco product ad appeared in a Speedway program.

The veterans’ page featured the eventual winner, Al Unser. Unser missed the 1969 race after a motorcycle accident in early may of the previous year. His car, the Johnny Lightning Special,had one the iconic liveries in Speedway history.

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The program was fairly standard for that time. It seems milestones then were  not the big deal they are today. I can imagine an entire month of tribute to an owner’s 25th year at the helm today. I am not sure we’ll ever see a tenure that long again.

Rookies in the field included Donnie Allison, Dick Simon, Greg Weld, and Rick Muther. Allison would win Rookie of the Year.

Unser dominated the race. leading 190 laps and winning by 32 seconds over Mark Donohue. Unser would win two more 500s in the 70s, the following year and 1978. He would add a fourth victory in 1987. Johnny Rutherford gave Unser some good competition for driver of the decade honors, winning in 1974 and 1976. Stiil, both drivers operated in the shadow of Foyt. Not to be outdone by the relative newcomers, Foyt won his fourth 500 in 1977.

Quick Survey

What are your plans for this Sunday? Leave a comment and I’ll talk about it next week.

 

 

Chalk and Rain: Why Bill Holland Isn’t a Three Time 500 Winner

Bill Holland began his Indianapolis 500 career at the end of an era which crowned three three time winners. He very easily could have been one of them. In 1936 Louis Meyer became the first three time winner. Between 1937 and 1948 Only five drivers won the race. Wilbur Shaw and Mauri Rose won three times, Floyd Roberts and George Robson each won a a race, and Floyd Davis was the co-winner with Rose in 1941. But Holland just as easily could have been a three time winner as well.

From 1947-1949 Lou Moore’s Blue Crown Spark Specials, a Deidt chassis powered by an Offenhauser engine, , dominated Indianapolis. Rose, who co-won the 1941 race in a Moore car, the last race before World War II, was back with the team, paired with rookie Holland in 1947. It was a formidable but volatile combination.

In the 1947 500 Holland took laps 24-59. Rose led the next 26 laps. Holland regained the lead on lap 86 and appeared to have the race well in hand. Late in the race with a 1-2 finish fairly secure,  Moore instructed the crew to put the letters “EZY” on the sign boards for both cars. Holland thought he had a lap lead on Rose. When Rose passed him on lap 193, Holland thought Rose had unlapped himself. The pass was for the lead. Rose became a two time winner. Holland assumed he had won and learned he did not as he pulled into his pit.

“It’s the lousiest deal I ever got,” he said later.

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The 1948 500 had the same result but less dramatic fashion. Rose won by more than a minute and Holland didn’t lead a lap.

In 1949 Holland took the lead on lap 55 and didn’t relinquish it the rest of the race. With rose running second, both drivers were again give instructions to slow down. Rose continued to gain ground on Holland, who was probably not going to get caught again. The last lap drama was avoided when Rose dropped out of the race with eight laps to go. Moore fired him after the race.

For the 1950 race, Rose drove for Howard Keck, who a couple years later hired Bill Vukovich. Holland finished ahead of Rose again, but Johnnie Parsons won the race and Holland was second in the rain shortened race. Holland led eight laps, from lap 110-117. Parsons took the lead back and was leading when the race was called after 138 laps. Could Holland have caught Parsons? Possibly, but we will never know. Parsons was driving with what his crew thought was a cracked engine block. Their strategy was to lead as much as they could to collect lap prize money. If the engine blew, at least the lap prize money would salvage part of their day.

Holland ran just one more 500 Mile Race in 1953, finishing 15th, dropping out after 177 laps with a cam gear problem. He had been suspended in 1951 for driving in a  race in Florida which was not sanctioned by USAC.

Holland’s record in his first four 500s was three seconds and a win. This definitely puts him in some select company. Holland is in the same conversation with Shaw and Vukovich when the discussion turns to drivers who should have more 500 victories than they do.

 

 

IMS Presents Virtual Race Weekend

Photo from IMS webswite

You are probably experiencing the same thing I am. This trackless may is messing up my circadian rhythms. There is a flow to the month in Indianapolis that is just part of the annual cycle of life. last weekend was difficult. i can’t imagine what this coming weekend will be like.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is trying to help by presenting a virtual race weekend. Go to the link

https://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events/indy500/event-info/500atHome/Overview

Guides to all the activities can be found there. From the Speedway’s introduction:

“The Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is reserved for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the heroes of our nation, and it always will be. That remains true this year, as we honor those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 fight and encourage our community to unite virtually to celebrate #500atHome with several activities that tap into the tradition and spirit of Indy 500 Race Day. It all leads up to a unique telecast of the 2019 Indianapolis 500 at 2 p.m. (ET) Sunday, May 24 on NBC. Get set to #500atHome with with these activity guides and follow along with all the fun below!”

It’s not going to be the same, but it may help. Please let me know what your plans are for this weekend. How are you coping? What will you do to celebrate NotRace Day?

Three 500s, Two Monaco GPs on ESPN2 Sunday

ESPN2 will help keep the traditional biggest day in motorsports alive Sunday with five encore presentations. Two previous Grand Prix of Monaco will begin the day. later in the afternoon the network will re-air three past Indianapolis 500s.

The schedule:

6 am  2018 Monaco Grand Prix

8:30 am  2019 Grand Prix of Monaco

These races are two of the better Monaco races of late. In 2018 Daniel Riccardo held off Sebastian Vettel. Riccardo battled engine and gearbox issues throughout.

In 2019 Lewis Hamilton beat Vettel by 2.6 seconds, close by f1 standards.

Plus you get to see Monaco for 4 hours. i love the setting for the race, although the racing isn’t always great. It’s one of the most iconic, classic venues for a race.

3 pm  2006 Indianapolis 500  Great duel at the end between Marco Andretti and Sam Hornish, Jr. The winner wasn’t decide until the cars reached the finish line.

5 pm  2011 Indianapolis 500  The 100th anniversary 500 featured probably the wildest finish ever. The J. R. Hildebrand seemed to have the race wrapped up crashed out of turn 4.  Winner Dan Wheldon led less than a mile in what turned out to be a bittersweet victory.

7 pm 2014 Indianapolis 500  Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves stage a tremendous battle for the victory. Hunter-Reay’s pass in the grass was an incredible move.

NBC Replays 2019 Indianapolis 500

Overlapping ESPN’s replays will be NBC’s replay of the 2019 Indianapolis 500 from 2pm-6pm. The race features commentary from winner Simon Pagenaud and runner-up Alexander Rossi.  A pre -race segment hosted by Mike Tirico features interviews with the two drivers.

These shows aren’t the same as being at the track on Sunday, but they are the best we have until now. Race day is hopefully just a little more than three months away. DVRs will be pretty busy this weekend.

Signs of the Times

It was eerie yet comforting to be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday. There were a couple of groups tailgating in the new parking lot on the northwest corner of 16th and Georgetown. The facility, of course, was locked. The sign above was attached to the fence at gate 1.

I have been at the Speedway many times when there was no track activity to go to the museum or just hang out. I never thought I would see the track quiet in May.  It just feels wrong. The Speedway is preparing for welcoming fans and taking as many precautions as they can. It has only been a few years since security checks began and we have adapted to that. This is just one more layer to get used to. I hope this one is just temporary.

Definitive lines  have been created at the entry gates with designated spots six feet apart. This is probably similar to what each gate will look like.

 

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I went over to Main Street. There were a few more signs of life there than when I visited a week ago. I plan to make a couple trips to the track next weekend as well.

Amid the silence and weirdness of the empty tack and grounds on a weekend when it should have have been buzzing with activity, the sign over Gate 2 offered some promise of better days ahead.

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