The 101st Running

Too much alcohol and not enough sleep did not make for a pleasant wake-up this morning. But I assumed a hot shower and a large up of coffee would set me to rights. And it did, for a while. We had to be packed up and loaded into our van by 8:45 am for our police escort. We were part of a large convey of vans and SUVs carrying Ganassi racing sponsors to the track.

The bouncing motion of the van combined with the acidic coffee on an empty stomach nearly made me lose the breakfast I didn’t eat. That wasn’t the worst part though. I found myself filled with an intense feeling of foreboding. Like something terrible was going to happen. I just couldn’t shake it.

The forecast thunderstorms never came through and the race started on time, with Scott Dixon on the pole. The first quarter of the race went smoothly and then, on lap 53, Scott was in a horrific crash. I think my heart stopped for a few seconds. Fortunately, Scott walked away unharmed. Which is all that matters.

We left the track right after the race ended and, thanks to the police escort, were back at the airport in about 15 minutes. We walked off the plane in Minneapolis a mere 33 hours after our original departure. So, not the results we were hoping for race-wise, but a pretty amazing weekend nonetheless.

500 Celebrity Style

We flew to Indianapolis this morning to attend the Indy 500. We arrived at the airport at 8:10 am and were wheels up 20 minutes later. How did we manage this feat? By traveling celebrity style in a private jet, courtesy of my dad. We haven’t been to the 500 since 2010, so when my dad invited us to come we just about fell over.

After checking into our hotel, we proceeded directly to the Speedway to pick up our credentials and take a quick tour of the Hall of Fame. Then we spent the afternoon attending an open house at the Ganassi racing shop. We returned to the hotel, had a brief rest, changed and then went to dinner, sort of.

I say sort of, because we went to a cigar and martini bar that also served food. So it was more like a lot of drinking with a little eating thrown in. A lot of drinking. Way, way too much drinking. At least we don’t have to get up ungodly early tomorrow morning.

Trip Bonus

Our original plan was to come to Phoenix about a week prior to leaving for our Australia trip. When we found out there would be an IndyCar race here on April 2nd, I booked the flight early enough so that we could attend. Which meant arriving by Friday, at the latest. But I’m cheap and Thursday and Friday flights typically aren’t, so we flew down on Wednesday instead.

Which turned out to be providential, as my dad invited us to dinner with Chip and the drivers at his house on Thursday. It was a great evening and an awesome start to our trip. Now, on to the main event. It was a night race, so we timed our arrival at the track to coincide with the hottest part of the day. Then we had the good fortune to get a spot in general parking that was pretty much as far from the infield tunnel as possible.

When we reached the infield, we couldn’t find the hospitality trailer. After circling the entire garage area, we finally reached our destination. Fortunately, the race started late enough that we didn’t bake in the metal grandstand seats. I went into the race with zero expectations. We’ve curtailed our race attendance significantly over the last few years and our days of seeing multiple wins in a season are over.

Which made it that much sweeter when Scott won. Hanging out in the winner’s circle after a race just never gets old. Now I just hope that good luck hangs with us as we make our way to Australia in a little over a week.

One Hundred Minus One

Today is the 99th running of the Indy 500. As in most previous years, we will be watching it from the comfort of our home. It’s very exciting to see Scott Dixon starting from the Pole. Of course the only thing that really matters is being in the front at the very end and 500 miles is a very long race.

After the marathon cleaning and shredding yesterday, we were both ready for a little quality TV time. It wasn’t relaxing unfortunately, watching a race never is. It also did not start out well, as one of the four Ganassi drivers got taken out during the first lap when another driver tried to make a ridiculously aggressive, three wide pass. Who does that in a 500 mile race?

Another one of the Ganassi drivers crashed toward the end of the race. The remaining two finished third and forth. So, not a terrible result, but not the victory we were hoping for. I think we got the better end of the deal by being there for qualifying rather than the race.

Let’s Try This Again

With yesterday’s inclement weather, all official qualifying attempts were postponed until today. We arrived at the track even earlier than yesterday, just a few minutes after 8:00. Practice was already in session. As we were walking to the hospitality unit, we heard a loud noise. It could have been a car backfiring or a crash. Then we saw the safety car heading out. Yep, definitely a crash.

The crash was bad enough to damage the wall around the track. So there was a delay while the wall was being fixed. Qualifying was supposed to start at 10:00. By 11:00 we still hadn’t heard an update. We were eating lunch before the announcement came out that practice would resume at 1:30 and qualifying would start at 3:15. Each driver would get one attempt and that would set the field, with the exception of the last row. Bye-bye Fast 9.

It’s really hard to stay enthusiastic after so many delays and so much bad weather, but we tried. When 3:15 finally rolled around, we were out on pit lane, watching qualifying from a golf cart. Scott Dixon went out 4th and posted a really strong time. We watched as 29 more cars went out and failed to beat his time. After five years of attending Pole Day, we finally won the pole. It made all of the rain and all of the delays disappear. This is why we love racing.

(Not) Pole Day

Today has traditionally been Pole Day – the day when the first two thirds of the field for the Indy 500 is set. Sunday has always been bump day, when the last 11 spots are settled. But when you barely have enough cars to fill the 33 car field, the idea of a bump day kind of loses its luster. So the tradition has been shaken up a bit. Today is all about the fast 9 – getting one of those spots guarantees you a position in one of the first 3 rows.

The actual order, including pole, will be determined tomorrow. This means that someone who starts 10th could actually be faster than the first 9 starters. Yes, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but such is Indy. When we arrived at the track this morning it was cool and the skies were threatening. Not an auspicious start. I had planned on buying a new team hoodie, so I left my jacket in the car. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the merchandise tent, they still didn’t have any sizes, despite yesterday’s promise of restocking. (No women’s medium or large or men’s small, really??)

The day just went downhill from there. The highlight was watching a car parked next to the hospitality unit getting towed. Some jackass without an authorized parking credential had been parking there for over a week while he hauled merchandise around for drivers’ signatures. He was confronted by one of the hospitality workers and still wouldn’t back down. So someone called to have him towed. He got off lucky in my opinion. They only towed him to a remote corner of the track, not some sketchy neighborhood in Indianapolis.

Two cars completed qualifying attempts in the afternoon and the yellow flag was thrown during the third. The skies opened up and we were deluged with rain. I half expected our table to start floating away. After hours of nearly relentless downpour, they finally called off activities for the day and we left the track at 3:30. We made a quick stop for some Chinese takeout and retreated to our hotel room. Let’s hope the weather is a little more amiable tomorrow.

Back Home at Indy

Why is it that when you can sleep in, you can’t? We had absolutely no reason to get up early today and yet both of us were wide awake by 8:00. I felt like I had been beaten with a club – a vicious combination of the long car ride and overly firm hotel mattress.

We dragged our feet getting up and out and by the time we finished breakfast and arrived at the track it was 11:15. Our first stop was the credential office. We did not request team hardcards this year, but we did get coupons for the coveted silver badge. This gives us pretty comprehensive access, but at half the cost of a hardcard (which is good for the entire season) it’s not much of a bargain.

They’ve made some changes to the track access, replacing a signal light with a roundabout and making the road we normally take into a deadend, so it took us a bit of circular driving to find our way in. By the time we parked and took a shuttle to the pagoda it was noon. Since practice was starting then, we headed directly to the pits.

Scott Dixon went out about 45 minutes into the session and promptly posted a lap just over 230 mph – the fastest of the month so far. Watching that pretty much made the whole trip to the track worthwhile. We left a little after 3:00, keeping in mind that tomorrow is going to be a very long day. Let’s hope it’s a fast one.

500 Miles to the 500

After more than 500 miles and 10 hours on the road today, we are back in Indianapolis for Pole Day. We have a pretty busy summer ahead of us, what with the big new house and all, so once again we will not be attending a lot of races. But there is something special about watching qualifying for the 500.

It was a relatively uneventful drive, except for the normal crappy stretches of construction and some really gnarly traffic around Chicago. It’s been a while since we’ve done a long road trip, so somehow this one just felt a little bit too long to me. Every time I got out of the car I felt every one of my 50 years.

We’re staying at the same Hampton Inn we’ve stayed at for the past five years. This year we have a one bedroom suite, not because I felt like splurging, but because that was the only room type available when I made our reservation. It is nice to have the extra space, since the weather forecast for the weekend is pretty iffy and we may end up spending quite a bit of time holed up in the room.

Here’s hoping for good weather and fast cars this weekend.

Saturday at the Track

We spent today at the Milwaukee Mile. It’s located on the Wisconsin state fair grounds and its claim to fame is that it is the oldest operating motor speedway in the world. It’s a great place to watch a race because you can easily see the entire track from the grandstand. It also happens to be an easy drive from Minneapolis. By my count, this will be our 17th race in Milwaukee. Our first race was in 1996 and since then we’ve only missed one year because we were in Europe.

If you’ve gone to the bother of counting the years between 1996 and now, you will notice I’m one year short. That would be 2010, when the series did not race here. But enough about history, today’s events started with practice at 10:00. We nicely timed our arrival to reach the pits just as practice started.

A day at the track is usually marked by intervals of excitement well spaced between a lot of sitting around. Today was no exception. The second practice wasn’t until 1:30 and qualifying started at 5:00, so we had roughly 3 hours of “activity” over an 8 hour period of time. Plus lunch.

After a long day in the heat, we didn’t feel much like eating when we left, so dinner was frozen custard followed by snacks in our hotel room. At this rate we’ll be having mints for dinner tomorrow. Except we’ve already made a reservation for the massive steak place. With any luck, it will be a celebratory dinner. But I’m not holding my breath.

Oh Yes, We Did

It feels a little odd to sleep in so late on a race day. But it’s a Saturday night race and it doesn’t make a lot of sense to get to the track before the afternoon. So we lounged around our hotel room until after 10:00 before heading out to breakfast. At the busiest IHOP we’ve ever seen.  But despite the enormous crowd, it was only a 15 minute wait. Plus, I had the best omelette I’ve ever had at an IHOP. Which is good, since lunch won’t be until 3:30.

We scored an infield parking pass yesterday, so our walk from the car to hospitality was considerably shorter when we arrived just before 2:30. The race started just as the sun disappeared behind the grandstand. It was 3 1/2 hours of non-stop nail biting and until the final few laps, I wasn’t convinced that Scott would walk away with the championship. The bartender at Shame on the Moon had given us a lucky plastic goldfish when he heard we would be attending a race and I spent most of the evening nervously rubbing it in my pocket.

But everything went according to plan and we were up on the podium (at Chip’s insistence) when the confetti cannons went off. We celebrated at hospitality with shrimp, guacamole and ceviche, in addition to the traditional champagne.  Pretty much perfect on every level. All of the disappointments and heartaches of the 2013 season faded into the distance.

When I took off my shirt to get ready for bed later, a few pieces of confetti (large paper stars, actually) fell out. I added them to the handful I had collected in my bag while we were on the podium, because you never know when you’ll get to experience the confetti cannon again. I’m also planning on bringing our lucky goldfish along when we visit Australia. It never hurts to have a little travel insurance.