Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

So this took me forever to actually write...apologies!  A nasty case of writer's block has set in, so I'm determined to get this post out the door so I can write other things.  

Despite being born in Ohio, and moving to Michigan this past year, I remain a Hoosier through and through.  I love breaded pork tenderloins, basketball, fresh sweet corn, 4-H, and the Indiana State Fair.  And as a Hoosier, I know that on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend comes "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing", the Indianapolis 500.

I grew up listening to the race annually on the radio, hearing Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana", Mari Hulman-George announce "Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!" and the excitement in the announcers' voices as they communicated lead changes and track incidents.  This year was my first opportunity to actually attend the race in person.

Explaining the 500 to out-of-towners can be challenging - what is the thrill of watching 33 intricately designed, high-powered, open-cockpit race cars drive fast and turn left for three hours?  I guess it's a Hoosier thing, but it is also an Italian, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Colombian, Australian, Russian, French, Japanese, New Zealand, and Spanish thing, based on the drivers' lineup for this year's race.  (The Indianapolis 500 is also the world's largest one-day sporting event, and the centennial running this year drew a sold-out crowd of about 350,000 people.)
Flags at the gates of the Speedway - yellow is used for caution, black to pull a driver off the track, red denotes a forced stop to the race, checkered flag signals the end, blue warns of passing traffic, white signals for the final lap, and green gives the start or restart.
Our day began at the ungodly hour of 5:30 AM, when we drove into downtown Indianapolis to catch one of the shuttles to the track.  We made it through security in good time, and wandered our way towards the infield to eat breakfast and watch a handful of local marching bands.  IndyCar Ministry had arranged, for a second year, a Mass with Archbishop Tobin at the track.  We took advantage of the opportunity, and assembled with about 100 other people, including former driver and team owner Mario Andretti.  The Archbishop said a simple, quick Mass, and back to the stands we went, to broil for a few hours before the start of the race.
Mass was on a tire manufacturer's stage...yep.  Catholic where you can, I guess.
As the bleachers filled, we got a sense of what 350,000 people look like when they're packed into stands around a two and a half mile oval.  They look like...a lot of people:
Part and parcel of the race itself is the pageantry and ceremony that precedes the event.  In true down-home-Midwest style, we don't forget the fact that 1) God put us here, 2) we're American, and 3) many people sacrificed for our freedom.  It's Memorial Day weekend, after all!  The military honors, patriotic songs, and invocation by the Archbishop led up to the defining moment of the Indy 500: "Lady and gentlemen, start your engines!"

I won't bore you with details of the race itself, other than to say it was pretty intense all the way through.  Ultimately, it became a race any one of the drivers could win, a fitting competition for the centennial running.

Best moment of the day: Alexander Rossi was an Indy 500 rookie who took a heck of a gamble during the last laps of the race.  The fight for the finish came down to an issue of fuel, as the top contenders each had to pull off to top up.  Rossi, however, played a spectacular strategy, and stayed out of the pits at the risk of running dry.  I guess he had nothing to lose - and he won!  But he didn't even have enough fuel to finish the victory lap, and coasted to a stop right in front of our seats:
Sometime during the race my sister conveniently managed to kick our sunscreen under the bleachers, so we ended the day rather more toasted than we'd anticipated.  Teetering on the edge of exhaustion, we suffered through a hellish wait for the return shuttle, and made it home tired but pumped after a twelve-hour day at the track.
In a word, the experience was compelling.  Whether it's the adrenaline that makes the head and heart pound at that first roar of speed as the cars begin racing, or the emotion of traditions that take a third of a million people and wrap us all together, or the plain enjoyment of a good competition, or awe at the speed, control, and courage of the drivers, the Indy 500 is a one-of-a-kind, somewhat addicting experience and incredibly fun!