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Conley: My Experience At Indianapolis

The calm before the 500 at Indianapolis.

The calm before the 500 at Indianapolis.

The reasons people support a particular sport or team are infinite. For fans, it’s the domination they see, a big-time player or a family tradition.

However, for others, it’s the venue. A sizable group of fans will go to an event because of the arena.


It’s simple. A stadium can have the history behind it.

For instance, old Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field hold meaning for baseball fans.

How about Wimbledon? You may not be a tennis fan but you know the location.

You may understand nothing further than your local miniature golf course, but the names Augusta and St. Andrews are known to you.

These venues draw a crowd for the history of the sport and the event.

For race fans, Memorial Day weekend covers three of the most prominent racing venues in the world, all in one day.

Formula 1 takes to the streets of Monaco in Monte Carlo.  Soon after, it’s off to the heartland of the United States for the Indianapolis 500.  By day’s end, the racing world’s eyes are focused on Concord, NC.  These venues will bring in the fans.

For this fan and motorsports writer, one of those venues drew me in.

At six o’clock on a Sunday morning in May, while many slept or took in the aforementioned Grand Prix of Monaco, I made my way to the gates of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 101st running of the Indy 500.

Did I go to to this race because I’m a big IndyCar fan?  No.

However, I went because it’s world renowned.

The venue and the race have been on my bucket list. On a last-minute decision, I bought a ticket to sit in the grandstands at a race track that many fans say isn’t worth going to because of the limited sight-lines.

For most, that fact is accepted before purchasing your ticket. Walking up to the gates at the corner of 16th and Crawfordsville in Speedway, IN, you get a sense of the enormity of the race track. You can feel the history swell over you.

Even at the early hour, as the cannon blasts signaled the gates opening on race day, the fans converged on the hallowed grounds known as “The Brickyard.”

For me, I stepped through the gates carrying nothing more than my bag with a t-shirt for my wife and son. I stood taking in the greatness that stood before me.

I wasn’t the only one. As I stood looking up at the grandstands that towered over me,  a young man named Devin walked up and said, “First time?” I shook my head and said,” Yes, sir.”

We spent a few minutes talking about the reasons we came to Indy for the first time this year. For him, it was an opportunity to join his mom and dad who celebrated an anniversary. It was not a wedding or something as special as that.

Devin told me that they had been coming to the 500 since 1977. It was a tradition that he was happy to take in.

Once I reached my seat,  I thought about the stories that could come from it.

Indianapolis is full of history. Some of that had shown with the group that sat next to and behind me. As I was requested to not use their name in the story, but able to share, an older gentleman who sat directly behind me said he missed one Indianapolis 500, as he was serving in the Army in 1956. He told me his grandfather had attended the first race in Indianapolis in 1909, and planned on carrying that history for as long as he could walk and his son wanted to keep going.

I was told that many of the seats around the speedway, especially in the penthouse (upper grandstands) were ones that are passed down in wills, family traditions, and are used as growing and bonding times for many families.

That’s an impressive thought. Consider that fact the next time you look around and know that there are probably 250,000 to 300,000 people in the grandstands and infield for the running of the Indianapolis 500.

For me, as I sat there taking in this first experience at the famed speedway, I’d normally have my camera in hand clicking off hundreds of pictures.

In this case, I chose not to. Instead, I watched the pageantry of the pre-race and the celebration of a legend, A.J. Foyt, who celebrated the 40th anniversary of his fourth win at Indy. In addition, there’s the military tribute on Memorial Day weekend, the traditions that come along with Indy like the singing of “God Bless America,” which for 23 years was sung by Florence Henderson.

There’s “Back Home Again in Indiana,” which Jim Nabors sang for over 35 years.  Both of these got new starts in the 101st running of the 500.

A local opera singer Angela Brown delivered a stunning, powerful rendition of “God Bless America.”

Chicago Blackhawks national anthem singer and Indiana University graduate Jim Cornelison took over the duties of “Back Home Again In Indiana” which got a rousing applause.

One thing that happened that could easily have raised boos and torn fans, no matter your political views, was seeing the Vice President Mike Pence and his motorcade make a lap.  They saluted the fans at Indy. It was a special moment that fans seemed to accept and it added to the weekend as well as the event.

On this Memorial Day weekend, the American flag flew proudly, not only on the motorcade, but at the track.  We saw the 101st airborne division deliver the checkered flags for the race. The flags were carried off, hanging from two military helicopters in an amazing military display. Meanwhile, trailing “Old Glory” was an incredibly special and proud moment.

I took in all of those moments before the command to fire engines were even muttered by Tony George. It honestly covered the price of admission for this sports fan.

These are the types of things that makes a track or facility great. The action on it is an added bonus.

For race fans, what we got in the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500 far exceeded expectations. When you have over 800 passes through the field, 15 different leaders, 35 lead changes, and speeds reaching an average of 220 miles per hours, you almost can’t begin to comprehend.

My experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was one that brought about sheer joy. There’ll be the memories that I’ll never forget and that local connection to this race.

Part of the reason I decided to take this specific event in was due to Michael Shank Racing, Shank has owned sports car teams for years.  A winner of the famed Rolex 24 at Daytona and a man I’ve had the honor of doing an interview in his shop, near my home in Pataskala, OH, he told me one time how it was a dream to compete in the Indy 500.

Shank had the bear bones portion of an IndyCar sitting in his shop. While this year, he paired with Michael Andretti and Jack Harvey, the two Indianapolis 500 rookies, owner and driver, qualified for the field.

It was another moment that made this trip to “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” extra special.

The race featured an international story with Formula 1 driver Fernando Alonso giving up a seat at Monaco for Indy. As the first active Formula 1 driver to run in since Teo Fabi in 1984, Alonso led 27 laps.

It also featured drivers from 13 different countries. That was something I took as showing the greatness that the United States has on Memorial Day. The extra feature was seeing Takuma Sato of Japan score the win over an Indy 500 icon, Helio Castroneves of Brazil.

If for none of the moments listed above, the drivers in the Indianapolis 500 gave us an incredible show.  There were tons of drama and a spectacular, breathtaking moment that will be remembered for years to come.

We watched Scott Dixon go airborne and land on the inside wall near the tunnel in the short chute between turns 1 and 2. There was the harrowing moment when his car took out part of the catchfence. He’d hop out of his car and walk away.

At 200 mph, inches apart at times, we watched men and women do things most of us couldn’t.

They do it for our entertainment. In this case, they do it on a world famous stage in an internationally renowned event.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is not just a race track. It truly is something special and deserving of your attention.

If you can manage to snag one of those tickets not held by will or a safe deposit box in a bank, do it. Take the time to witness one of the remarkable sporting events.  You won’t be disappointed.

If it races, I'll write about it, talk about it or shoot it with a camera. I began pursuing a career in motorsports journalism immediately after attending college at Kent State University. I have hosted multiple Motorsports talk shows, worked in Country Music radio, and now i spend every day on the air in the morning with 1300 and 100.9 WMVO and in the afternoons watching the roadways around Central Ohio for 93.7 WQIO. The excitement and the fans make everything I put out there worth while, it's been an exciting 15 years having covered everything from the Daytona 500 to the Rolex 24 and you can find me at pretty much any event run at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. What I like to bring is a look behind the scenes, a look at what and who makes the sport grow. From the guy that welds pieces back at the shop to the host in the tv booth. Everyone has a story and I like to tell it. My main focus here at TPF is looking at the men and women behind the microphone and cameras. My life long goal is to become a member of MRN or PRN Radio and bring the races to you. I hope that what I share now is enjoyable and gives you a unique look in to the world of motorsports. See you at a track soon

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