As usual, Indy is equal parts glory and calamity

I rode my motorcycle to Indy on May 23 in order to watch qualifying and get to know the drivers and cars, but I stayed home yesterday and saw the 500 on TV. Hearing it told that the last 49 Indy Racing League oval races had been won by entries from Penske’s or Ganassi’s teams let me know what to expect at the front of the pack. And eyeballing Sarah Fisher’s heft during driver introductions suggested what over-ballasted car would be bringing up the rear. If Dollar General ever drops its sponsorship of her team, MCL Cafeterias might pick her up with the proviso that she appear in the chain’s restaurants as mascot on all-you-can-eat night. ABC’s graphics gave the height and weight of all the male drivers during live interviews, but I don’t recall anything like that for the females. Could it be too much information? Fisher seems to be following the tradition for pudgy drivers established by Foyt, Ruby, and McElreath.

The national anthem made me feel sorry for Jewel. Her folksy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was great. But during the first bar, a bald-headed interloper stepped onto the stage and handed her a second microphone. Maybe it was for the encore. She handled the awkward situation like a pro, clipping the bonus mike into a nearby stand and continuing the song without missing a beat. Meanwhile, the bald guy disappeared, evidently returning to his regular job of plugging the Gulf oil leak.

Speaking of ballast, the race’s honorary starter Jack Nicholson is lucky he didn’t topple from the flag stand when he first waved the green. (On a completely unrelated matter, it would be interesting to hear his reflections about Dennis Hopper?) Likewise, I’m waiting for a member of the winner’s party to slide off the back of that Corvette roadster during the victory lap. One day, it’ll happen.

Davey Hamilton crashed on the first lap. In his subsequent interview he called Tomas Scheckter an idiot. What would a race be without one driver calling another an idiot? I don’t think it’s possible to have a race without the hurling of epithets. Last year it was Marco Andretti deprecating Raphael Matos after less than one lap.

The Belgian rookie driver Bertrand Baguette didn’t crumble under pressure, but he loafed along, completing only 183 of 200 laps.

Simona de Silvestro, the 21-year-old rookie from Switzerland, placed 14th, the last car on the lead lap, and afterward invited Baguette over for fondue.

I've never forgotten when Emerson Fittipaldi spurned the milk and drank orange juice instead.

Just when I thought I’d seen everything at Indy, Helio Castroneves killed his engine during that pit stop, and therewith killed his chance for a fourth Indy 500 victory.

A perfect race is needed to win, and that’s what Dario Franchitti and his team pulled off. It’s always nice when he triumphs, but I never care what Ashley Judd has to say unless it’s something snide about Milka Duno.

Finishing second for two years in a row, Dan Wheldon must feel like he keeps winning free tickets to see a Twisted Sister tribute band.

The only reason anyone watches is to see a big crash. At least some express this belief. My first visit to Indy, in 1986, numbed me with fear. I wondered how anyone who crashed at such a high speed could possibly survive. In a way, yes, you want to see a big one. But you also know it could tear apart a driver. The first glimpse of Mike Conway’s wreck drew a gasp. Then I held my breath, realizing he was on his head inside what used to be a race car. But as soon as the rescuers got the chassis turned over, it was evident that he was moving around, which meant he wasn’t dead. Today’s report of fractures to his left leg and a broken vertebra suggest reason for optimism.

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3 thoughts on “As usual, Indy is equal parts glory and calamity

  1. Ok, I’ll admit to not spending a great deal of time watching Indy racing, but in the 50 or 60 laps I did see, there were a couple of interesting things that I noticed. One, the race has a certain choreographed tension to it, and two, the whole thing reminds me of a whirring Pantone color wheel rushing around that track. It’s a visually, aesthetically, somewhat artistically, appealing
    thing to watch-for those 50 or 60 laps anyway.

  2. This comment was sent by an Eyewitness:

    Back after our Indy trip. Hot hot hot but at least we were in the shade. During Jewel’s anthem the audience could hear nothing,so it seemed normal for someone to try to give her another. Then they turned it on so those of us at the track could hear.

    Listening to the driver radio communications makes me think that the better drivers just shut up and drive.

    Only heard Dario once and that was him thanking his team at the end. And his crew telling him he had a tenth of a gallon left and “should have enough to get to victory lane”

    Danica swears like a mother trucker.

    Tony Kannan just grunts during the race.

    Takumato Sato was chastised for using formula one rules during a yellow, as his crew chief yelled : I just got reamed. When it’s yellow you slow down everywhere not just at the accident. Got it?

    And finally…I think Silvestro was robbed. Maybe the scoring was right, but the Mario guy who finished in front of her was a basket case. On the radio all the time. Vibration this vibration that. When do I pit? What now? Okay I’m coming now. I heard his crew chief telling him What the dash board buttons were for.

    All told, my favorite moment was driving to the track and seeing the sign for the combination parking spot and hot dog stand: I see you looking at my weiner. At least the sign didn’t say “free porking”

  3. Really love your food-themed descriptions. I don’t know if its PC to weigh in on Sarah Fisher, but I did think that if this were a horse race it would be rider please get down.
    Happily with that terrible accident, no one croqued, Monsieur.

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