My first Indianapolis 500 was in 1972. I attended in utero. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I was born and raised in Speedway, Indiana, the Racing Capital of the World. My parents grew up in different parts of Indiana and they always attended the race with their parents long before we were born. They moved to Speedway in the late ’60s to raise a family, but I always suspect it was to be closer to the track. The track, and all of its history, has been, and will always be, a big part of who I am.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) drives the economy of the town and every resident embraces it. My high school mascot was a Sparkplug. Yes, that’s right. The Speedway Sparkplugs. Almost every activity and event revolves around the race and the many others that happen there. It’s my favorite time of the year.
My oldest daughter was born on race day. I lost my good friend on race day, (4 years ago, today). Some of my best memories revolve around the activities of the race. Memories of 300 of my sibling’s and my college friends all camped out in our back yard the night before the race. Bands playing, bonfires roaring, and walks down Georgetown Road. Some stories can’t be told. Remember, my mom reads this blog.
I’ve met people who have been to the race and it’s not uncommon to have them mention that they’ve partied at my parent’s house. We had t-shirts made one year. “Huddy’s Brickyard Bash” or something to that effect. That was my older brother’s idea. Ah, the minds of college entrepreneurs.
Race day is always something special. Like a kid the night before his favorite holiday, I can’t sleep. I find myself counting the past winners to put me to sleep. Mears, Unser, Johncock, Rahal, Sullivan, Mears, Castoneves, Mears, Foyt, and on and on.
I’m usually awaken by the sounds of helicopters. Friends start to arrive. My dad’s stress level builds as he’s trying to get one of us to help him park cars in the yard. The breakfast buffet forms and there may be the beginnings of some cocktailing. My brothers start getting the driver pool going and my sister is cutting out the names in the paper to pull out of a hat.
My mom and her cousin start making ham sandwiches for all of us to take to the race. We pack the coolers, say our goodbyes, and start the walk to the track. My dad stays back to prep the burgers and wings for all of us after the race.
If you have never watched the race, or have no interest, I encourage you to at least watch the pre-race coverage on ABC. The fanfare and stories told are amazing. The honoring of all our military men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms are just breathtaking. The playing of “Taps” is chilling. It brings tears to my eyes. Every. Time.
Drivers represent over 10 countries. While there is only one female in this year’s race, past races have had as many as 4 women on the grid of 33. I remember Janet Guthrie blazing the trail as the first female to qualify for the Indy 500 in 1977. Danica Patrick was laps away from making history to win the whole thing in 2005. Drivers from all genres of racing dream to one day race in this event.
This year, I’m taking a different approach to my experience. Every time I’ve attended the race, and I think I’ve attended at least 35, I have attended with close friends and family members. The memories and times had will last a lifetime. The games, the conversations, the laughter, and the walks home from the race are some of my favorites. This year, I have purchased a single ticket and will be taking in the experience alone.
I picked a part of the track where I have never experienced the race and I’m going to watch from a different perspective. I’ll be sitting in Stand G, in the second turn, and expect to see a lot of activity coming out of turn 1, into 2, and then down the back stretch. I’ll have my cooler ready, radio set to the race broadcast, and hopefully plenty of sunscreen.
I want to see how others experience this race. Talk to people and see why they are there. Is this there first time? What does this event mean to them? I want to see how the track has changed since last year. There are constant improvements to the facility and IMS officials are always looking for ways to improve the fan experience.
I’ll be documenting my weekend through various channels. If interested, follow along on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. You can find me on those places at johnphudson.
Tell me about your favorite 500 experiences. I want to hear your stories. I hope you have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Godspeed.
*photo credit to IMS