Being born and raised in Indianapolis, or Indiana for that matter, racing is just a part of you.
It kinda has to be when the Racing Capital of The World is just right down the road even if you aren't a racing fanatic. Every May 1 the checkered flags go up everywhere you look, the "Welcome Race Fans" sign hangs from damn near every other garage in every neighborhood, and the beautiful sound of those race cars going 230 MPH becomes the soundtrack to kick off your summer.
Memorial Day weekend for us is just "race weekend". And that's not meant to be a slight at all to honoring those who have fallen serving our country. The pre-race and race itself is the greatest parade of honoring the troops you can find.
200K+ and complete silence during Taps sends chills through my body every time.
It's called "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing" for a reason.
But this isn't just about the Indianapolis 500. It's about the entirety of IndyCar, and why this Indy kid has completely fallen in love with it over the last year.
A lot of folks have reached out since May to either 1. Say they appreciate the coverage of the 500, the following races, and the drivers. or 2. ask where my newfound love of the sport has come from. See, like I said to start, being born in Indianapolis, you have engrained in you from the start about the pride and honor it is to be from the place that hosts the Indianapolis 500. It's a world-renowned event.
But sometimes as a kid, and even a teenager, you don't fully grasp what that means. How can you? Your world is so small at the time, and all you know is your home, you almost just take it for granted. It's like if you grew up with a dad who was a Pro Football Hall of Famer. To everyone else it's like "whoa holy shit that's your dad? That's gotta be so cool!" But to you he's just...your dad. It takes a little bit of growing up and recognition to realize "Oh wow, that is really friggin' cool" and your pride continues to grow with it year by year.
Growing up for me I was playing baseball most race weekends. Yeah, parents would have the race on the radio down the left field line, and hell, some of the dads even left their kids with another family on the team and said, "I know you're playing ball today, son, and I wish you luck, but this is race day." So I knew it was a big deal. Always have. After the games would be over we'd go to a pool party and either listen to the last bit of the race, or turn on the replay that happened that evening since the race would be blacked out locally because, well, usually the entire city is at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It wasn't until I started working in Indianapolis media some six years ago when I started taking full appreciation for just the Indianapolis 500. I'd have to be out at the track, and what went from being "damn I wish I could be out in one of the lots pounding drinks with my pals (since that's another big aspect of race month / weekend in Indianapolis" became "wow. this is incredibly cool, and I'm damn lucky to be 1. from here and 2. a part of this. I remember vividly the moment it really turned for me.
It was race day 2018, and it was hotter than shit. We're talking 90 degrees at like 9 AM hot. The concern levels for people surviving the Snake Pit almost became higher than for the drivers surviving the race. At the time I was dealing with some really terrible panic and anxiety issues. Any place I didn't feel comfortable, or if I was around big crowds, or a place I thought something terrible could happen, my heart would beat out of my chest, I'd get dizzy, I couldn't breathe, it felt like I was dying. So you can imagine my dismay when I knew I had to be out at the track with well over 300,000 people. I was out there before the sun was up because I ran the social media accounts and YouTube channel for the local ESPN affiliate at the time. My job for the morning wrapped up, and it was time to capture some content of all the pre-race festivities on track. The panic inside me said this is a perfect time to pack up, get outta there, away from the crowds, and back to a spot of comfort. But then for whatever reason the better, more brave judgement inside of me said "no dude. this is a crazy opportunity. you have a pit pass. get your ass out there".
So, I trusted that, and I went.
I walked pit lane 15 minutes before drivers started their engines. The energy was palpable. I could literally feel it. I fed off it. And for the first time in a while, I just stopped, looked around at all the glitz and glamour and history of the track. I was smack dab in the middle of it with pit crews and reporters hustling around me. I stood and just took it all in. I took it all in as Jim Cornelison sang "Back Home Again In Indiana", and I felt peace. I felt happiness. I felt at home. From that point on I was in.
The content I've been doing this year was supposed to be on display last year. But we all know about last year. So now it's getting to come to fruition. And it's so much more than just the 500.
IndyCar is a community. There's an appreciation from the fans to the drivers for what they do that forms a connection far more special than any other sport I've been a fan of. Tons of dudes have played high school football so when they sit back in their lazyboy on Sunday's they subconsciously feel they have some right to say "ahhh this guy SUCKS, I SWEAR I could complete some of these passes" and somewhat actually believe it.
Not many people out there feeling they could go 220+ in traffic and live. There's simply nothing like the anticipation you feel during the parade laps while the pace car is out knowing that we're heading for green then hearing all the cars rev it up and attack the start-finish line as one collective group. Exhilarating.
Even the restarts after yellows are electric.
IndyCar is history. The greater you are, the more you're cheered for and appreciated. It's the only sport I've been around where, sure, you may have your favorite driver or drivers, but when Helio Castroneves is making a pass on the second to last lap of the Indy 500 to try to capture his 4th Borg Warner, everyone in the house drops their loyalties and is pulling for history.
I made my first trip to a race outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 4th of July at Mid-Ohio. It was incredible. Essentially it's camping and partying with a race track in the middle of it. One set of grandstands. Most setup shop the week of and camp throughout until race day. Sure, people tailgate on Sunday's for Colts games or whatever NFL team you root for, but I don't know many that make an extended weekend out of it.
IndyCar is accessible. If you're a fan you can grab a paddock pass and be walking and talking with the drivers back in the garages literally hours before the race. You don't have to be anyone's son. You don't have to be a celebrity. You don't have to work for the sponsor or have a suite. Sure, you have to pay an extra $60 to get the pass. But anyone can do it. A little kid race fan can get an autograph or fist bump from Josef Newgarden an hour before he hops in the pole position. That's not happening with Aaron Rodgers in the Packers locker room (or wherever he'll be playing in 2021) an hour before kickoff. And this isn't a slight to the NFL or any other major sports. They have their perks, too. These are just reasons why, like the title says, I fell in love with IndyCar.
Then, the drivers themselves make it so easy to get invested. For doing something that so abnormal for a living that few people have done or can do, they sure are normal. Incredibly normal. They're some of the most laid back, non-egotistical dudes I've ever been around. And they truly acknowledge and appreciate their fans. I know this because I've been lucky enough to go from a fan to pals with a handful of them. They love their sport, they want it to grow, and they understand that putting themselves out there and being a face in front of the longtime fans and newcomers alike is so important.
I'm a newcomer. I plan on being here for the long-haul, and the grandstand of fandom is wide open ready for you to be welcomed with open arms. The future is bright for IndyCar. NBC will air 13 of the 17 races on the big NBC next year. They announced it yesterday. They're going to unique and interesting courses like Nashville in two weeks. They're showing drivers personalities more and more, and I plan on being a part of that.
The fellas have been off on Summer break since that Mid-Ohio race, and just like they say about true love, absence makes the heart grow fonder. And my heart has grown and then some in these weeks off in anticipation of the next race in the streets of Nashville. That's where I'll be the first weekend in August feeling happy, and feeling right at home.
Let's go racing.