I’ll have to admit that I enjoyed Sunday’s Indianapolis 500-mile race as much as I’ve enjoyed any of them since they put the engines behind the drivers.
A road race buff friend of mine told me back in 1961, after Jack Brabham finished ninth in an underpowered Cooper-Climax, that there was a million dollars worth of obsolete equipment in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage.
Then I recall one of the major sporty car magazines saying “dinosaurs die hard” after Foyt took the 1964 race, his second 500 win and as it turned out, the last by a front-engined car.
The next year, of course, Jim Clark’s Lotus-Ford became the first rear-engined car to win it, and that was pretty much the death knell for those beautiful roadsters.
Tom Bowles of Frontstretch asked me to write some commentary on the race, so I was in front of the TV ready to take notes. Then the Indianapolis Star website enticed me into taking part in a live blog/chat during the race. I knew I was going to be doing the same thing with the Frontstretch live blog in the Charlotte race, so I decided to go for the double. 1100 miles of blogs in one day. Might not put me in the same league with Tony Stewart, who managed to finish both races in the same day, but I enjoyed it.
Until it was time for bed. Six hours or more in the wheelchair, and my legs are pretty sore when I straighten them out. Had a rough time going to sleep – but it was worth it.
Now, commenting on the 500. Before I start, I’ll admit that the wisecracks in here are paraphrases of suggestions made by some of my friends (?) on TrackForum.com.
First off, Gomer’s rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana” was as stirring as ever. And I liked the fact that they let their retired announcer emeritus, Tom Carnegie, introduce Mari Hulman George for the command to start engines.
There was a lot of speculation about how many cars Tony Kanaan, who was starting 33rd, was going to pass on the first lap. After all, he was starting so far back he couldn’t even smell the front row with HIS nose.
The smart money was on 10 cars or more, and that may have been correct if they hadn’t turned the yellow light on when he was halfway down the backstretch on that first lap. Davey Hamilton got cut off by Tomas Scheckter and pranged off the inside wall coming out of the second turn, stopping Kanaan’s charge at eight cars.
Davey’s an old oval racer, and I’ve always liked him. I particularly liked his comment after being released from the care center:
“Scheckter’s an idiot,” he said, and voiced his desire to have a serious discussion with Tomas after the race.
Very early in the race, the youngest driver in the lineup, Sebastian Saavedra, made a quick pit stop. I think it was to pick up his learner’s permit.
Saavedra was the guy who thought he had been bumped out of the race after crashing his race car on the last qualifying day, only to learn that he had made it from a cell phone call. First guy to ever make the 500 from the emergency room at Methodist Hospital.
Although Dario Franchitti practically dominated the race, leading 155 of the 200 laps, the fourth most in the race’s history, it was an interesting event. I thought Helio Castroneves wasn’t really showing what he had.
However, Helio killed his engine trying to leave after a pit stop on the 144th lap, which pretty much eliminated him from contention. Oh, the TV crew made it sound like he had a shot at it when he was close to Dario at the end, but anybody paying attention knew he was about to run out of fuel.
And they were saying Dario was about to run out of fuel, too. He slowed down to a tortoise pace of 208 in the last couple of laps, and then it turned out he had 1.6 gallons left in the tank. That was enough for at least four more laps.
There were some pretty hard hits, but none worse than the horrific accident involving Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay in the third turn on the last lap.
Hunter-Reay ran out of fuel and slowed suddenly, and Conway’s car climbed over the top of it, careening off the catch fence. The car broke up, and Conway was upside down in the driver’s compartment when the safety crew got there.
He suffered a serious leg injury, and went through a lot of surgery on Sunday evening. He’s also got a back injury and will probably be in a brace for the better part of the season.
I was really worried about he and Hunter-Reay both.
The real scary part was the way the car got into the catch fence, and debris got into the seats. It was reported that there were no serious spectator injuries.
I got an e-mail from a good friend after the race, saying that sooner or later a car was going to get through that fence, and then the racing would be over.
He’s right. Thank God no one was hurt seriously.
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I picked up a comment from one of my friends on another forum about the shortening of the Indianapolis schedule to a single week of practice and a single qualifying weekend.
It impressed me, because I think it also has some relevance to NASCAR’s testing policy.
He said, “People who lobby for short testing and practice are the ones who don’t need an extra week. Limiting others is in their interest.”
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