Having grown up in Indiana, I spent a large amount of my Mays at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I saw the likes of Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears and of course, AJ Foyt run on the famed oval. For years I hoped that the Hulman family would see clear to put on another race and run NASCAR stock cars at the track. Thankfully, in 1994, they did just that. Unfortunately, in 1996, the open-wheel series split into two parts and I refused to give Tony George any of my money, so I quit going to races. Now that the open-wheel series are back together, I have decided to head back to the track after 13 years away.
The track has changed quite a bit in nearly a decade and a half. The grandstands on the inside of the front straight are completely changed to make room for the Formula 1 garages. The garages in back of the stands, at the end of gasoline alley, have been rebuilt, although they are rather small and sparse. The scoring tower has been replaced by the Pagoda, which is a throwback to the oriental themed Pagoda that was originally at the track. The media center attached to the Pagoda is about as state of the art as it can possibly get. There is now a road course through the infield and the administrative offices I believe were built on the site of the original museum since I was last there.
All-in-all, the place is even more amazing than it was when I was a kid, and they know how to put on a race. They have security personnel everywhere who know exactly what they’re looking for all of the time. They’re all very helpful and can lead you where you’re going any time. The people working in the media center and the offices are very friendly and helpful and they make being there much more enjoyable.
One thing that has not changed in the 13 years since I was last there, the racing is far from spectacular. Flat tracks are not built for stock cars, no matter how much the tire company tries to make the compound stick and how much the sanctioning body dictates the specs of the car to try and make the racing exciting. The thing is, Indy is not about the racing. Indy is about the tradition and the history. There are always times when the races are exciting with finishes like this past weekend, or like the finish to the Indy 500 a couple of years ago when Sam Hornish Jr. passed Marco Andretti on the final straight. Most of the races that have taken place at the Brickyard, there is little to no bumper-to-bumper racing and some of it will be horrifically boring. But the experience, the ambiance, the history will overwhelm you as soon as you drive through the gate. You’re surrounded by it at all times.
Don’t scream and holler about Indy isn’t exciting and it is just nose to tail, parade racing. There are passes taking place on the track. The thing that is different about Indy is it is cerebral. You have to analyze where you are best and where your opponent is weak. Then maximize their weakness while minimizing your weakness, and put your faster car ahead of them. It is really very simple.
So whenever you have a chance, get to Indianapolis for a race. You won’t be disappointed with the whole experience if you pay attention to anything besides the race. And if you close your eyes and listen very carefully, you just might here Ray Herroun or Wilbur Shaw, telling you what is going on.