Carson: Indianapolis 500 brings excitement
Alex Carson | Thursday, April 23, 2015
May can’t get here soon enough.
Not because it snowed yesterday, though that was far from an enjoyable walk to class. Rather, because the month of May is head and shoulders the best one of the year.
Then again, my view of the month may just be skewed by where I grew up.
May means the Indianapolis 500. My city’s most prestigious annual event. The greatest annual sporting event in the world.
How do us Hoosiers get through the slog of winter?
Easy. Just count down the number of days until the 500. (It’s 31, if you were wondering.)
The 500 represents everything we love about sports and so, so much more.
There’s the awe of sitting in the crowd, watching men and women put everything on the line. They’re flying around a 2.5-mile oval at 230 miles per hour, chasing a finish line 500 miles away. There’s the beauty of watching an open-wheel car whip around the corners at Indianapolis, taking them at a speed not too different from the one it reaches on the long straightaways.
There’s the names. Unser, Mears and Andretti. Foyt and Rutherford. Bill Vukovich, too — he was one of my grandfather’s favorites.
And, of course, there’s the tradition. We have plenty of that at Indianapolis.
I will never forget hearing Jim Nabors sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” the few times I was fortunate enough to. It’s a pre-race tradition in Indianapolis — even though it’s not our state song — that harkens back to 1946, becoming synonymous with the man who played Gomer Pyle on “The Andy Griffith Show.”
Never mind that he always got the words wrong because we loved it anyway. Each and every one of the 36 times he sang it.
And when the balloons go up at the song’s conclusion — as they have every year since 1950 — I’ll always get a little tear in my eye, remembering how special this event is.
Then there’s those most famous words in motorsport:
“Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.”
And then there’s the glass of milk awaiting the winner in Victory Lane post-race.
But perhaps above all else, the thing I love most about the 500 is how it brings my home city together.
Many of my favorite memories as a kid revolve around the race, even though I didn’t actually go to my first one until five years ago.
Most of the drivers have meet-and-greet autograph sessions at various spots around town throughout the month of May. They’re almost always free, and they were certainly highlights of my childhood.
So, yes, this is where I have to give a shout-out to Hélio Castroneves. Growing up, he was my man. We didn’t miss his autograph sessions. I’d always take a picture with him, have a chat and get his autograph.
One year, we brought a picture we took the previous year with us, one of Hélio and me. He, of course, signed it.
The picture is still proudly displayed in my home.
But where IndyCar drivers are concerned, Hélio is a lot closer to being the rule than he is the exception. Hanging around the track the last few years, it’s pretty easy to see that the men and women who drive in IndyCar are pretty awesome people.
Yes, even you, Will Power. You seem like a nice guy, but I have to hate you. You’re my ex-girlfriend’s favorite driver.
But hey, that’s how it works in Indianapolis.
And aside from those autograph sessions, there’s so much more this race brings to our city every May.
We’re brought together by the 500 Festival, from its mini-marathon, which runs on the track at the Brickyard to start the month, through to the parade the day before the race, featuring the drivers, lined up in rows of three. Just like they’ll start that Sunday. It’s pretty neat.
But more than anything, we’re brought together on race day. That Sunday afternoon, when I sit down, relax, and watch the greatest event in sports with 300,000 of my closest friends.
Race day in Indianapolis?
There’s nowhere I’d rather be.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.