Archive for May 13, 2011

Speedway Sightings at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 13, 2011

In May of 1972, Jeff Konopasek, (a lifelong friend so close to me that when we were in Mrs. Pachnik’s first grade together at Eldon Ready School in Griffith, our poor teacher was often confused as to who was who), took me on my first visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

We and a group of other Griffith High Alumni slept in our respective cars a block from the track, so we would be some of the very first inside of the legendary speedway for Pole Day. Since that day, over the course of four decades, I have sat in the stands at Indianapolis many, many times.

Not long ago, before the track opened, my wife and daughter sneaked into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so I could have a photo taken on the yard of bricks with my two-year old grandson, Asher William Bane.

In fifty years, I can only hope that Asher will have a photo taken with his grandchildren and share with them stories of Grandfather’s Wm.’s time at the Brickyard.

Since 1995 much has been written about the health of the Indianapolis 500. Many have loudly announced that this race, run as a Hoosier tradition honoring generations of brave men and women for their service to our country, as having lost it’s place as America’s greatest motorsports contest.

Interesting is the fact that the vast majority of those people voicing that judgment have never sat in the stands of this storied speedway to watch a race. Where I grew up in the Calumet region, we call that uniformed opinion, and as all Regionites know, “opinions are like noses, everyone has one.”

On a handful of occasions I have had the opportunity to speak at length with the man charged with addressing the challenge of returning the 500 to the world’s consciousness, the CEO of the IndyCar Racing Series, Randy Bernard. After 30 years of working in foundry/mining/petrochemical industries and ten years in racing, I can honestly tell you I have rarely been as impressed by a businessman as I am with Bernard.

Open and honest, skilled at listening and enormously patient with everyone seeking his counsel, I am convinced he is about to bring the Indianapolis 500 back as truly the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” and the most important race on the planet.

He’s been in his position since February 2010. Last years Indy 500 was the first under his watch and over the course of my three weeks at the Speedway; I witnessed more excitement at the Mecca of motorsports, than the last 15 years combined.

IndyCar racing is not an easy sell. Unlike the “fender rubbers” of NASCAR, you can’t push another racer out-of-the-way here. You have to race around him. It may take you 10 or 20 or even 30 laps to do it, but at 220 miles per hour you don’t make decisions lightly. No place on earth is faster and more dangerous than Indy, traveling the length of a football field a second, a blink of an eye is all it takes for a lifelong quest to come to a forbidding end.

It takes a sophisticated race fan to understand what happens here. That’s why Hoosiers and race fans all over the world idolize this speedway and this race. That’s why 350,000 to 400,000 people show up to see this, the most incredible high-speed motorsports competition that exists anywhere.

Some may believe that I look through the lens of Indy with rose color glasses — but they haven’t sat with me when I’ve seen generations of brave American soldiers honored for their service by a grateful Hoosier Indy nation, prior to 33 men and women, risking everything for racing immortality. This year with 40 entries vying for 33 spots, it promises to be the most competitive Month of May since before the IndyCar/CART split in 1996.

So for you Hoosiers who have been hearing of the demise of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, don’t believe it, come see for yourselves and be part of a 100 year Hoosier tradition, a sporting event that every other community in the world would beg to be a part of.