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Opening Day at Indy Part One

It has been awhile since you’ve heard from this blog and there has been a good reason for it that mostly involves me trying find a job now that unemployment is gone. That is a tale for another day, I’d much rather talk my spur of the moment decision to drive to Indianapolis for the opening day for this year’s race. Life has been crappy all year and I needed a break from it. I was looking though the various tweets of people I followed on Twitter Thursday and came across one containing the Saturday schedule of events for Indy and I clicked though to the list. I was surprised to find out that they were having autograph events for Parnelli Jones the 1963 winner of the race at 10 30 am and one for Danny Sullivan the 1985 winner later in the afternoon. I had already decided to go to Indy the day before the race for the special autograph session for all the 27 living winner.  I knew from last year’s lines just for the field of 33 drivers that getting all 27 would be impossible. Here was an opportunity to grab two winner’s autographs that would open up a chance to get a couple more in the special autograph session. All that was needed was another trip to Indy that I really didn’t have the money for but I decided what the hell. It turned out to be about the BEST DAY EVER and one of my best decisions of all time.

Since this was a last minute decision, I got off work from my part tie gig (we’ll talk about that later) at the usual time of 1:30 pm and thinking that my car wasn’t really up to the trip I stupidly thought Enterprise rental cars would have a car I could lease. Since I didn’t have a reservation upon arriving at the rental counter, I was told that they had no cars and they couldn’t guarantee one and that I should come back later. That’s right even though they had a lot full of cars none were available but they might call me if they got one. I was like the hell with you; I guess I’m driving my car. I like to describe my car like Han used to describe the Millennium Falcon. She doesn’t look like much but “She’s got it where it counts.” My car is beat to hell and 11 years old but I had no choice. I decided that they would be a lot of me talking like Han to the Falcon. “You hear me baby hold together” on this trip. Undeterred I set out to make the drive. I live about a 4.5 hour drive from Indy so from last year’s experience I knew that I was going to have to pull an all nighter with no sleep to get there early enough for the 10 am autograph session with Parnelli. You also lose an hour time driving there because they are on Eastern Time instead of Central Time like here in St Louis.

Anybody who knows me know that I get everywhere early so I waited until about 1:30 am to leave the house and start the drive. I thought this was about the time I’d left last year but I was a little too early this time. I realized this when I got the rest spot at the Indiana boarder that I had stopped last year to take a bathroom break and the sun popped up in that short period of time. This year I reached the rest stop and it was still pitch black. I continued on waiting for the sun to come up and cursing the few raindrops that kept failing while continuing to hope that the rain would go away so I could see some track action. As approached Indianapolis and looked at my Google map directions I began to look for exit 71 B which 467N ramp. About this time I see an emergency road sign that says 467N ramp is closed take detour to Kentucky Avenue. Okay great I’ll deal. I go by what used to be the 467N ramp and sure enough it was not there anymore. I look for the detour and continue driving until I come to the next exit 75. This is not good, better get off and backtrack and see if I get the ramp going the other direction. This would have been fine if exit had not said, “Exit only” but I kept going on it anyway thinking, You know sometimes it says exit only and it not really “exit only.” Not this time and now I was looking for another turn around. It took another exit and a turnaround in another opposite direction to get me headed back in the right direction. I see a Denny’s and think since I’m early I’ll stop and ask directions but then again you know how us males are we just can’t admit we are lost so I just keep going.

I find my way back to the 467N ramp in the other direction and luckily it is still there. I follow my instructions and arrive at 16th and Georgetown about little after 6 am with three hours to kill before gates open at 9 am. I doubt I can find my way back to Denny’s nor do I want to try. I think there has got to be a Denny’s around the racetrack somewhere. I tool around a little bit and see the sign that says Main Street and think that sound like good place for a Denny’s. I make the turn and drive by a place that says Charlie Brown’s and it appears open. I remember hearing people talk about it on the Indycar podcasts as I good place to eat and think this is the place I’ll get breakfast. I had on my Al Unser shirt but didn’t want to appear to be such a big goober so I changed it to my Flash T-shirt. Yeah that’s less fanboyish. I go in and more memorabilia surrounds me than I can possibly look at. I still do not want to seem like an out of town doofus so I just seat myself where they tell me. I’m in booth with Mauri Rose and Wilbur Shaw pictures with their racecars. For those of you who don’t know, they are both 3-time winners of the race from back in the day and I’m plenty happy to be in this booth. The waitress hands me the menu and I see that Saturday’s special is two eggs, two sausage, two bacon, hash browns and 3 pancakes all for $6.50. Who needs Denny’s?

I’ll skip me tooling around doing nothing for three hours and get right to them letting me in to park inside the raceway. I’m always amazed by this that they let you park in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “The Falcon” is good but she doesn’t belong inside there. The yellow shirts that are directing traffic wave me all the way to the other side of the track about as far away from where need to be to park. I make a note as I get out of the car that I am lined up with a Black MIA flag since there have been issues as to losing the car before in another city. I walk by the giant hot wheel track that they have set up for the jump they are doing before the race and get I picture because it’s pretty damn cool as you can see.

I get to the pagoda and look around for where the autograph session will be in an hour and spot the table with a roped off line. I notice some people are already making their own makeshift line and I get in it. I don’t want to be first just want to be in line early to make sure I get Parnelli’s autograph on my checkered flag. A few minutes later other people jump in front of the makeshift line to the real line that causes everyone to scramble. I am still 25 people back, which is fine.

I felt bad asking him to sign my checked flag but then I see other people with helmets, pictures, and big paintings so I don’t feel that bad. I ask the guy in front of me whom he has on his painting of the speedway and he says he got all 40 drivers from the entry list last night at the autograph session that I couldn’t make in time at 6pm at Macy’s. I curse him to myself since that was one of MY goals for this year as he goes on to show me he has one with all the Unser’s and one with all the Andretti’s autograph’s but still needs Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti. He has multiple copies of a lot of racers on photos of their cars with also.  Show off! I just want one and I’ll be happy. If I get Parnelli and Danny Sullivan it will be a successful day. Parnelli appears on the stage and talks and tells some funny stories about driving his dad’s Model A and then sits down to start autographing.

I get the bright idea to try tell him about how I was trying to recreate the little plastic checked flag my parents got me as a kid on a trip though Indy at local restaurant. It had his name on it along with Jim Clark, Graham Hill among others that taught me who he was and why he was important. Unfortunately when I hand him my giant 3 feet by 5 feet flag he doesn’t hear what I saw and says “what?” I try to repeat what I was saying but either I wasn’t making any sense at all or he may have been hard of hearing now and he just stares at me blankly and hands me back my autographed flag. I’m happy despite this and go around the corner from him and fold up the flag and put it in my backpack. I immediately lose the sharpie that I bought in case I see someone else, which I don’t notice until later.

It’s about 10:35 am and the track doesn’t open until noon their time so I decided to head to the museum. They have all the winning cars that are still in existence there which include some that were not there last year. I walk to the museum and pay my 5 bucks which is a bargain for what you are getting and go inside. The first thing I see is this. The 1970 and 1971 Johnny Lightning Specials that Al Unser drove to back to victories that one of them is on my shirt. I could have probably stood there all day and been happy.

As I moved around the museum I came to the 1977 Foyt Gilmore Coyote that is another one of my favorite cars and was again dumbstruck. I had reached across the rope barrier last year to touch the Johnny Lightning Special illegally just makes sure it was real.

I had been unable to do that with the Foyt car last year due to it’s location but was determined to fix that this year. About that time a bagpipe and drum corps that was marching around the speedway came into the museum showroom and provided the distraction I need and I reached over and put one finger on the car. HAPPINESS!

This next part of the story is key to explaining the rest of the day’s events. Upon walking around the winning cars in the room you get to the part of the room that pretty much all cars made by Roger Penske that have won. If you look at this picture you will see they two cars out of this whole part of the room that I have pointed out that are not Penske with arrows.

It’s overwhelming to see. Here’s where I must explain that the fan base on twitter myself included have taken to “affectionately” referring to the Penske/Ganassi juggernaut as the Death Star. They win just about every race and maybe only lose one or two races a year. The Death Star CANNOT be beaten. We respect Roger and Chip and realize how good they are but we also would like to see someone else win once in awhile. When the rare victory occurs by someone else there is much rejoicing like unto the Death Star being destroyed in Star Wars. We even consider victories by powerhouse teams such as Andretti and Newmann Hass to be victories over the Death Star. I know it’s silly but that’s how dominant Penske and Ganassi are. Why I am telling you this will become clear soon.

As I leave the museum I see a cool free poster that I want but decide I don’t want to carry it around so I’ll go back for it around 3 pm when I leave. It is now about 11:30 am. Track opens for practice at noon so with time to kill I swing by the souvenir stand to see what is there. I realize the sharpie is lost so I grab one. I also spot another checkered flag with the 100th year logo on it that I was actually looking for online and couldn’t find. I decide to buy it despite it being twenty dollars with sharpie on the off chance I run into someone else to sign. These three occurrences will be key to rest of the day.

It’s almost noon and I can hear motor running in the pits but not on the track. I go to the grandstand to watch some practice. Penske is in the first pit with Helio Castroneves. Who else would be in the first pit? I walk by his cars with Helio, Will Power and Ryan Brisco followed by the Ganassi duo of Dario Franchetti and Scott Dixson. Simona De Silvestro is next surprisingly but I see the Newman Hass cars of Oriel Servia and James Hinchcliff. I decide this is the place for me since I have been following James or Hinchtown his handle on Twitter. He is a rookie this year from Canada but a very talented one who is funny, charming, and good looking and everything you would want to have in a spokesman for your sponsor. I really like him and he calls all of his followers on twitter citizens of Hinchtown. This citizen has found his spot where he can root loudly for his new favorite.

The track is opened and the Penske trio takes a hot lap to decide who will be the first to cross the row of bricks at the finish line first this year and of course it is Helio. The Newmann Haas drivers follow this along with a few others and I yell, “Go get them Hinch!” as he flies by at about 218 mph. The Penske cars come around again but all duck into the pits along with both Newman Hass drivers. I look down at Penske pit and everything seems okay but at Hinch’s pit the car comes to a stop and they start taking off the back end to get to the motor. Damn, is something wrong already? They only did a lap? Work continues of James’ car while others start to go in and out of the pits but eventually Hinchtown is back out there.

About this time I see the familiar yellow of the Sarah Fisher Dollar General 67 car driven now by Ed Carpenter pull out and take a hot lap. All right! My favorite team is on the track! I’m kind of worried about them making the race since the field has 40 entries and this is there first race for a small under funded team. I’m anxious to see what they have got because if they don’t make this race it could be devastating to the team and their sponsorship. Ed goes by at what I think is a pretty good clip and I feel better about their chances. There is a guy writing down the number of the cars that are going by and the names of the drivers however he doesn’t seem to know very many. He asks me “if that was Sarah Fisher?” No I say Sarah is pregnant and has retired and hired Ed Carpenter to run her car this year. I sit there for another half hour and this continues as he asks, “who is that?” “That’s Ana Beatrice I say, or JR Hildebrand or Ryan Hunter Reay.” I’m quite enjoying showing off that I know everyone in every car by sight. I could do this all day but I get cocky and “he asks me who is car 34?” “Um…Err that’s a rookie I think”.” The girt in front of me says “Graham Rahal” She looked it up using her phone. I’m like yeah that’s right “he’s with a new team this year and act like I knew that. It’s about 1:00 pm by this time and it’s getting close to time to queue up for Danny Sullivan. I want to watch more practice and show off some more my Indycar knowledge to this guy but I also want Sullivan’s autograph. That’s why I came here to get two of the 27 winners.

Random picture of Danica's car for no real reason.I head down and run into the same makeshift line before the line and get in and wait. People jump the makeshift line again for the real line and we respond in kind. I’m about where I was last time so I’m sure to get his autograph. Danny comes to the stage and tells some stories. There are a lot of questions about “a Spin to a Win” Google it, I can’t explain everything and this is too long already and I’m only half though the story. I get the bright Idea that I am going to ask Danny a different question that about the spin since he seems more like he wants to interact with fans. I get up to him and hand him the flag and he starts to sign. He asks me to hold down the flag so he can sign better. I go to hold down where I think he said to hold down but he’s like no hold it down here. Okay, okay just sign it that’s all I want I think. I ask him as he signs “you raced a lot of different great racers in Indycar and F1, who was the toughest guys to pass?” He answers, “who ever had a good set up on their car.” Okay I couldn’t have guessed that, nice question dumbass. He then changes his answer and says “Mario Andretti”. I nod and take the flag and head out mission accomplished for the day. I have the two people I came for it is about 3pm.

I’m thinking it’s getting close to time to go and I need to start the 4.5-hour drive back. I’ll go up to the grandstands and see who is running for a couple laps and call it a day. I walk to the top of the grandstand and sit down. I look at the fastest current times and see that Ed Carpenter is still on track. The track announcer notes that Ed is having a good day and is currently fifth fastest. Wow that’s a great day for a little team. Fifth fastest. This is a good day. About that time Ed roars by again with a hot lap. Hey that looked good how fast was that? The track announcer says “Ed Carpenter has just run the fastest lap of the day at 224.700 miles per hour” The crowd and myself lets out a roar! They go on to tell us that is faster than both Ganassi drivers and Will Power of Team Penske. This is crazy; you can’t beat the Death Star! Everybody is happy but then the announcer says, “Will Power is back on the track.” Uh-oh you made Penske mad, here it comes. Will goes by with a hot lap and we wait for the inevitable announcement “THE DEATH STAR HAS CLEARED THE PLANET! YOU MAY FIRE WHEN READY” Well that was nice for a second. The track announcer comes on and is kind of stunned and says that lap was only “221.500 mph per hour!” What the? Okay this day can’t get any better. It is definitely time to go. Sarah Fisher’s team just momentarily held off the Death Star.

I decide to head down to the stairs and about that time the Dollar General golf cart with Ed Carpenter in the passenger seat goes by back to the garage area calling it a day. I yell out “Way to go Ed!” and since it was pretty quiet right there everyone hears it including Sarah Fisher who I didn’t see but is riding backwards on the cart. She looks up to see who yelled and looks right at me. I giver her the thumbs up and she smiles back as they head for the garage. I curse myself for choosing not to wear the Dollar General colors with Sarah’s tee shirt but happily walk to the end of the stairs.  I’ll wait and see if anyone else comes by and maybe they will be signing then I’ll head out in 5 or 10 minutes I think. About that time I feel a drop of rain and look up. It’s overcast and another drop starts to fall. Then more drops and it starts a light rain. I stand there another minute and continue to get wet and the rain picks up pace so that the ground and the track gets wet. This telling me it’s time to go. I head to the Museum to pick up that poster and think I’ll call it a day. As I walk to the museum the rain get heavier and I become wet but I realize that it is after 3pm and the track closes at 6 pm. The track is now wet and will have to be dried which likely won’t be done by 6 pm. Sarah Fisher’s team has destroyed the Deathstar for one day. They will have the fastest lap on day one and there is not a damn Penske can do about it. I am giddy. The wetter my clothes get the happier I am. I picture Sarah dressed like Princess Leia and imagine Ed dressed like Han Solo in my head. THEY BEAT THE DEATH STAR. The day can’t get any better right? RIGHT?

Little did I know that the day’s surprises were just beginning and I’ll stop here as I get to the museum door. Stay tuned people as we are about to meet a boatload of drivers current and legendary including Helio Castroneves, Will Power, and Bobby Rahal Then I meet two of my favorite rookies from this year, one who I have already mentioned and make a silly mistake that is quite humorous. Come back for the next installment, things are about to get interesting. I know you are thinking “FINALLY! IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

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Reader Comments (2) know how to write a good cliffhanger! Sounds like you had a great time. I can't wait to read more...

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

Nice pictures.

May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterT-Dub

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