Indy 500 has given us a lifetime of memories


The volume. That roar of 33 cars was the equivalent of a dozen jet engines right next to your head. That’s the sound that stays with me from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from Memorial Days past.

Or maybe 100 lions. And if you have heard one lion generating its own roar in the jungle night, you know what I mean.

We’re going to miss those cars going 230 mph Sunday, absent under Indianapolis 500 quarantine this year because the world is under siege from an invisible virus preventing us from gathering in the world’s largest sports stadium.

It has been more than two months since the sports world locked down, and no one has turned the key yet, freeing the best athletes from purgatory. Nor their fans.

Oh, we will have an Indy-related TV show to occupy us, but it won’t be the same as being there. It won’t be the same as watching the suspense build for 200 laps before a new champion is crowned.

At best, it will be diet soda or Sanka instead of the real stuff. Nobody’s fault. It is what it is this year during the time of coronavirus.

We have to set our sights on Plan B, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 playing out Aug. 23 instead of May 24. It will count just as much. The winner will be equally as revered.

The Indy 500 has been here before, the lost years of World War I and World War II interrupting the daring young men and women in their driving machines. Smart thinking years later allowed the higher-ups to celebrate two 100-year anniversaries, one commemorating the first race of 1911 and the other commemorating the 100th running.

The first time I was aware of the Indy 500 was 1963. Parnelli Jones won it. I surely had never heard the phrase “bucket list,” but I subconsciously put the speedway over Memorial Day on mine.

Wherever I lived, as far away as Alaska, four time zones west, or elsewhere, for years the race was appointment TV until I finally got near enough to mark it on the calendar and attend and cover it as a sports writer.

You might hear the Indianapolis 500 referred to as the greatest spectacle in racing by television announcers. It would be difficult to imagine any other more grandiose and sprawling and impressive. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway seats about 275,000, and if the infield is crammed, attendance (always kept off the record) can reach 400,000.

The speedway is monstrous. Any time I have been away for long and then drive past, even when it’s empty, I am struck by how colossal the place is and how long it takes to circle. It makes 60,000-seat football stadiums seem puny.

The speedway is a historic building, and history has been written within its walls. It is kind of like the White House of auto racing. If your portrait is inside the museum, you did something special. Or if your name is carved on the Borg-Warner Trophy.

For some segment of Americans, the only automobile race they know is the Indianapolis 500. They may not be aware of the tradition of the winner drinking milk, but there are some names they recognize as being among the most famous sportsmen in the United States.

A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves may reverberate loudest as champs among champs.

Speed has always attracted the multitudes, fascinated by how fast these guys can go in their specially designed cars that often seem to resemble multicolored insects.

Whether it was clocking 100 mph, 150 mph or 200 mph, those barriers were long-ago broken. Fans gasped … How fast can they go? A lot faster by now if tinkerers and technology had been left unfettered, giving drivers power to hit 300 mph.

Only IndyCar worried about vehicles going airborne and a multitude of bad crashes. The 500 has lived through that before.

Sunday will be different in 2020 with no Indy 500. I wonder what movies are on TV.

No posts to display