29 May 2010

500 Predictions

(just to have them on record, in case I'm right for once.)

Winner: Helio Castroneves

Place: Dario Franchitti
Show: Scott Dixon

Fourth: Ed Carpenter

Fifth: Townsend Bell

Rookie of the Year: Takuma Sato

Most positions gained: Tony Kanaan
Top female finisher: Danica Patrick

Moving Through the 500 Field: 1-11

First, I apologize for not completing this yesterday.  Between a baseball practice, the end of Carb Day, an extended happy hour and the Burger Bash, I ran out of time in the day.  In any case, here is my breakdown of the front of the Indianapolis 500 field, with some award predictions, as well.

27 May 2010

Moving Through the 500 Field: The Middle

With just over three days remaining until Jack Nicholson drops the green flag on the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500, we continue with part II of our look at the 500 field.  Today, we look at the middle of the starting grid. (for part I, click here)

26 May 2010

Moving Through the 500 Field, 23-33

Now that the IZOD IndyCar Series has taken the field of 33 through an east-coast media blitz, it's to refocus on the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500, and breaking down just who can come away with the Borg-Warner Trophy.  Over the next three days, we'll move through the field, breaking down the chances (or lack thereof) of each driver.  Today, we look at the last 11 drivers in the 500.

25 May 2010

Want 500 Tickets?

I have four extra tickets to the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.  They are located in Paddock, Section 9, Row DD.

You are just south of the start/finish line, with views of the Pagoda, multiple pits, driver introductions, pre-race ceremonies, etc.

If you're interested, just shoot me an email via the link on the right-hand side.

24 May 2010

Exhaustion (and how Paul Tracy Helps Legitimize Indianapolis)

I turned zero laps over the weekend.  But, like any strong competitor, I tuned up my body for May 30 and the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.  Mainly by sitting at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for nearly eight hours over Saturday and Sunday with a box lunch and a beer or two.

There was zero tracking down of interviews, or autographs (until late Sunday).  Just venturing to Box 13 in the Paddock and catching some sun, playing "I am Indy," and enjoying the sights and sounds of IMS.

When Robin Miller says the Pole Day crowd was the largest he had seen since 1995, I'm inclined to believe him; turn 1 was nearly full, while the portions of the infield stands and paddock that were open we full of people.  40,000 (Curt Cavin's estimate) sounds about right.  The combination of great weather and an exciting new format seemed to bring more people to the track; around 4:15, it seemed like more people showed up prior to the "Pole Day Shootout," though they could have been arriving from the Eddie Money concert, too.

(Quick aside: the Money Man has some hits.  Don't sleep on that guy for a go-to 80's hit.)

More proof that fans want to see the big speeds return to IMS: the biggest cheer of the day was when Dave Calabro announced Helio's first lap at more than 228 mph.  An audible gasp went through the crowd as Helio figuratively gave the finger to the other eight competitors when dominating.

After Helio gave the shootout and Pole Day the much sought-after boost, Tony Kanaan did his level best to spice up Bump Day.

The Sunday crowd was definitely down from Saturday, though to be honest, the 90-degree temperatures might have played a small role in that.  Saturday saw plenty of people using the paddock boxes in which to catch some sun; Sunday saw virtually everyone in the shadows as the temperatures climbed.

The crowd was given a few things to cheer about early - local favorite John Andretti (the man is so down to earth, he shuns the golf cart to walk down pit road, helmet in hand) qualified early, while
the Junk Man dropped a massive qualifying effort after just seven practice laps (he is a serious dark horse candidate, in my opinion).

Now, I'm a Kanaan guy - the hat and koozie reflect that - and it seemed like most, if not all of the crowd was pulling for the nine-time starter.  As the day crept along, Kanaan did not have the speed to get into the 500; my wife was pretty sure TK would not be in the race.  
Bob Kravitz had the same thought in The Indianapolis Star today.  But the crowd would not be denied, as their biggest cheers of the late afternoon came for Kanaan whenever his car went down pit road.

However, by 5:00, Kanaan had found some speed as he turned a few laps in the high 224s.  He immediately put the car into line and qualified it.  Still, he was on the outside of row 10, and after Takuma Sato qualified his Lotus ahead of him, it appeared that TK might eventually be on the bubble.

By the end, both
Paul Tracy and Jay Howard attempted to decide their own fates, with neither achieving their desired result.  And since I was critical of Alex Tagliani last year for sitting on his hands and not doing anything to defend his bubble spot in 2009, I can't fault Tracy nor Howard.

The tweets began pouring in shortly after 6 p.m., talking about Paul Tracy's emotional press conference.  And it's good to see just how much Indianapolis means to Tracy.  In an odd way, his not making the field of 33 helps further legitimize the race.  In 1996, the 500 was mocked for its field, versus the US 500's field (though that opening lap crash looked fairly silly for CART); as teams gradually came back to Indianapolis, the complaints about the field quality diminished, but grumblings about the 2002 500 remained among loyalists of one series or another.

And now, the face of the old guard, Paul Tracy, can't make the 500.  It's one of those shocking misses, not on the 1995 Penske level, but a big enough name that reminds everyone that Indianapolis cannot be taken for granted (not that Tracy did).  No gimmicks, amount of owners points, top 35 rules or anything like that can get you into the Field of 33.  It's pure speed, the way God intended it.

20 May 2010

A Qualifications Primer

Until the 500/600 $20 Million Double occurs (and SI.com's Tim Tuttle nails most of it here), the biggest change to hit the Indianapolis 500 was the overhaul of the schedule for the month of May.  With a schedule closer to that of the 1998 500, teams have been prepping all week for the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 and stand to do their qualifying trim on Thursday.

Saturday will mark the biggest changes to the qualifying format - no, Brian Barnhardt will still talk to the drivers momentarily before the head out for their qualifying effort - with a "
Pole Day Shootout" scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m..

From noon-4, the first 24 slots will be filled, based on speed.  After a half-hour break, the top nine speeds will then have a window in which to attempt to qualify for the pole.

The new format blends a bit of the "Firestone Fast Six" road/street qualifying format that fans have enthusiastically endorsed with the tradition of late-day pole runs at Indianapolis.

Now, whether or not this draws fans back to Pole Day remains to be seen.  While I don't see the massive crowds returning for qualifications until drivers are pushing 240-250 mph, last year's crowd appeared to be up from the previous year.  For the most part, the qualifying was good, albeit too spread out, as Alex Lloyd put together a late run to qualify in the top 11 in his Sam Schmidt/Ganassi car.

With two Ganassi machines (and a third in Townsend Bell's Schmidt/Ganassi effort), at least one quality KV machine (Mario Moraes), three solid Penske cars, two-five Andretti Autosport efforts (Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan have shown the most speed) and a Tagliani (he's been surprisingly quick in practice), some quality drivers are going to be left out, leaving some to scramble around 3:30 to try and make a run into the first three rows of the 500 field.

In any case, it should make for a more interesting Pole Day, with track activity guaranteed far more than in the past.

As for Bump Day, filling the final nine spots in the field should take little time, provided the weather cooperates.  And unlike past years, we won't see Jimmy Kite and P.J. Jones as the only cars attempting to bump their way into the field (now, after experiencing a two-seater ride, I have an immense amount of respect for any of those drivers, especially the ones trying to bump their way in with an ill-handling machine).

Based on the speed charts thus far, it looks like everyone's favorite driver, Milka Duno (hey, she is great with the fans, I'll credit her that), will be squarely on the bubble come Sunday.  And if that happens, keep a close eye on the AJ Foyt Racing garage, where I wouldn't be surprised to see another car prepared if Milka was sitting on the bubble late in the day.

19 May 2010

It's Not the Month of May Until Ed Hinton Criticizes Indianapolis

Each May, it seems like Ed Hinton uses his ESPN.com pulpit to announce to the masses, "the Indianapolis 500 is not what it used to be."

Frankly, he's been at this for nearly 13 years now (
see a similar article from the June 2, 1997, Sports Illustrated), and to a fan of the race, it's getting pretty damn old.

I wrote about a column of his a year ago (from the Andretti-Petty alliance at Indianapolis), and unfortunately, I'm writing about another salvo he's firing at the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 this time, too.

In preparation for this year's Indianapolis 500, IndyCar fans are treated to a
four-part series from Mr. Hinton (the only time of the year he writes about the IZOD IndyCar Series), recounting The Split from a man who was Sports Illustrated's auto-racing journalist at the time, and who now shills for NASCAR on a weekly basis.  And while these articles are informative (this one has some good nuggets and background leading up to 1996), the timing of it strikes me as odd (and his comparison to the American Civil War is ridiculous).

Call me crazy, but you'd think that ABC would want to promote the hell out of the positives of Indianapolis and ESPN.com would reflect this.  You know, since screaming "this race isn't what it was" really drives eyeballs to the TV sets, among other reasons.

I'm not going to bore anyone with the details; the split happened when I was 13; the warring factions have reunited and are building a strong, competitive series.  If Ed Hinton wants to look back and wax poetic about the days of CART and how NASCAR became "America's true racing circuit" (my quotes, not his), that's his business.

But let's not re-examine The Split two-and-a-half years after reunification (May of 2008 might have been a better time for this to run).  And let's not perpetuate the myth of NASCAR as the "great American sport;" it's not - Indianapolis and IndyCar racing was around well before the moonshiners in the South ever got together.

Furthermore, can we end the falsehoods that the Indianapolis 500 has been irreparably scarred by The Split?  Yes, the 500 had some lean years (I know, I was there).  But, let's acknowledge that the 500 (and IndyCar racing) have been trending upward of late.  Attendance is coming back.  Sponsorships are (slowly) growing; with an economic turnaround, I would expect more sponsorships and more full fields.

The spark behind IMS is still there.  Are the days of massive crowds on qualifications behind us?  Probably.  But I know I'll be there, with some folks who have never attending qualifications before, so it's a start.  Lost in the whole "attendance" debate is this: just as the series suffered due to the retirements of Mears, Rutherford, Unser, Sullivan, Rahal, etc., a new generation of fan was growing up.  This generation didn't have the money required to attend races.

Now that generation has some pocket change (I know, I'm one of them), allowing them to make it to the track(s).

Give it some time, Mr. Hinton.  Stop worrying about events that took place in 1995 and 1996.  Look at the present and the future.  People have stopped watching cars travel in circles non-stop.  The series you cover has encouraged drivers to wreck each other in an effort keep eyes on the TV, but can't put butts in seats right now.

Meanwhile, attendance for the IZOD IndyCar Series has been strong (Kansas excepted).  250,000-plus will pack IMS on May 30 - a crowd that NASCAR would kill for.  Fans are excited to watch cars topping 225 mph going wheel-to-wheel with danger lurking at every corner (as opposed to bumper cars).  Speed and glamor are coming back into vogue, with the help of IZOD, a committed title sponsor.

The Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar Series are on the way back; they've been on the way back since early 2009 (the 500 since before then).  Now if you'd stop looking to the past for your articles, you might notice this.

UPDATE (May 21, 10:30 a.m.): Having gotten around to reading Part II of Hinton's four-part series on The Split, I must say that this portion is worth reading.  Look, I still disagree with the timing of it, and how this is rehashed by the same author every May, but Part II is informative in nature, and generally well-written.

17 May 2010

The Last Bastion

Free of any obligations on Sunday, I figured it would be a good time to head over to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to take in some practice.  These sessions aren't only for the drivers - fans need to be working on a few things during this time, as well:
  1. If you have tickets, find your seats, or their approximate location.  It will come in handy on race day, especially if you've never been to IMS.
  2. Bladder control.  This goes hand-in-hand with diguring the quickest way from those seats to the nearest restroom.  Another hint that will come in handy on May 30.  (Though with the length of yellow flags these days, you should be able to make it there and back and miss just a few pit stops.)
  3. Car identification.  Train those eyes to pick up the subtle differences in the Target cars, now.  You don't want to be the one who figures out that it's Dario Franchitti leading at lap 123, when you thought it was Dixon the whole time.
  4. Ear training.  If you haven't been to a recent IndyCar race, the roar (whine?) of the engines will startle your ears.  I've never been an earplugs guy, but you might want to see if you should invest in some for race day by experiencing a day at the track prior to May 30.
  5. Driver/wife spotting.  Because it's fun to notice that Dario Franchitti is moving dangerously close to mullet territory with those flowing locks, or that Alex Lloyd's wife appeared to be concerned that her husband would slip off the team's cart, judging from the grip she had around his waist.  It's these little tidbits that come in handy throughout the month, especially when choosing a driver to root for (if you haven't already).
  6. Autograph seeking.  Yes, the drivers will sign.  But probably not a lot, especially if they're just wrapping up a practice run.  And it would be easier with a bronze badge.  Even Marco (I witnessed it with my own two eyes).
As I walked around IMS yesterday, and avoided the human statues, it dawned on me that, to a certain extent, IMS is one of the last bastions of Americana.  Not to go all political, but I would venture to guess that in most public venues, smoking is banned, or at the very least, cordoned to certain areas.

Not at Indianapolis.  You want to light up?  Feel free to do so anywhere.  Hell, I even saw a Team Penske crew member doing so along the catch fence that separates the crowds from pit lane.

You want to bring your own cooler full of sandwiches, beverages and Pringles?  Come right in, says IMS.  Try doing that at the next professional sporting event you attend.

While the crowd yesterday was on the smaller side (rain forecasts didn't help), a $5 ticket to attend practice and walk just about anywhere you'd like, is still one of the best deals in American sports.  And with $10 qualification tickets and $20 general admission tickets to the 500, IMS manages to keep the facility affordable for just about everyone, which is what sports used to be about.

The Speedway hearkens back to a simpler time in many ways, for both positive and negative.  But as the on-track product looks towards the future (thankfully), IMS holds steady as one of America's oldest and grandest giants, welcoming all in the same manner she did 100 years earlier.

12 May 2010

It's Time for a New Hall of Fame

With NASCAR opening their shiny, $195 million Hall of Fame this week, and the gates of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opening to racing for the first time in May later this weekend, it seems appropriate to examine what is becoming a need for American open-wheel racing - a new museum.

Look, I love the Hall of Fame Museum.  Let me say that first and foremost.  But, to anyone who has seen the facility over the years and visited other sports' Halls of Fame, I think it is readily apparent that a new, larger museum would be a boon for the IZOD IndyCar Series and IMS.

With Speedway, Indiana, in the midst of their biggest (and most important) redevelopment since growing up around IMS, both the town and the IndyCar Series have unique opportunities for growth.

For Speedway, the development projects are an opportunity to revitalize local businesses and bring in new business; Dallara has committed to build the new IndyCar chassis in Speedway, should their design be chosen, and I have heard that the Speedway Redevelopment Commission has talked with other manufacturers as well, in order to bring more racing business to the town.

For the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the development project will hopefully energize an area around the track that is sadly, lacking, to be honest.  Aside from Main Street in Speedway, the local businesses near IMS consist of strip clubs, liquor stores and trailer parks (not that there is anything wrong with any of those businesses).  The redevelopment of Speedway gives IMS a chance to recreate the areas surrounding the track and turning 16th and Georgetown into a tourist destination year-round, not just three times a year.

If you look at the renderings from the Speedway Redevelopment Commission, you can see exactly where a new museum would fit in the landscape of a redeveloped Speedway, Indiana.  For those unfamiliar with the project, 16th Street, which runs along the south end of IMS, would be rerouted further south, basically behind where the IZOD IndyCar Series offices are today.

Two rotaries would be installed - one where 16th Street would hit Holt Road (near Turn 2), and one where 16th Street, Georgetown Road and Crawfordsville Road presently meet.  While the rendering shows a large building outside of Turn 2, no building has been announced for this site.  This is where I propose a new, state-of-the-art Hall of Fame would go.

This new Hall of Fame (which would sit in this area along with relocated IMS and IZOD IndyCar Series offices) would help bring open-wheel racing fans to Speedway on a more consistent basis.

Ideally, the Hall of Fame could be paired with a higher-end hotel near the track, giving fans an alternative to staying downtown, renting an RV, or taking their chances in the hotels down at I-465 and Crawfordsville Road.

No offense to the present Hall of Fame Museum, but it is outdated and can feel cluttered at times.  For those who have seen the museum basement, they come back raving about the hidden treasures and cars of IMS.  Why not expand the space and bring all the sights to see to the museum floor?  It seems to make good marketing sense to me.

Most museums today have interactive booths, allowing participants to get the experience of participating in sport.  For instance, the NCAA Hall of Champions has an exhibit allowing fans to see what a 100-mph tennis serve looks like and another giving fans the opportunity to kick field goals.

An IMS Hall of Fame Museum of the future could host a wide variety of interactive games - from racing simulators to pit crew competitions to allowing fans to record their own calls of historic IMS moments - all of which would allow fans to grow closer to the sport they love.

Yes, being able to see Arie Luyendyk's 1990 Domino's Pizza livery is cool, but imagine being able to sit down  in a chair and race against the 1990 Indianapolis 500 field, or any other race from the track's 100 years.

Not only would fans have an opportunity to learn about the rich history of IMS and open-wheel racing, the Hall of Fame Museum would continue to house cars and motorcycles from other races at the track, enriching the historical relevance Indianapolis holds in racing and automobile circles.

The Hall of Fame portion of the museum could also be expanded, allowing for more detailed biographies of those in the Auto Racing Hall of Fame and for the Indianapolis 500 winners.

For A.J. Foyt, for instance, not only would his Hall of Fame plaque highlight his four Indy 500 wins, fans could see all four cars in one spot; Johnny Rutherford's three winners could go near his plaque as well.  Or the Hall of Fame could have a room devoted to four-time, three-time and two-time winners of Indianapolis.

Booths would give fans the opportunity to pull up a narrated highlight reel of any race at IMS, dating back to 1909.

Any Hall of Fame should reflect the rich history of their sport; I would say that while the IMS Hall of Fame Museum certianly does this, the time is right to expand.  After all with the 100th anniversary of IMS around the corner, the time is now to make sure all comers to Indianapolis gain a full appreciation for the sport.

11 May 2010

Looking Back on the 500

At the time, I did not fully realize what IMS meant to me (see here for more), but as I sorted through old college papers over the weekend, I came across a 20-page paper I wrote on the Indianapolis 500 my sophomore year at Boston College for a History of Sport class (I didn't even mind that it was a 9 a.m. Monday-Wednesday-Friday course).

My teacher was an old, East Coast salt, but he remembered the "glory days" of the 500 quite well, as he frequently referred to Indianapolis as "Indiana-no-place," which I suppose it may have been back before the Hoosier Dome and the downtown Renaissance of the 1980's.  In any case, he assigned each student to compose a 20-page paper on a subject of our choice.

Knowing I was heading home over Easter Break (we had 5 days off, courtesy of the Catholic school schedule), I proposed a paper that would incorporate a tour of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, several books on the subject (including an outstanding biography of Carl Fisher, "The Pacesetter," by Jerry Fisher), and an interview with noted Speedway historian Donald Davidson.

What followed was the longest paper of my college tenure (when you're a Broadcasting & Journalism major, your writing assignments aren't terribly long).  The pictures have been removed from the paper for the sake of brevity, but if you want a detailed assessment of the history and origins of some of the 500's traditions, feel free to take a look by clicking

06 May 2010

A New Appreciation for Speed

It felt like I was crawling.

No, not my laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.  The drive home following the three laps.  Because once you've topped 170 mph in an Indycar, 70 on I-465 just doesn't really compare.

If you're an IndyCar fan, taking a ride with the Indy Racing Experience is a must.  (I'd call it a bucket list item, but that seems too cliche).  And allow me shill for the Indy Racing Experience and Indy Downforce for a moment: for $499 you can purchase your laps around Orlando, IMS or any of the other tracks the IZOD IndyCar Series visits.

But, with a membership in
Indy Downforce, you can earn points towards receiving $100 off this price, allowing you, in total, to save roughly $70 off the price (after accounting for your membership).

I had received the ride as a Christmas present (or the money), and finally earned enough Downforce points to get the $100 off in April; I signed up immediately for the first running at IMS, May 6.

It was George Mallory who famously replied when queried about climbing Mount Everest, "Because it's there."  And IMS has been there for 99 years now, challenging all comers.  While running laps at IMS isn't quite the feat that reaching the world's highest peak is, I would argue it comes close, especially after my experience this morning.

03 May 2010

The Month of May

Last week, Vision Racing asked via their twitter account, for accounts of how people came to fall in love with the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar racing.  I replied with a 140-character response, but as we hit the month of May, allow me to expand upon it.

I've spent nearly 24 of my 28 years on this planet living in Indianapolis.  I was born and bred here, before heading out to Boston College for four years and returning after graduation (and enjoying amenities like being able to afford a house for the cost of a studio, cheap beer, etc.).

Growing up in Indianapolis, at least in my house, the month of May took on special properties.  I remember my father running the Mini-Marathon when I was younger; they used to finish the race at the start/finish line in Speedway and bus people back to downtown Indy.  In any case, I remember the negatives they used to send of each participant finishing, and to me, finishing 13.1 miles right where the Indycars did was pretty cool to a 4-year old.

My parents began attending the 500 from the time they moved to Indianapolis in the early 1980's, taking family members over their young son for the entire decade.  They initially had seats in Turn 4, but continually renewed until settling in their current location - Paddock, Section 9, Row BB, Seats 17-20.

Gradually, I got to attend qualifications, maybe to build up my ear resistance to the motors.  As a little kid, I had a few heroes - the Chicago Cubs, Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA," and Danny Sullivan.  When I was still too young to attend the race, I remember my parents bringing back the 500 program, and the pull-out of the 33-car grid.  For whatever reason, I was fascinated by all the cars - maybe it was the colors, or the different designs - I couldn't get enough of those grids.

I was 2-and-a-half when the "Spin N' Win" occurred, but throughout the 80's, Danny Sullivan was my guy; when wearing my plastic racing helmet, that's who I was, cornering at Indy.

As I grew up, IMS slowly became more available to me; by fourth grade, I was attending the 500 with my dad; coolers of Coke, Gatorade and a bag of Twizzlers became a race-day tradition, as did waking up early to make roughly 12 sandwiches for me, my dad, and whatever two friends tagged along to the race.

I made every 500 after 1992 but one - Arie Luyendyk's 1997 500 victory; it was eighth grade, and the race was postponed two days by rain.  I wasn't allowed to skip school for the Tuesday race, unfortunately.

By high school, my friends and I were heading to IMS on a regular basis for the 500.  I had one friend fall asleep in the middle of the race - I don't think we invited him back for another 500.  For us, the 500 was a chance to act above our age - we could walk around IMS unsupervised and see all sorts of sights and sounds, especially for the ones who spent Saturday night in Speedway.

In college, the 500 was a reason to come home.  I didn't make it back to Indianapolis too often, but Memorial Day weekend was always circled on the calendar.

It became my goal to get my roommates to the 500, and I largely succeeded.  Introducing IndyCar racing to someone who has never seen it, especially at Indianapolis, was a rush.  You could see their eyes glaze over from sensory overload when the green flag dropped and 33 cars topped 220 mph heading into turn 1.  And by the end of the day, their eyes were crazy with adrenaline from the race and the fatigue of waking up early and imbibing in a beverage or two throughout the weekend.

Indianapolis really hit home to me in my junior year of college, when I spent five months in Sydney, Australia, studying at the University of New South Wales.  Throughout my interactions with people, the 500 was the easiest way to relate to people.  It was practically the first thing that folks brought up when I told them where I was from (that and American foreign policy in 2003).

IMS and the 500 became my tie to home, aside from my family and friends.  Living so far away from home, I clung to the race, not because I missed Indianapolis and America, but because I realized just how much the 500 was an identifier for my home.  People in Australia didn't care about the Pacers, or the Cubs (try watching the 2003 NLCS at 9 a.m. Australian time), but they did identify with IMS and the 500.

Today, it's nearly impossible for me to maintain a dry eye during "Back Home Again in Indiana."

Since graduating, I still enjoy the lure of IMS.  Living in Indy, and having an office from where I can hear the engines on a good day, the sirens' song only grows louder.  I can spend a few more days there now (along with a few more dollars), from Pole Day through the 500, and each new experience at IMS adds to the bank of memories I've accumulated.

These days, I've largely taken over the ticket account from my father, but in doing so, I feel an even stronger tie to those days of my youth, when I was a large-eyed 10 year-old staring out at the expanse of IMS.  I still love bringing newcomers to the track for the race; my wife (then girlfriend) enjoyed her first experience at IMS in 2006 - it probably helped that Marco Andretti damn near won the race.  I knew that she was a keeper, but the fact that she enjoyed the 500 so much only sold me that much more.

Attending the 500 brings back a flood of memories - I still have to buy a program and look at the grid, if nothing else to mention to everyone that I've loved them since my youth.  I still have a secret path to IMS on race day that avoids nearly all traffic and I always park in the same lot.  It still annoys everyone I've ever driven to the 500 that I force everyone up early after a night of revelry to get to IMS early, so we miss traffic.

I remember attending qualifications and races with my mom and dad (it's where I learned who "Lone Star JR" was), and running on the track during the five Mini-Marathons in which I've run.

This year, I'll add a few memories to the 2010 Indianapolis 500 - a track lap with my wife and father in a pace car that we took in mid-April; it was a thrill to top 100 mph in an Impala.  And personally, I'll add the experience of sitting and riding in a two-seater, which I will do on this upcoming Thursday.  I cannot wait until the race, when I can say, "I've done that," as a car corners through turn 1.

Yes, the Indianapolis 500 is about speed, pushing the envelope of the speed/safety balance and the history and pageantry of IMS.  And to another extent, the parties before, during and after the 500.  It's the Snake Pit, the pure American-ness of bringing a cooler of your own beverages into the track, and enjoying a sun-splashed late-spring day in Indianapolis (though as I leave IMS each year, I appreciate being covered in the Paddock).

To me, though, it's more: the month of May brings me back to my home and memories; through all the changes in life throughout the years, the ups and downs, Indianapolis has always been there on Memorial Day weekend, welcoming all comers (and whatever changes in life had occurred in the last year) with open arms.

And come May 30, 2010, I'll make another Indianapolis 500 (my 17th) and add to the memories.  I cannot wait.