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.