I have attended a lot of races and gone to several tracks in the past few years, but only a few days have produced so many memories that I will never forget as being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday. My Dad, a friend and me went over last year for Opening Day and again on Carb Day, but the last time I had been at the track was in July for the Brickyard weekend, specifically the Nationwide race.
Saturday started out very cool and overcast and the breeze over the rest of the day kept it from feeling too warm, even when the Sun was out. That sure didn't keep my time in Gasoline Alley from being any less spectacular though! I had a list of four drivers/people that I really wanted to see (and more besides that if it worked out to talk to them). We had practically just gotten into the track when I met the one of the four 'must see' people: J.R. Hildebrand! He was hanging out around the old cars on display in the Pagoda Plaza and did an interview with one of the track announcers as I waited for my first time of meeting him. He was so nice and I got a great picture with him!
Over the rest of the day, I met Alex Tagliani, E.J. Viso, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power (actually got my picture taken with him this time around!), Heather Carpenter, Ed Carpenter, A.J. Allmendinger, Pippa Mann, Oriol Servia, Carlos Munoz, Tristan Vautier, Sage Karam, Michael Andretti and several other people that keeps the series going, along with legends Arie Luyendyk Sr. and Mario Andretti and the other top three on my list: Josef Newgarden, Larry Foyt and James Hinchcliffe. Each of them were really nice and happy to take pictures/sign autographs!
Last year, my first ever time around the IndyCar garage, I went in with no expectations and really enjoyed it. But this year I went in with no expectations and the aforementioned people I really wanted to see and it turned out even better than I could have imagined, especially as I caught up with first J.R. then Josef, Larry and Hinch. Talking to them was absolutely great, but it was actually the smaller things that were even more amazing - like Larry Foyt seeing me as he walked out to pit road and waving or Hinch giving a little wave when he knew I'd spotted him as he pulled up to his garage on his golf cart while my parents, another friend and I chatted with Tristan Vautier. We wound up waiting for an hour while James was in a meeting with his fellow Andretti Autosport teammates, but it was worth every minute to talk to him afterwards! Last year I met Hinch briefly early on Opening Day when he climbed on his golf cart, but he was whisked away before he could get off for a picture with me and I never managed to catch up with him again later, so getting a picture taken with him was something I have been desiring for a while! James was the last person we talked to before we left the track and the whole day could NOT possibly have wrapped up in a more perfect way!!
Other highlights/observations from the day:
*I saw Josef Newgarden walking back into the garage, so I waited by his team's garage for him. In the couple of minutes before he reached where I was, both Roger Penske and Helio Castroneves (with a big group of fans around him) walked past. What a tough choice that was--to have all 3 highly respected people there when I was set on talking to Josef!
*As I do with the NASCAR drivers, I made up some special photos to sign of the last time I got pictures with different drivers. Each IndyCar driver/personality really appreciated them and were happy to get their own copy. It is really fun to have that connection with the drivers!
*The memory of Dan Wheldon clearly lingers at the Speedway, just as it did last year. A special 'Lionheart' banner still graces a fence between the garage and pit road and I saw several people wearing shirts with Dan's picture and/or 2011 Indianapolis 500 win.
*The racing surface actually seemed pretty quiet for the most part with most teams opting not to get on track.
*There is still no sound better than cars zipping around the greatest Speedway in the world (my opinion)!
*Sage Karam may not be a name most people know, but he is a really nice, polite kid and looks to have a bright future ahead of him. He is running Firestone Indy Lights this season & has two 3rd place finishes and one 4th place so far.
*The drivers and team owners aren't the only super nice people in IndyCar, there are a lot of 'behind the scenes' people and crew members that are great to get to know as well!
I love IndyCar and have followed it for years, but I am still first and foremost a NASCAR fan at heart (even though I entirely missed Saturday's Cup race on TV & didn't think of watching highlights until 'Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain' on Sunday). That was clearly evident by all of the memories that were springing up from being in the Nationwide garage last July. From driving into the Speedway to meandering through the garages, the morning was seemingly characterized by my seeing different places and thinking 'the Nationwide or Grand Am haulers were parked there', 'I talked to this driver here' or 'that person over there'. It took a little bit to transfer back to IndyCar's way of doing things, but I mostly shifted back to what was normal from my first trip 'inside' last May by lunchtime. But the NASCAR reminders did make the day even more complete and enjoyable as I remembered those fun, cherished days as well. I think whenever NASCAR and IndyCar can combine smoothly in my head, everything is even better!
The biggest difference between IndyCar and NASCAR at the track is how relaxed it is in May (especially on Opening Day--with not all of them teams there yet) and the way the cars are moved in and out of the garage. As is expected, the NASCAR guys drive their cars in and out on their own, so you really have to keep an eye out for cars coasting back to their garage, or leaving to go on track. With IndyCar, the teams tow the cars out to pit road and they take off from there. I thought that was pretty neat when I saw that in May 2012. Sure makes it a lot easier to avoid getting run over! The other difference: all 43-plus of the Nationwide drivers were packed into the C garage and spilled over into one side of garage B. That's a lot of activity in a small amount of space! Not to mention that the remaining Cup teams (that don't fit in the designated Cup area) fill in the half of garage building A that is closest to pit road. On IndyCar's side, each organization has a section of garage that they move into and spread out in for the half month they are at the Speedway -- and there are only about 33 teams to fit in -- meaning that there is plenty of room for everyone!
Random things you might have missed over the past weekend of racing:
*Josef Newgarden was the first driver to record a lap to kick off the on track action on Opening Day.
*Helio Castroneves (I think I heard over the loudspeaker) in the #2 car of his 'rookie' teammate A.J. Allmendinger was the first car off pit road, but pulled back onto pit road before crossing the Yard of Bricks.
*Did I really hear Kyle Busch say 'dramastically' after his Cup series qualifying lap in Darlington? That might not seem like a real word, but in my world it is - as Ricky Hendrick made up the basic form of it. Pretty cool that Kyle used it in a sentence!
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