My typical beat is NASCAR, but this week I’m at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to experience the Indy 500. I’ll be posting daily updates from the track. Today: A timeline of Indianapolis 500 race day.
I’m absolutely wide awake and wired — and I haven’t even had any coffee yet. I’m already at the track, and I feel like bouncing off the walls of the media center.
I woke up at 3 a.m. — 30 minutes before my alarm — and decided I might as well get ready and hit the road. I’ve never been to an event where 300,000 people are expected, so I figured it would be best to beat the traffic if possible, and I could always sleep in the car if necessary.
But when I pulled into the muddy parking lot at 4:10, I was too pumped to think about sleeping. My adrenaline is already turned up, and I’m ready for the world’s greatest automobile race.
I walked into the track (the media gate was already open, although the public gate doesn’t open until the 6 a.m. cannon boom) and was greeted with blanket of silence. The pagoda lit the night like a lantern, and all was quiet except for the sound of golf carts driving around with workers preparing TV live shots and equipment for the day.
It’s a thrill to be here.
The cannon sounded an hour ago, and a flood of people immediately started streaming through the gates. The place is already buzzing — and whistling, thanks to the yellow shirts — and everyone seems to be in a good mood. Some are in a better mood than others, perhaps thanks to some early-morning drinking.
There’s something about the atmosphere, even just after dawn, that seems important. I ran into a couple of race fans from Sacramento who are attending their first Indy 500, and they said, “It feels like an event.” That’s a good way to put it.
It’s fun to think about how this same race day rhythm has been happening here for decades, down to the minute. Tradition is such a major part of the draw here, because Hoosiers have grown up experiencing the same pattern, year after year. Life may change, but the 500 doesn’t.
My Indiana-born wife, Sarah, has only missed one Indy 500 in her life — but she’s missed several Thanksgivings and Christmases at home. The one year she skipped it, she was in tears — longing to be with her family and filled with regret. The whole “Back Home Again” thing is more than a song to people here.
The funny thing is, I don’t think Sarah cares about the race itself anymore (she goes to the Snake Pit with her brother these days), but the tradition of attending is part of her heritage. Her grandparents and extended family all come to the race as well.
It must be so cool for lifelong attendees of this race to be greeted by the wave of memories when walking through the tunnel. Children who once held their parents’ hands here have grown up and now bring kids of their own, toting their little backpacks while the adults drag the coolers.
Damn, Indy 500 race day is absolutely lit!
I went to check out the legendary Snake Pit, which I’ve heard so much about. There were expected to be nearly 30,000 people in attendance there today (it’s an add-on from the general admission race ticket), which is impressive considering it’s basically a separate event.
Adventure Club was playing, and they put on a good show (I saw them at Electric Daisy Carnival last year). Sure enough, even though it was only 9 a.m., the Snake Pit crowd was already going off.
The Snake Pit is allllll young people. Probably 99% of the crowd is under 25 years old. There’s a very high-tech, festival-worthy stage capable of spewing smoke and fire, and the bass is so loud, you honestly would have no idea you’re at a racetrack (a hill on the backside makes it a semi-enclosed venue).
It’s hard to believe two of the world’s top DJs, Zedd and Marshmello, will be performing there in a few hours. They constantly travel all over the world for concerts and here they are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Speaking of Marshmello, I got a text from SportsBusiness Journal’s Adam Stern saying ‘Mello was in the media center. So I rushed back from the Snake Pit, looked through the media center and couldn’t find him. Damn.
But he had to be somewhere, so I started looking on pit road. Sure enough, Marshmello was walking around with his team. Mellogang from all over, including IMS President Doug Boles, greeted Marshmello and posed for pictures. Few things make me happier than seeing two of my passions — EDM and racing — colliding.
Anyway, just over an hour until the green flag.
The start of the Indy 500 was probably the most exciting sports moment I’ve experienced since being at the Belmont Stakes for the Triple Crown win in 2015.
We all see the pageantry of the 500 every year, and it’s everything you’d expect and more to feel it in person. The call of “Drivers, to your cars,” the playing of taps, “Back Home Again” and the balloon launch, the starting of engines and the parade laps — the excitement just builds and builds.
I’m pretty sure everyone had full-body chills at various points during the pre-race ceremonies. By the time drivers actually took the green flag, the energy built to a fever pitch and people just let out this huge “YEAHHHHH” at the start of the race.
It’s pretty badass.
Well, I’m sad this day has come to an end. This was one of the more fun experiences I’ve had in awhile, and I can see why people come back year after year. It was an honor to be in attendance.
First of all, the race itself seemed to have everything: Lead changes (35!), different leaders (a race-record 15, nearly half the field) and lots of passes (871). There were aggressive moves, crazy restarts and enough crashes to prove how much the drivers were pushing the limits.
Second, the atmosphere was just so, so cool. It’s always special to feel like part of something big — and that’s definitely the case at Indy based on attendance alone (let alone the significance of the race). And the track itself does a great job with this event; despite the complaints about the yellow shirts, they keep things running smoothly.
Third, I enjoyed experiencing a different form of racing. There are some similarities between NASCAR and IndyCar, sure — but there are a lot of things each could learn from the other. I’d like to see both sanctioning bodies work together more to lift up all forms of motorsports in the United States. Fans don’t have to choose just one.
I know dollars are scarcer these days and overall interest might be down, but that’s exactly why generating more enthusiasm for racing in general is a good thing. Whether it’s NASCAR or IndyCar, help more fans get to know and love racing; then everyone wins.