America 2019: Day Nine (Sunday 26 May)

Back home again in Indiana
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candelight still shining bright
Thro’ the sycamores for me
The new mown hay sends all its fragrance
From the fields I used to roam
When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash
Then I long for my Indiana home

                                                                                                                        – James F. Hanley

Sunday 26 May

Somehow, the rain held off. It was meant to rain in the morning – it didn’t. It was meant to rain between 1pm and 4pm – it didn’t. The radar showed giant storms north and south of us, splitting the 2.5-mile super speedway at the corner of 16th and Georgetown in Speedway, Indiana. Late, when business was really picking up in the race, the sun came out. Glad that the forecasters were wrong, and I bet they were glad, too.

IMG_9008

At the end of five hundred miles – in a race that came down to a thrilling 13-lap shootout that featured five changes of the lead after a red flag stopped the race after a multi-car accident in turn three, Frenchman Simon Pagenaud completed a dominant Month of May, winning the 103rd Indianapolis 500-mile race, coming home barely ahead of California’s Alexander Rossi, with Japan’s Takuma Sato, a winner two years ago, in third. The final laps were as intense as I’ve ever seen. There were 300,000+ at the track and I guarantee you, no one was occupying their seats.

Huge win for Pagenaud, who many thought was going to lose his Team Penske ride after a poor season, but his May has changed everything. He won the road course race to start the month, won the Indianapolis 500 pole last weekend and led more than 100 of the 200 laps in one of the more dominant performances ever seen at the Speedway.

We were at the track early, before 7:00am, and toured the garages and pit lane before things got really busy. The energy down there was second to none, and you could almost reach out and cut the tension in the air with a knife. Ran into IndyCar Radio’s Jake Query and had a chat. He was on his way to turn three to call the action out there. Great guy. Also saw a bunch of Australians, including two guys from Bairnsdale in Victoria, who were associated with the entry of Melbournian James Davison.

In our seats about an hour before the race started, in time for all the pageantry that is a large part of Indianapolis 500 tradition: “God Bless America”, the national anthem, a spectacular United States Air Force flyover, the release of balloons over the pagoda, drive introductions, “Back Home Again in Indiana” and, of course, the famous words: GENTLEMAN AND LADY, START YOUR ENGINES. The roar of the crowd then proceeded to drown out the roar of the thirty-three cars as they came to life. It was all goose-bump inducing stuff.

The start was epic. Eleven rows of three, diving into turn one at north of 230mph. It’s insane how much the cars move about in traffic. We had a wonderful view of turn one, and also back along the front straight. You could also see them enter into turn two and partially down the back straight, but because there’s so many grandstands in the infield, Indianapolis is the only oval track where you can’t see the entire track from wherever you sit.

Post-race, we used a little-known back entrance into the Media Centre – thanks very much for that intel, Mark Jaynes! – and spent an hour or so sitting in the radio booth with Mark, Nick and some of the other turn announcers, pit reporters and engineers, debriefing in humorous fashion over a few cold cans of Miller Lite as the track emptied. That was a fun time, if, again, slightly surreal. And I can confirm that Michael Young, the guy in turn two, has the worst imitation of an Australian accent ever. I really wish I’d recorded it.

We probably left the track around 6pm, less than two hours after the race concluded, and the place was just about dead. You’d scarcely know there’d been a race on. Outside the track, the traffic was insane. We hung out on Mark’s front lawn with him watching the crazies go by, and watching his neighbours call out congratulations for a good call. When traffic thinned out a bit, we also left. Sad to leave the town of Speedway knowing it’ll be a little while before we get back.

Dinner at Applebee’s to end an extraordinary day and week – it’s been by far the best week of my life. Much of that is thanks to Mark and Desiree Jaynes, who’ve rolled out the red carpet for us like we were long lost friends or relatives, rather than people they hardly know. I can’t ever thank them enough. Same goes for folks like Nick Yeoman who went above and beyond to show us the best of Indianapolis. They’re all wonderful people and that hardly seems like an apt enough description. Already looking forward to my next IndyCar race.

But tomorrow…Chicago!


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