So I've dreamt from an early age about going to the Indianapolis 500. The Indy 500 as it's known, Le Mans 24 hours and then Monaco Grand Prix are know as the triple Crown motorsport it's true test of men and women against the machine. Only a few drivers have won all three races, and famously Fernando Alonso tried in 2017 and again in 2019 (although he failed to qualify for this years race) The Indy 500 forms part of the Indycar Championship which takes place over USA and Candian race tracks.
I start first started watching the CART Racing Championship (the name before Indycar) when Nigel Mansell went from being Formula One champion 1992 and then he headed to the USA for the 1993 CART Championship. In the days before Sky Sports F1 showing back to back coverage ITV used to show highlights at 2 o'clock in the morning on Tuesday following a weekend race. My dad used to put the VHS (showing my age) tape in and I used to watch it and follow the racing closely. The names of Michael and Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt, Al Unser Jnr and others are all part of my childhood as much as the names of F1 drivers Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna.
It's always been one of my things on the bucket list to go to the Indy 500 but I never really thought about how I would actually go about achieving it. However talking with my partner about doing Route 66 in the USA one of the choices that we looked at was to go down to the Indy 500 for the weekend. Little could I have known what a spectacular day this would be. You can catch my other posts about Route 66 and an amazing Saturday in Indianapolis soon!
It was going to be a spectacular Sunday for sure but at the start of the day (and in fact before we even left the UK) the weather on Sunday was looking atrocious. 90% chance of rain showers and this would be a major problem! The Indy 500 is run and speeds of over 220 miles an hour around an oval track (called the super speedway). It doesn't take the laws of physics to tell you that 220 miles an hour going round in circles it's not good if it's pouring with rain. Un-like Formula One and other high-level motorsport American Oval racing (including NASCAR) do not run in the rain showers and the race is just postponed till either it stops raining or the following day.
So my worry about the Sunday would be curtailed by the weather and my one year of heading to the race would be stopped! However we couldn't control the weather so what more could you do other than head to the track!
We approached the circuit at 5:30 am and already the queues were building... People were lighting the barbecue's in the camping areas, the cans of Miller Lite had long either been opened from the night before or that morning, and you could sense of anticipation for an amazing day. Over 300,000 come to the watch the race and are squeezed into this 2.5 mile Oval track. Whole multiple generations of families come, its not unusual to hear of people doing 40-50 consecutive years and how the seating works, you can reserve (and then improve your seating position) year over year.
We entered the track having finally parked in our carpark (which took a good hour or so) First we were met by the gift shop. Oh dear! Now for us to get to the gift shop is a dangerous place!! There is so much iconic symbols and names around that memorabilia from the shop was a given...
Just around the track you felt a sense of history and pure excitement building. People stopped and wanted to hear your story people, wanted to know why we came all the way from UK to the race. It was just such a friendly atmosphere. Whilst I'm really not a festival go-er my partner is and she said it was just like a festival site is in the UK.
I had done a load of research about what to do on the day and where we needed to be at specific times. We made our way across the public area behind the garages and towards the museum. At 10 o'clock in the morning the Borg-Warner trophy makes its way from the museum where it resides at 364 days a year towards the racetrack ready for the presentation to the winner after the race. The trophy has all the faces of previous winners on it in a 3D format. It's nearly 5 1/2ft tall and along with the tradition of drinking a pint of milk post race is one of the major Indy traditions.
We had already experienced on the Saturday the pomp, ceremony and pageantry of the Indy 500. This continued on to the Sunday with the presentation of the trophy. Motorbike outriders escorted the trophy which was mounted on the back of a car in the direction of the pits and the podium. We followed the trophy all the way until the famous "Gasoline Alley" sign. This signifies the entry to the raceway and unlike in F1 where the mechanics work in the pits direct in Indy all the cars are worked on in Garages behind the stands and then driven into the pit lane area.
This is where our day changed for good...
Rather than following the trophy to the podium we turned left into the Gasoline Alley area. Now I'm not quite sure how we managed it, but I believe this was a VIP area only... only we weren't VIP's! We managed at this point to be walking up and down the pit lane area as the teams started to prep for the big race! We made our way down to the end of the pits where the NBC TV team were broadcasting and then just decided to stroll back to the middle of the pit area.
At the start line is a famous line of Bricks. One of the tracks names is the Brickyard after in the early days the track was laid with over 3 million bricks as the top surface. These bricks have now of course been replaced with tarmac but there is a small line of bricks on the start line, and this line continues into the pits. We made our way back to this area and then started to see the cars being pulled from their garages towards the pit boxes where they would have their tyres changed and fuel put in them.
At this point I was sure that we would be asked to leave - but we weren't! We walked up and down the pit lane getting a great chance to look at the cars close up, talk to the team staff, and really generally soak up what was becoming an amazing atmosphere. Marching bands made their way around the track, and the pits began to get busier... The trophy made it's way to the brick line in the pits and there was a number of live TV interviews. We even glimpsed Matt Damon!
With the race start time starting to close in on us and a approximate 40 min walk back through the centre of the track and back to the stand we decided however special this was that it was time to head to the seats we had. I had wanted to see the 33 cars head into turn 1 at the start of the race, so we had gone for tickets there.
We got to our seats just in time for the pre-race pageantry to come to it's conclusion. With the playing of the national anthem, the iconic song back home in Indiana as well as some spectacular flyby's by the USA Air Force, 31 seconds of which can be found here on You tube!
Now was the time for the pageantry to stop and the racing to start. The reason for the day and the reason for when we came to Route 66 when we did! The race didn't disappoint at ALL! The first 170 laps of the race were action packed and full on. The sight and the sound of the cars going around is not done justice on the TV. I can't explain the feeling inside when we saw the cars pile into turn one 3 abreast at nearly 220 miles per hour. It honestly was breathtaking.
Then on Lap 178 there was a large crash coming into turn 3. Fortunately no one was hurt but the race organisers decided to Red Flag (put a temporary stop on the race) the race to allow the track to be repaired.
What then transpired was a short sprint race to the end. The race between Simon Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi became one that will go down in Indy folk law. Back and forth darting around the track at 230mph it was an intense battle and that was just in the stands! I can't imagine what it was like for the drivers involved!
In the end Simon Pagenaud came across the line in 1st Place after a titanic battle between 2 brilliant drivers.
And there was the end of my first Indy 500 race. What had I thought been a day that might have been rain affected had stayed dry (and indeed VERY hot) but had turned into one of the best days of my life.
I had obviously built in expectation the day being special, but I couldn't even begin to sum it up. The day exceeded my wildest dreams. I had also always thought that I would make the 500 and that would be the bucket list ticked. But this was oh so much more. It was something that I can't explain. It was just magical and something that I want to repeat, time and time again. I won't be heading to Indy next year as I have something else planned for the big "40". But come 2021 at the end of May there is only one place I plan to be...
If you want to see highlights of what was an amazing race you can catch them here.
I bought my tickets in February online. You can buy on the day - but if you are heading to the track especially from the UK you can't risk it!
Link to Indianapolis Motor Speedway