We all pulled the chairs up close gathering around our stereo cabinet. My dad was ready; he had his number 2 pencil and yellow legal notepad. He was meticulously filling each line with a number – 1 through 200 representing each lap. In the late 1970’s, this is what we considered family time, all sitting around the stereo radio (the HUGE stereo console complete w 8 track tape player) listening to the live coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Back then it wasn’t televised live, the only Indy 500 live coverage was on the radio. My dad would intently listen to the announcers and write down the leader of each lap recording the play-by-play action. And we would all ooohh and aahhh when the announcers described a big crash; leaving my imagination run wild.
However no matter how wild my imagination got, it never – NEVER – could have dreamt that 35 years later I would be at the Indy 500 in person driving around the track in the pace car with the hottest young driver in the field of 33 cars. It was more likely that my wild dream of becoming the abominable snowman would’ve come true before riding in the Indy pace car.
Take a Spin Around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Fast forward to May 23, 2015 (the day before the Indianapolis 500) and I find myself in the passenger seat of the Corvette pace car buckling up for a spin around the track.
“How old are you?” I ask my young driver. “I’m 24…old enough!” said Josef with a mischievous smile.
And with that he hits the accelerator, the engine roars so loud it makes my body vibrate, and we peel out heading into the famous 1st turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As we were speeding down the straightaway at 160 mph I had no idea that I was with the up-and-coming Indy driver, Josef Newgarden, who would be starting in 9th poll position the next day at one of the biggest races in the world. Instead, at that moment – he was just the guy making me scream as we came within inches of the concrete wall.
I had this very special pace car treatment because I had one of these…
A media pass.
And this experience at the Indy 500 was easily in my top 3 experiences in the ‘perks of being a writer’ category. Going to Antarctica might be the only thing that topped it thus far. However, driving a lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is an activity that actually anyone can do, but you have to be willing to drop a decent amount of cash. And you won’t get the handsome Indy Car driver Josef Newgarden to take you around the track – sorry.
However my media pass didn’t stop with Josef and the pace car, this was a dream weekend for me. I went to a press event to hear team owner/driver, Ed Carpenter, speak to a small group of VIP guests and journalists. I was enthralled to learn more about how complex it is to focus when driving in the race in a nearly reclined position where you can’t move, watching data/info on his dash/wheel and listening to his engineers talking to him via earpiece while driving at 240mph in traffic passing 32 other cars. Makes driving in India seem pretty simple. I also learned that being an Indy Car driver may be the best form of weight loss; Ed loses 7 to 8 pounds during a 3 hour race due to the heat in the car and the fire suits they wear.
Check out the Video of my pace car lap with Josef Newgarden
Indianapolis 500 Race Day
When I woke up race morning I was tingly with excitement, and honestly I had no idea why I was SO excited about seeing the Indy 500 live. Maybe it had to do with my family memories, or that it is the biggest single day sporting event in the world, or maybe it was the familiar sounds of the engines, or the fact that we had amazing seats. Whatever the reason I loved the feeling of anticipation.
A police escort to the track drove us by the thousands of campers, fans, and traffic that was at a complete stand still; I felt like royalty. When we arrived at the track and I walked underneath it into the infield I felt like I was walking onto the Super Bowl field – and in the world of racing – I was. The media credentials provided us access to the garage and pit areas. Cars were rolled by us so close that I could touch them if I dare. They moved the cars out on the track in their poll positions and then let us out there to walk around. As I was walking on the track checking out the cars before the start, David Letterman walks by, Patrick Dempsey is above me practicing his flag wave on the balcony, and the pit crews surrounded the cars like body guards. As I watched the drivers’ families hover around their cars wishing them luck, I was transported back to my childhood and hovering around the stereo. I felt as if I had to pinch myself that I was actually here, in person, looking at this scene that I had listened to so many times over the radio and imagined.
After the national anthem, they ushered the media off the track and as we were walking to our suite I heard the engines start up. It was comforting to hear that familiar noise. In the suite we could drink and eat to our heart’s content, sit outside above the final straightaway, and even use headsets so we could listen to specific teams communicate at the race. This was the royal Indy 500 treatment for sure.
As the checkered flag flew, my magical day came to a close. I didn’t have a yellow notepad filled out with race data at the end, but I did have some great photos to keep these Indy 500 memories alive.
Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Indy 500 – don’t miss it!
Disclosure: I was a guest of Visit Indy for the weekend, however all opinions are my own.