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Postcard from Speedway: ‘I Had Never Seen a Spectacle Like This’

A month ago I was preparing to attend my first Indianapolis 500. Paddock Box 34, Row G, Seat 2 was where I was going to witness the start and the finish before my plans changed. I woke up Sunday knowing I was going to watch from the media center, an opportunity that would not be possible without the Sports Capital Journalism Program at IUPUI.

I didn’t sleep very well Saturday night. Probably a combination of nerves and adrenaline as I anticipated the race. I had known what to expect from a race fan’s perspective, but I knew Sunday would be different. I did not want to begin to guess what would be in store for me.

It was about 7:30 Sunday morning when I parked in Lot 2, just west of Georgetown Road. I had never seen a spectacle like this. I made my way to the infield right away to see what I could find. I loved seeing all the Corvettes, Indianapolis 500 pace cars from the past. It was also very cool to see the IMSA Team Penske Acura on display.

I arrived at the media center, on the fourth floor, shortly after 8:00 a.m. I was amazed at how large it was and how many people it could hold. I thought of all the ways the race would go now that I had seen my assigned seat. I was introduced to current and former IUPUI students who were covering the race for media organizations throughout central Indiana.

Soon I made use of the pass that allowed me to go onto the grid. I had been on the pit lane during the Brickyard 400 weekend, so I was more interested on making my way to the front stretch where the cars were staged. I walked up and down, amazed at how close I was getting to the cars, the teams, the surface. I had never walked on the front stretch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Now I had the opportunity to take a few steps where cars would soon travel more than 215 miles per hour. I saw Dario Franchitti, Chip Ganassi, Sam Schmidt, Larry Foyt and other familiar faces.

On the way back to the media center, I watched as a younger yellow shirt, a member of the Safety Patrol, was reprimanded by two more experienced yellow shirts after some people had been allowed to pass through a barrier. The younger yellow shirt took his order seriously because when an individual approached a few moments later, asking if he could go through, the immediate answer was a firm, “No.”

James Hinchcliffe had to explain that he was a driver.

A week after Hinchcliffe had failed to make the 33-car field, the young yellow shirt soon let him through. James thanked him and brought along his guests. I remember thinking how much he must have wanted to be in his fire suit at that moment.

I remember the feeling I had in my stomach as the race started. I had never felt that twisting sensation. The unknowns that were present with the new aero kit probably contributed to that anxious feeling. Relief, for thousands of us throughout Speedway, arrived as the entire field made it through the first several corners. Eventually there were wrecks that claimed a few of the fan favorites, such as Helio Castroneves and Danica Patrick.

I felt disappointment for Patrick and her fan base. The “Danica Double” certainly did not go according to plan. It was exciting to watch Alexander Rossi in the final 50 laps as he charged his way through the field and made moves no one else dared to attempt. It was strange not to see Hinchcliffe’s number 5 machine out on the track but he’ll be back next year and so will Castroneves.

I understand the importance of objectivity when your media credential takes you from the stands to the media center. But when the race was over, what made my first Indianapolis 500 so memorable was watching my favorite driver, Will Power, drive into Victory Lane as champion of the year’s biggest race. I have been to four racing venues across two series. I have been to Michigan and Indianapolis in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Indianapolis Grand Prix Circuit and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the IndyCar Series. Each time I have gone to a “circuit” for the first time, my favorite driver has won the race. In June 2001, Jeff Gordon won my first NASCAR race at Michigan, and when I attended the Brickyard 400 for the first time in 2004, he won that one, too. This year, I attended my very first IndyCar race at this year’s IndyCar Grand Prix, and Power won that one. Then he reached one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Victory Lane in all of motor sports.

I wanted to go to another Indianapolis 500 the very next day.

By Josh Roller | @Roller2425

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