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No words can explain, no blog post can accurately describe and no feeling can be expressed unless you were there to understand.
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When they say it’s the “Most Important Race in History” I can see why. A half million people descended on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to witness this historic event. 100 years of racing, crashes, losses and wins are summed up in this 200 lap 500 mile event. It’s almost eerie standing in this speedway at 6am on race day. People are trickling in, the staff is setting up, golf carts are whizzing by and the unmistakeable hint of ethanol in the air is a guarantee to create goosebumps for any race fan.
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Standing on the track so early in the morning, with barely any people around and knowing the biggest racing event to date is about to go down, you can’t help but to take a second to let it all soak in. You look around at the empty stands, the empty track and you think about all what has happened here in the last 100 years. The early racers, the people who had more guts than anyone else, climbed into “race cars” and ripped around here on wooden wheels. They crashed, burnt, and died where you’re standing, they pitted, passed and claimed victory, they helped shape modern day race cars, introduced new safety items from their blood and were the joy or sadness for millions of people. All for us, all for the show and all for the glory or pain.
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It’s truly something unbelievable and will only happen once in my lifetime.
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The real buzz starts I’d say between 9 and 10am. By this time, a good amount of people have fought the traffic which started at 4:30am and the Speedway is starting to fill in. Then…you hear the first Indy Car start in the garages. After waiting so long for this day to come it almost feels like a dream. The revving of the Honda powerplants and the sweet smell of the ethanol confirm that this day is actually here.
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It’s something else to be in the garage area before the marketing personnel and hot pass holders. It’s like you get a one-on-one with these rockets. The crews have been hard at work during the lead up and all they have to do is some pre-race verifying…and wait. Speaking with various friends who work back there on various teams you could see the nervousness. I mean, these guys and gals who put these cars together are some of the best in the business and they are confident as they well should be, but it is the Centennial Indy 500. As they’re telling you that the car is good and the driver is happy you can practically see their minds…running faster than these cars will later on…racing to find anything that can possibly go wrong. The drivers pop in the garage to go over anything they need to before it all starts and they are nothing but professional. They are, the best Indy Car racers in the world.
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Helio pre-race
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Outside the garage area, there is tons of stuff going on. Marching bands from various schools are parading around the track, fans are scoping out their seats and things are starting to really come together. It was about this time that we jumped on our golf carts, and the hotwheels team drivers brought us over to the Jump area. Yes…I said jump area. They were about to jump a Hot Wheels truck over 310 feet and we had a front row view of this craziness.
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Faoust getting ready
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The crowd in this section started piling in by the hundreds. We snuggled in between the ESPN and Track media guys and waited for the engine to start. Now, seriously, below is the video, and ya, it looks cool, but in person, this 100 foot high ramp looks like it’s kissing the clouds and the distance between the ramps is about a football field. Insane.
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When that truck fired up the crowd got silent. They dropped the pin and it started to roll down the ramp. The second Tanner hit flat ground he hit that gas pedal flat out and held on. He launched that truck into the air for more than 4 seconds, slightly banking left before slamming down into the landing ramp and skidded to a halt. Everyone kind of collectively exhaled in relief…then cheered so loud you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was amazing!
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Once they got the truck back around for photos, it was back on the carts for us. The Hotwheels drivers scooted us back to the start finish line for the pre-race line up.
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Here we were…walking up and down the pack, in and out of the 3 wide row of cars taking it all in before the race started. As busy as it was there, there is a point where you block out all the sounds and just stand still and look around. One of these cars is going to crash, one of these cars is going to fail, but one of these cars is going to win. And win big.
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After walking in pure awe, wishing luck to our buddies we headed back to our seats in the grand stands. The crowd settles in and you can feel the excitement. The pure energy and static in the air is overtaking. 310,000 people in the grandstands and another 100k in general stand for the anthem. We all got shocked and startled as the B2 Spirit Stealth casts a brief a freaky shadow just before the boom of the flyover and then we hear the most famous words in racing:
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“Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!!”
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Everybody is screaming, clapping and brimming with excitement, being a part of that moment, was almost worth the entire trip. The engines start and the pace car leads them out, finally we hear all the cars together as they do the pace laps. The insides of your body feel so unnatural, you sweat, you look at the flag waver, you watch em come around turn 4 and you join the jumping crowd as the green flag drops and 33 Indy Cars tear by leaving your heart pounding and your brain sizzling.
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It’s almost like…organized chaos. The cars are ripping by at 220+mph, you watch the screen when they aren’t on turn 4 or the straight away and try to make sense of what’s going on.
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They pit, they pass, they fall behind, and they make adjustments. The adrenaline doesn’t stop for the entire 200 laps. The thrill of actually being here. The crowd, the noise, the intensity…it’s sensory overload for a race fan. Who could ask for anything more, than sitting in good weather, watching cars scream by, cheers’in beers with friends and family soaking in all that is the Indy 500.
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The last 20 laps. This is where things get a wee crazy. Fuel strategy, pit strategy and of course tires really come into play. I say fuel strategy first, because in this particular race, there was many failures in that sense. With Danica leading and having to pit, Dario pitting at 199 it’s sure going to raise some questions…but as for any Indy 500…the last lap is where it’s at. With so many cars hitting pit lane for fuel, it looked like a sure win for Hildebrand.
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We were sitting almost exactly between turn 4 and the start/finish line. We watched that #4 National Guard car come in a tad too hot and covered our mouths in disbelief with the entire rest of the race world as JR slammed into the outer wall with less than a quarter lap to go.
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Photo Credit: LAT Photo USA
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Even the announcer was shocked. Nobody believed what happened. It will be frozen in my mind forever.
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EGq_yKp2-A

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And just like that…the Indy 500 was over. Dan Wheldon was on his way to Victory Lane and JR was almost in tears. It took a good 15-20 minutes for everyone to figure out what happened. I mean, we all knew he crashed and came in 2nd, but why? How? Did this really happen?
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At this point, we just sat, almost in silence for one last breath of the World’s Most Important Race.
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Back at the truck, down with the tailgate and up with the coolers. Security lets out all the pedestrian traffic before the VIP and general parking, and with our passes, we were right up at the track…in other words, we weren’t going anywhere. With my father and buddy Louis, we enjoyed some cold ones and waited for everyone to clear out. What a great day, what a great finish, what a great event.
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Back home now as I’m recapping the event, and remembering the week that we had, I smile. We were there, we witnessed it live, and as many times as I see the replay, it doesn’t do it justice. I’ve been to hundreds of races, Indy, Nascar, Short-Track, Drifting, Trucks, Snowmobiles you name it, but never anything like this. A few days later it’s like as if I can still feel it in my fingertips. I can still hear the crowd and still smell the gas. I’ll never forget it. It is certainly one of those events that will stick with you, and in years to come, whenever I go back to that Speedway, I’ll remember what happened. I’ll cherish this for the rest of my life.
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I want to congratulate the event staff from Izod/Indy car. These folks know how to put on a show and take care of the fans. The behind the scenes work that goes into this is colossal. Hours and hours of preparation all for us the fans. They say it wouldn’t happen without us, I say, it wouldn’t happen without them. They are truly the backbone of the crazy racing world in which we live.
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A special thanks goes out to Rebecca Simon. Not only is she the worlds greatest race fan, she also makes it happen. A cornerstone in all of this, she makes us feel like the most important people in the world, so for this, and the rest of everything you’ve done, thank you Rebecca.

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Jun 02nd by Bannon



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