My 1997 500 Journal
Whew! What a month! It was a cold, rainy May and I end it broke and
with a cold; but with great memories.
I attended the opening day ceremonies on May 3rd. I and 2500 other car enthusiasts were able to drive our own vehicles one lap around the mighty speedway. This
event was new, replacing the Mayor's Breakfast, where only the select rich people got to take a lap. Yea Tony!
For the first time, I did not attend first day of qualifications. This year the attendance was down. Some people claim its because of the recent rules changes and the split with CART. I think its because the people who didn't come were the party people whom the cops have been harassing too much the last several years and also the speedway has made changes to the 'party' area, eliminating alot of it.
I did go on May 17th which was the second weekend of qualifying. Unfortunately, due to the girls I went with, Tauscha and Cyndi, I got there so late that I only got to see about 4-5 teams practicing - no qualification runs due to the heat. Then we left early, before the track cooled off and they came back out. Oh well, I got some sun!
I was back for Carburation Day though (May 22nd). Jay, a friend of mine from Detroit, drove down to spend the weekend. It was a beautiful sunny Thursday, but breezy. There is a 2-row section up above the Northwest Vista that is one of the coolest places to sit. That's where I was all during the 2 hour morning practice where I got to see alot of cars. Jay liked the new sound of the cars, its different than the old turbo 6's, kind of a low rumble...and LOUD. After the practice we walked down to Gasoline Alley and checked out the girls. Due to the breeze, I didn't feel hot and didn't use sunscreen. I now have burnt knees and forearms. We went looking for tickets after we left. I ended up buying some from a guy on the corner of 30th and Georgetown. He said if you sell tickets just a few dozen yards south of 30th, then you have to buy a $250 peddlers license from the town of Speedway. Consequently, they will charge you more for your tickets. Sounded plausible enough so I bought four $65 tickets in the Northeast Vista (turn 3) for $85 each.
Friday night I had 2 other Detroit friends arrive. These guys come down
every year for the race. They keep trying to get me to come up for the
Detroit Grand Prix. I did finally in 1994 but it just wasn't very much fun and
it cost more! You could only see the cars for this one little strip, then
they were gone for 2 minutes racing around Belle Island. Anyway, race
day arrived and it was raining, so we delayed leaving until 9 a.m.
About 9:40, we drove up near the track and parked in a yard that was right on
30th street for $20. Lots of yards could be parked in for $10 but we
chose one really close with 30th street access.
As we were preparing to hike to the track, suddenly we looked up and
the Stealth Bomber was flying over!!! I couldn't believe it. I didn't
hear it coming, but you could sure hear it pass you. It was
just too cool! It didn't seem mankind could make something like that.
Anyway, After buying a sandwich, I made my way to our seats. They were in section 39 which is toward the soutth end of the NorthEast Vista. They were not as good as I had hoped. I wished that I was further north. There were
the usual parades...the 500 queen and her court and various celebrities
driving by. There were motorcycle cops performing driving stunts. Some
F-16's flew by really low, etc. Anyway, they play the national anthem and
Gomer sings Back Home Again In Indiana and we are just about to start the
race, when it started sprinkling...then raining.
I found refuge under a bathroom overhang facing the golf course. I hung out there for several hours as it rained non-stop. Fortunately, I had a little entertainment. Some people went out onto the golf course and started running then diving into a puddle of water in the grass and sliding along. I was equipped with a rainsuit and had given my umbrella to my ill prepared out-of-town friends. We all got rather cold and wet regardless. Around 1:30, they announced that the race would be delayed until Monday. We drove home, still talking about seeing the Stealth; and passed out.
Note: They never tell you what kind of Race morning festivities they are planning but its always cool.
The next morning was dry and the doppler radar looked scary, but the weatherman said it wouldn't hit till 3 p.m. So, we headed out once again at 9 a.m. This time we hit traffic early. It was really backed up, so we parked far away, probably a mile or two. It only cost $5. Anyway, I just barely made it to my seat in time for the parade lap. I was surprised at the turn out; it seemed everyone had come back for this second try. Anyway, no sooner than the race starts, there are some yellow flags out. Then it starts to rain again! Big Bummer! I guess they got in 15 laps, but I think only a couple were at race speed. Well, we hike back to the bathroom overhang again. This time I was more confident it wasn't going to rain and had not brought my rain gear. I end up purchasing a large umbrella from the Gift Shop for $32 - they were out of ponchos. We were determined to stay until they formally announced that the race would be delayed again. This time word came around 3:00. We hiked all the way back to the car in the rain and began watching the weather channel. It looked ominous for the next day, infact for the rest of the week, so my three friends from Detroit packed up their bags and headed home. At least they got to hear the roar of the new Aurora & Infiniti motors this time.
The next morning seemed nicer. I called my girlfriend Cyndi, who was able to get off work on short notice, and we headed to the track at 9 a.m. once more. We hit some traffic, but it was flowing pretty good. This time we made it up to the track and parked just outside the track in a gravel parking lot, west of the North 40. As I'm getting stuff out of the trunk, I feel my leg burning. I discover that my recently filled Zippo lighter had leaked and the Butane was burning a whole in my thigh. Ow! I had to pull my pants down and then I began pouring my beer on my underwear... I can't imagine what the people around us were thinking!
I was rooting for Scott Goodyear all day. I thought he deserved to win after his two close finishes in the past. Anyway, he ended up coming in 2nd. Mainly I was happy that Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon didn't win - two popular drivers that I think are crybabies.
It was a great race and plenty exciting. At the very beginning Robby Gordon
pulls in to pit lane right in front of me and slams on the brakes, jumps out
and begins rolling on the ground like he was on fire. I later learned his cockpit caught on fire for some mysterious reason.
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