My boys got me a wonderful early Father’s Day present this year. They presented me with three tickets to the Indianapolis 500 -- one for each of us. I have been an Indy fanatic since I can remember, and many years ago I introduced my sons to the legendary and almost magical Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They were ages six and four when we first visited. They did not know what they were getting into, but once I pointed them in the direction of the track and the first two brightly-colored race cars flashed by at around 210 mph, they were jumping up and down, cheering like maniacs. At the same time I was smiling as a proud papa, and inside I was jumping up and down and cheering also. The place makes me feel like a kid.
The three of us took our seats high above turn four about three hours before the green flag. It was hot. Very hot. Think surface of the sun. Now you’ve got it. No breeze except when we flapped our arms around while putting on another layer of sunscreen. But we were there. A few others were already at their assigned seats while most waited in the shade until it was closer to race time. Eventually, a trio of men came up the stairs and sat in the row behind us. One man pulled out his cell phone and began a conversation with someone who was not from this country. The gentleman, who by this time was already sweaty, spoke in a slight accent. He explained where he was seated, the event that was coming up and chuckled at the ignorance of his friend. I sat there trying to identify the accent unsuccessfully. The boys and I glanced at each other, amused at what we were overhearing behind us. Soon the conversation ended and my attention turned to the opening festivities that had just started.
Since the 500 is run on Memorial Day weekend each year, there is always a deep respect shown for the military. Troops from every branch of service are driven around the track, others march, and the crowd stands, cheers and waves in appreciation. Patriotism is on display in full force -- even from the guy with the foreign accent behind me. So is tradition. One of the traditions, for some unknown reason, is to have Florence “Mrs. Brady” Henderson sing “God Bless America.” This year, it seemed the crowd decided to join in very loudly, even the guy with the accent. I heard him whisper that everyone was singing to drown out Henderson’s pitchy offering. I had to agree, and the boys and I did our part in overpowering the fading TV star with the microphone. The other traditional singer, Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors was too sick to travel from Hawaii, but he sent a video recording of himself crooning “Back Home Again in Indiana” to satisfy the many who did not want to part with tradition.
By the time the race started, a breeze had cooled us off. My sons and I watched what proved to be an incredibly exciting race without dehydrating or getting sunburned. We did our share of jumping up and down and cheering as well. Although we weren’t rooting for any one particular driver, but there were two cars we were not rooting for. Of course you can probably guess which two cars finished first and second. But that was alright, we got to be at the race. Attending an event in person is always better than watching on television -- different, but better.
With the sound of turbocharged engines ringing in our ears, the three of us navigated the sea of people to walk back to the car. For an event that brings in upwards of 400,000 human beings, the Indianapolis crew gets them in and out very efficiently. I guess when you’ve been doing it for 100 years, you learn a thing or two about directing traffic. So even in the midst of marching through vendors, tired race fans, and people trying to walk in the wrong direction, I was not worried about getting to the parking lot quickly or losing my way or not finding the car among the acres of vehicles parked with no landmarks to guide us. My mind had already drifted back about 14 years to that feeling I got when I introduced my sons to Indy. It’s still a good feeling. Thanks, boys!