Race Morning Countdown To The 500

Opening ceremonies of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

Opening ceremonies of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

by Paul Gohde

In case you’ve never been here… The lead-up to the Indianapolis 500 is like no other sporting event in America. Driving to the media parking area, you hope it’s not full and not too muddy after a month of rain. The walk to the entry tunnel under the main straight is filled with anticipation and a stop in the middle of that walk makes you remember all of the historic events that took place over the past decades just a few feet above your head.

Fans seem to find spots along the garage area fence early in the morning to get a glimpse of a driver, a car owner or a celebrity insider as David Letterman walks by to cheers and hoots. Racing engines are being tuned and crews scramble to get pit stop equipment out to the pit wall.

Souvenir shops abound (are you surprised?) with every sort of item to remember your race day experience and those lucky enough to have a pre-race garage pass are searching the driver card racks for a coveted Fernando Alonso card, while “their” driver is busy with sponsor meet-and-greets.

About 8:30 am a parade led by the Gordon Pipers drum and bagpipe band lead the historic Borg- Warner winner’s trophy from the Speedway Museum to the Pagoda Plaza with literally hundreds of race followers following the silver icon. Later it will be delivered to the Victory Lane stage, awaiting the winner.

Celebrities arrive to walk the Red Carpet, fans begin to settle into their seats, greeting nearby friends that they haven’t seen since last May’s 100th race, and the Purdue University Band winds-up their annual musical greeting to the crowd.

Rahal, Alonso, Hinch and Dixon appear to cheers, historic Indy 500 racers, driven by past champions, circle the track one last time and the Green flag is delivered by helicopter in Turn 1.

The 33 starters are introduced to the assembled crowd and world-wide TV audiences in very choreographed row-by-row form. Traditional songs are sung: “America the Beautiful”, “God Bless America” and the “National Anthem”. And only in Indiana, “Back Home Again In Indiana” is played AFTER the “Star Spangled Banner”. Florence Henderson is gone and Jim Nabors is back home in Hawaii, but other singers carry-on the tradition.

Finally, “Drivers Start Your Engines” is announced to the field, 200 laps await and a winner will be feted in about three hours.

And in the infield Snake Pit area, the EBM DJ “Marshmallow” is about to crank-up the sound.

Something for everyone every year at the Indianapolis 500.

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