Random Thoughts On An Unusual 500

Borg-Warner Trophy © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Borg-Warner Trophy © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

From a man who viewed the 104th Indianapolis 500 from a perch in a tree outside of Turn 3, to hundreds gathered on lawn chairs along 16th Street watching a giant video screen in the track’s infield through a small gap in the fence, you just knew that this edition of the race would be a bit different. And it was.

Takuma Sato won his second 500 after yet another crash ended the race under a caution flag with Scott Dixon, hoping for a second win, pressuring from second spot and Sato’s Honda teammate Graham Rahal in third, waiting to see what would happen.

The race has been cut short or ended under a caution flag just 16 times due to rain or a crash in its 103 prior races, and of course in the year of the unusual, it happened again. A severe crash five laps short of the checkered flag handed the win to Sato. Dixon, who led 111 laps (over half of the run), finished second for the third time in his career and Rahal settled for third.

By now you may have noticed the 225,000 or more empty seats, a calendar that showed a race date almost two months past its traditional May run, and the ever visible Coronavirus mask that made winner Sato unsure of what to do with his; whether to put it over his face or in stash it in the cockpit while posing for photos in victory lane. He chose the cockpit.

With Roger Penske and his group having taken ownership, or what he likes to call stewardship of the facility, of IndyCar itself, and anything else his group purchased in the off season, the oldest track in the country looked green and beautiful, especially from the many aerial shots. It was said that everything was also more fan friendly and up to date. But, of course, only the guy watching in the tree really had a good look at that.

Any non-essential personnel (there’s a popular phrase), whether that was most media, fans, sponsors, etc., couldn’t be on site for the race. Fans that have been in attendance for 50, 60 or 100 races in a row were, however, allowed to continue their streak by Indianapolis Motor Speedway official decree, even if they just watched on TV. You could also purchase a track program by mail and it nicely included a race line-up, just to be able to help prove that you were there, even in absentia.

Several drivers appeared on the NBC pre-race show sitting in unoccupied fans seats, telling the ticket holders that they missed them and hoped they’d be able to return in 2021. Other drivers flooded the neighborhood in nearby Speedway, IN during the week, stopping at long-time residents’ homes, signing pictures and checkered flags; a genuinely nice touch I must say. “Hi, I’m Marco Andretti. Have you met my grandfather?”

Speaking of the Andretti family, Marco was a first-time pole winner and followed his grandpa Mario and father (car owner) Michael on the pace lap as they led the field toward the green flag in Honda’s two-seater racer. Marco dropped back to second shortly after the starter’s flag flew, finally falling to a disappointing 13th at the finish. Andretti bad luck, or yet another sign of the year of the pandemic? You choose.

Dixon and 2016 winner Alexander Rossi dominated the mid-race only to have Rossi go to the rear of the field after, to some, a questionable penalty, and then crashed out of the race while trying to get back to the front.

This was, and continues to be, a year different than most in all our lives. Much of the 500 was a competitive, entertaining event, with beautiful weather and a safe race despite a spate of crashes. NBC TV did a great job covering the race, especially with the large number of camera locations that caught every happening. Danica Patrick even had some insightful comments along the way as a color analyst. With no fans in attendance, the viewership ratings should be among its highest.

Hope and pray for a healing vaccine so we can all attend a ‘normal” 500 in 2021. Order your tickets now.




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