A belated Happy Memorial Day to those of you across the world and at home serving our great country!
I had the wonderful privilege of spending the long weekend in Indianapolis for the Indy 500, and as I am on a flight right now reflecting on how great it was and how much fun I had, I thought it would be the perfect time to share with you my experience and give you the Indy 500 from Kerstin Smutny’s point of view.
I had a blast the days leading up to the race. We (My father and I) arrived Thursday night and we were able to see all the weekend’s events. Friday was of course the famed “Carb Day” and Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. This is a particularly interesting race to me, as a few years ago, I had the opportunity to test in one of these cars and hoped to be up in the league in the next few years.
The weather was crazy HOT and humid, and they had no rain the entire month of May so the track would be greasy and that definitely played a factor in the race.
There was some great passes and a couple wrecks, but nothing too major. We got to do pretty much all the cool stuff at the track on Friday. Unfortunately, we did not go to the Lynard Skynard concert though, which I’m sure was pretty insane judging by the fans flowing out of there!
There is nothing like the fans at the Indy 500. Some are there simply because they live in the area and it’s an easy way for some entertainment, while others are extremely passionate about the sport and its drivers, as they know everything there is to know about it. Both types are great and part of what makes Indy such a fantastic event.
There were easily 400,000 people there and each and everyone has their own story about the race. Some have been going for much longer than I have even been alive, and some are there for the first time, experiencing the greatest spectacle in racing.
A long-lived tradition when you are in Indianapolis is the “Night Before the 500” races at Lucas Oil Raceway, just outside the city. There are always the Midget races. This year, just as they did last year, accompanying the USAC Midgets were the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 Series and Star Mazda Series.
Again, this was particularly exciting for me to watch as I have been behind the wheel of both the Midget and Star Mazda Cars. I paid close attention to the Star Mazda race and competition. That is the logical next step in my career of making it to Indy. Both races were fun and exciting, featuring many up and comers, some of which I have even had the pleasure of competing against in the past.
Now moving on to the big race - the Indianapolis 500 mile race!
For those who have been to Indy or have seen it on TV, you know there is a long lineage of history that goes into the “Pre-Race Activities.” The National Anthem, sung this year by the fabulous, Martina McBride, as well as “Back Home Again in Indiana” sung by Jim Nabors, and much, much more.
This year, having lost Dan Wheldon, I knew there would be a tribute to him at this year’s race. However, I did not expect it to nearly bring me to tears again. I don’t know that I have fully come to terms with the fact that he is really gone. It became a lot more real seeing his winning car from last year being driven around the race track by Bryan Herta during the pre-race ceremonies.
The tribute to him, and seeing all the support for him and his family still lingering through the crowd, was awesome, which was possibly my favorite part of the whole weekend. I don’t claim to have known him well but I did have the opportunity to meet him, and he was just one of those people that made you feel as if you are instantly his friend.
Now, the race started out really exciting, with fans all on their feet. They made it through turn one without a hitch and there was a surprising amount of dicing for the lead in the first few laps when I would have thought it would have been smarter to just quietly take your spot towards the front of the field, stay on the lead lap and just keep it in the race for at least the first 400 miles. Who am I to say that though?
The two battling for the lead at first were Dario Franchitti, who would go on to take the checkers 500 miles later, and the second place finisher of Scott Dixon. The race had very few dull moments to it. It was the one of the hottest Indy 500 on record (almost the hottest, as we missed it by one degree when we later found out) and it was certainly one of the most exciting races I have seen.
The end was amazing with lots of drivers going for that win, with Tony Kanaan having a great chance to nab that elusive Borg Warner trophy. I would have loved to see him win because he has come close so many times but never tasted that ever sought after milk. However, he will have to wait another year, as few people had anything for the Chip Ganassi duo.
They were unstoppable with their Honda power. Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, and TK all were very close with their Chevrolets though!
So many drivers had a great race and I don’t think I could fit talking about each one of them into this article. That, and you would probably get bored and stop reading….if you haven’t already!
That said, Dario Franchitti went on to the checkers in a very close finish with Dixon and Kanaan. Anyone else see a trend here? Those were Dan Wheldon’s three best friends. There could be no better way to celebrate Dan and his career.
RIP Danny Boy - this one’s for you.