WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – As we come to the end of another racing year, I’ve done some thinking, and as I look back on 2016, there are three races that stood out to me … all of which I saw in person.
I’ll be going in chronological order on this, and that means that the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race comes first.
Believe it or not, it was actually my first time to the Racing Capital of the World, much less the 500 itself. Looking back on it, I really don’t know if I could have picked a better debut!
I figured that there would be a decent amount of people there, but my word, I had no idea how packed the stands were going to be! I started my day around 10 a.m. and had to walk a solid two miles just to make it into the gates. Those two miles were quite short though when I got to make company with people who were there more for the spectacle of the event than the actual racing!
They were curious to know about the racing bit, so I had no problem explaining the history of IMS and the drivers to watch. That list wouldn’t have surprised regular followers of the sport – Helio, TK, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and company were all on there, but I will admit that Alexander Rossi was not! So I’ll offer my first apologies to the Nevada City, California native here.
After I made it into the gates, I made a quick run for some presents for our RCO staff who were down in Charlotte and couldn’t make it to Indianapolis for the historic occasion before I made my way to the General Admission Hill in Turn 3. I had my reasons.
The first was that I wanted a decent spot for “Back Home Again in Indiana”, the National Anthem and the start of the race. I can’t say that I did a great job for any of those – all I could get to was one of the big video boards in the North Chute. But I did get a chance to eat some lunch! To be fair, I did go back and watch both performances on YouTube, and I think that Josh Kauffman and Darius Rucker did admirable jobs on both songs, even if I think that the Speedway would do well to give Jim Nabors the same treatment that the Yankees gave Bob Sheppard with the introduction of Derek Jeter at the plate and play Nabors’ version of “Back Home Again in Indiana” full-time.
Once the first-green flag run was settled in, I made my way to the thicket of fans in Turn 3 and went on the hunt. One of my friends from college happened to be attending the race as well, and she had only told me beforehand that she would be over by Turn 3 – she didn’t say where exactly she would be. All she did was post a video of where her spot was on Snapchat.
All I’ll say is that that video became like 24-carat gold to me, because I went into full-on detective mode and replayed that video until what I saw in my own vision lined up with what I saw on the video. When I had it all aligned, I looked up – and she was standing on top of a cooler taking the action in!
I will forever consider it a minor miracle that I found her spot with nothing but a Snapchat video to guide me in a crowd that consisted of 350,000-plus people (that is an all-time record for any single-day sporting event on the planet, where the crowd was so big that one out of every 100 people in the United States population was at the race). She did as well – said she’d never thought that she’d actually see me there!
It was a half-celebration, half-greeting that we undertook, and after some ceremonial drinking of beverages to mark the occasion, I started to prove my worth and help explain some of the racing bits to her. She had told me before the day started that she probably would have questions about the racing bits for me, and so for the second time that day, I went back into professor mode and did my best!