Indy

It all began in 1983. The company that my father worked for had sponsored a car in the Indy 500. They organized a bus tour for some employees and their families to go see the race. So our family went and we saw the race firsthand for the first time. My father and I really enjoyed it and so began the annual trek to central Indiana to see the race. When we got home from the race, my father sent in the application for tickets for the following year. We got tickets inside turn 2 which we kept renewing for many years.

Those first few years followed the same ritual. Wake up and leave Chicago at 3 AM. Take rural backroads on the approach to Indianapolis. Park the car near a small park a mile south of the track. Leisurely make our way to the track. See the race. Follow the sunburnt and drunk masses back to the car. Have a small BBQ dinner in the park to avoid the traffic. Then return to Chicago that evening. Those first years it was always my father, myself, and a changing cast of characters. Usually friends or co-workers of my father.

In the early nineties, the routine changed. We made a weekend out of it. We would camp a couple hours west of Indianapolis near Turkey Run State Park. We would drive down Friday, do one of a few different local things near the park on Saturday, race on Sunday, and return Monday. In addition to hiking the trails in the park there were covered bridges, flea markets, canoeing, and watching Bulls playoff games. All the while enjoying a leisurely weekend next to a campfire. The attendees had increased from just four to include a few others. My sister, her boyfriend, and my father’s girlfriend came almost every year. As for the others it switched to friends and family of my father’s girlfriend and occasionally friends of me or my sister.

As for the experience at the racetrack, it had also changed over the years. At the beginning it was really a testasterone fueled bachelor party sort of affair. Men ogling at the ladies. Some with ‘Show Us Your T*ts’ signs. People getting really wasted alongside people passionate about the race. In the last few years I went, it had transformed into a family affair. There were many more women and kids there. They had all these booths to keep people entertained. Even the bathrooms were clean by previous standards. Through it all it remained a slice of Americana and a glimpse of one aspect of humanity.

We are sports fans, but we are not big racing fans. Though it could be said we were fans of the race with all it’s tradition. Every year we would pick the drivers in a round robin fashion so that everyone had someone to cheer for. I’d keep a running total of where everyone’s picks were via the radio. Over the years, you get to know who the different drivers are so even if your picks were not doing well, you would probably cheer for someone with a chance to win.

In the early years the traditions of the race (which went off like clockwork) almost seemed kinda out-of-date and hokey. The big Purdue drum circling the track. That police troupe that can drive their motorcycles while standing on the seat. The parade of current ‘celebrities’. Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana”. Then of course “Gentlemen (and later Ladies), Start Your Engines.” The whole while with the very distinctive voice of the announcer giving a play by play. But towards those final years, those traditions gave a warm familiar feeling. And I suppose that’s what traditions are for.

Sadly this will be the first year none of us goes to see the race. The tradition is over and it’s pretty much my doing. We scheduled a family event up here in Montreal, so everyone will be here. To a degree, it had been slowing down as far as tradition. First my sister stopped going, then myself. It’s interesting because it was one of the last things we did before moving to Montreal. We attended the race on Sunday and left Chicago on Thursday.

It was the event that marked the beginning of summer. There were so many aspects to it. Sunburn, cold showers, that tingle in your spine as the cars sped by on the first lap, pit toilets, building campfires, smelling like campfire smoke all weekend, remembering to take the stereo headphone radios to the race, wondering if it would rain on raceday, the flea market, canoeing, bizarre campground owners, freezing in the rain, trying to remember the previous years, the covered bridges. Just so many memories.

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~ by Frank on May 24, 2006.

4 Responses to “Indy”

  1. Howdy!

    Could I suggest getting your dad and everyone else some tickets for the F-1 race, the CART race, or the soon to be NASCAR race that happens up here, so you can start a new tradition with your kids…

    Or if you want old school, try the drag racing at Napierville on a Friday (or Saturday) night.

  2. I thought the gospel of nascar only infected midwest america….

  3. jason, no, actually my wife would always have an advantage at the race because her brother would fill her in on who was doing well in racing. I think Nascar is also a big thing in the south, but as far as I know it’s not big up here. All the formula one races are carried up here and news about it is carried by all the media outlets. It’s even front page news at times. The F-1 race is a huge money maker for the city.

    Zeke, we have thought about that. So far my father’s trips up here have not lined up with the race. Since we have been normally going to Chicago during the construction holiday in July, he comes up in the spring, fall, and winter. We will actually be away this year for the F-1 since we will be in Chitown for the week between St-Jean-Baptiste and Canada Day. That said, I’d really like to go one year. We went the first year they had it in Indy.

    Woah, that was weird. I just got a bit of deja vu about replying to your comments. It’s been a while since that happened.

  4. Howdy!

    You’ve been doing personal stuff for the most part 🙂 I don’t quite feel qualified to make comments…

    As for other races that fit in with your Dad’s schedule:
    The Molson Indy at the end of August. Saint Eustache and Napierville most every weekend.

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