In Detroit, I lost a rental car for six hours. In Miami, I left all of my clothes in the hotel dresser. Since I was bringing a "photographer" to the Indy 500, there would be little chance of me leaving something behind. Unfortunately, he lost his camera.
So yeah. That photo you see above is not from the man I hired to come down to Indy with me, but from Deadspin reader, Ryan S., who was kind enough to entertain us in the infield for our first trip to Indy. I believe that's a man passed out and covered with ranch dressing and Cheetos. There were many more of them, but unfortunately they are now owned by some thief in Indianapolis who made off with Evan the Photographer's camera. Let me also give you a brief little synopsis of what it was like to travel with Evan. We had four connecting flights up and back to Indianapolis and he upgraded his seat all four times by faking a leg injury. So while I was crammed in the back of the plane with my knees jammed up against the Sky Mall, Evan enjoyed bulkhead seating for three out of the four trips. I actually didn't mind this because the one time I did sit near him, during the slightest bit of turbulence, Evan would make a downward hand gesture and whistle, and offer insights about what he'd do if the plane crashed. As we were boarding the plane in New York he actually said, "Wouldn't it be cool if we landed in the Hudson? I hope that happens." Yeah. He's that guy.
This was my first car race of any kind. I've never even been to a soap box derby. So wading through the massive infield on a sticky Indiana morning was unique. Yes, there is an overabundance of shirtless guys in jean shorts and Penske baseball hats slurping tall boys, but it's also teeming with Affliction-clad teenagers and pudgy nuclear families toting Styro foam coolers full of packed lunches and Capri Suns. From start to finish at the Speedway, between the marching bands and pomp and flag-waving, interspersed with reckless drunkenness and ceremonial kitsch, it has the feel of the world's largest VFW parade plopped in the middle of an outdoor Allman Brothers concert. You make a choice early: either float along with the family atmosphere, frisbee-tossing, watching the Purdue marching band clomp around the track; or zig through the sprawling tent-filled tailgate on the lawns, dodging cornhole bags and F-150s stuffed with young guys with blotchy sunburns and tribal tats. For most of it, we chose the latter, getting red-necked like the rest of 'em. Three hours in the sun, going on four hours of sleep makes 11 a.m. feel like 4 p.m. I'm amazed at the endurance of most of these people, some of whom had been up since 2 a.m. in order secure a prime spot in the infield for the 1:03 p.m. start-your-engines. With the thousands of vehicles littering the infield, it seems an impossibility that anyone attempting to leave the event sun-drunk and dizzy would be able to navigate their way out of the gates in under 12 hours. Miraculously, it usually only takes a couple of hours, since the local authorities and the Indy yellow shirts have mastered the art of herding thousands of drunk drivers out onto Georgetown Avenue efficiently without it turning into a massive demolition derby.
At around noon, we leave the tent area and head up to the mounds in front of the track at turn 3. This spot had been dutifully staked out by Ryan and his family since early in the morning with blankets. It's remarkable that the the two blankets only moved a few feet away from their original location, but most of the Midwest respects a man's Indy spot. So there we were, just about 20 feet away from the fence on turn three, waiting for the little cars to zoom by. But first, of course, the ceremonial pre-race regalia commences. There's balloons launching. There are fly-overs. There is Florence Henderson singing "God Bless America." There is Jim Nabors singing "Back Home In Indiana." I believe "Taps" was played. Plus "The National Anthem" and every other song written in the last three centuries that commemorates America. And after each one the crowd (now good and loaded) would yelp and whistle through their fingers and begin chanting U.S.A. the way blind, fervent Midwestern patriots do. Ryan and his family are surrounded by what seems like hundreds of 20-somethings doing their best to insinuate some Spring Break debauchery into their family picnic, e.g., "Bat bong.":
But when will this race start? Poor Evan is about to pass out in because he's wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, and he's gagging every five steps due to the enormous amounts of smoked prehistoric turkey legs the size of desk lamps being devoured by the spectators. (He's also a vegetarian. Figures.) Most people have eschewed traditional trash receptacles because, by this point, most of the oil drums serving as garbage bins are overflowing with beer cans and dirty diapers. So the half-eaten legs are just tossed aside, left with just enough meat on the bone for the horse flies to regurgitate on. Also as you make your way down the hill back into the humming intersection of cars and tents you are greeted by the unholy bathroom smell. The gymnasium-sized restroom does not have urinals, but one giant trough whose drainage system can't empty fast enough, leaving the gallons of pee to marinate in in the cement holding cell. Those who can't wait in the lines or stand the hellish odor resort to unzipping behind parked vehicles and pissing on the grass. And just a few feet away along one of the many dusty outlet roads there is a man holding a giant placard decorated with beer cans that says "Beer For Boobs." Amazingly, some women stop and play along. For three seconds of raw tit they are rewarded with a can of Bush Light. Just after a young woman flashes, a golf cart driven by a uniformed Indianapolis police officer pulls up. He makes smalltalk with the sign guy and jokes that he'd like to help judge the females slutty enough to expose themselves. Protecting and serving at its finest. ( I know it's inhumane to mention that we saw boobs without actually showing boobs. But the camera is gone. Instead, I'll make it up for you by showing you a picture of Stacey Dash's ass.)
Finally, the race is about to begin. There is an electricity when the engines roar and witnessing the cars veeerm....veeerm.....veerm by you the first ten times is definitely cause for mass screaming and beer throwing.
It's easy to simplify car races to their most boring, tedious essence but if you don't know the nuances and who to follow, that's really all it is. Yes, crashes are exciting and as loud and scary as any other accident you'd witness on a public highway. Only this time the drivers are going 200mph and have a stronger chance of survival. But standing on a knoll in the sun while random college kids drink beers out of wiffle ball bats grows a little tiresome. By around lap 46 I was ignoring the cars all together and instead focused on an 45ish-year-old man with a white muscle shirt and an "I Am Indy" hat try to convince a 19-year-old girl to flash for him. "Come on. Just one tit?" Lovely.
Finally, at around lap 119, with Evan about to pass out from dehydration and turky leg -induced nausea, we made our way out of Indy. Others were leaving early too, for more obvious reasons.
But, yes, I'd do it again at some point. Next time I'll be more prepared.
PHOTOS and Thank yous to Ryan S.