Grand Prix of Indianapolis Weekend – Part I

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It doesn’t take a lot to lure me to a track. The appeal of the cars, the charisma of the drivers and the guaranteed laughter-filled experience with fans & fellow media members pretty much writes the ticket for me. Apparently this past weekend, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway wanted to twist my arm ever so slightly by enticing me with not only all of the above, but live music, gourmet food and an excuse to get all “glammed up”. They may have missed the memo, but I wasn’t missing the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis for anything… all those extras were just icing on the cake. Or rather… cupcakes.

FRIDAY, MAY 9th, 2014

Friday started out a bit rainy, which happened to match my mood at the time, though I will not divulge any further into that because things turned out beautifully… for my mood AND the weather. The first practice of Friday morning for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis was actually the last practice before qualifying. I watched from inside the Admin building on the corner of 16th & Georgetown, as the light rain beat down on the track & the cars. Other than a handful of spin-outs through the course and moments spent in the run-off, the session was relatively uneventful. The only contact noted was with the tire barrier in Turn 4 by Ryan Briscoe, driving the Chip Ganassi Racing Teams NTT DATA #8 Chevy. He received help from Holmatro Safety Team but was able to continue on the track and return to his pits without assistance. The fastest of the session was Simon Pagenaud.

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If you follow me on Twitter (@shayzen) then you may have followed along this past weekend as I shared my experiences from the track. Earlier this season, I was recruited as a Social Media Influencer for the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and thanks to the generosity of Verizon, the title sponsor of the IndyCar Series, I was able to do that with the help of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. It was awesome to be able to take quality photos and easily tweet them out to all of you in real time.  Plus, the coverage at the track is phenomenal this year – better than ever. If you want a more in depth look at what Verizon is doing to improve wireless communication throughout IMS & eventually the entire Verizon IndyCar Series circuit, make sure you check out Amy’s tweets (@openwheelmom) from Tuesday’s behind-the-scenes Verizon tour at IMS. Chris (@andhesonit) also published a nice blog about the advancements at the Speedway. I look forward to everything Verizon is planning on implementing through the next few seasons – they recognize that this kind of communication is vital in our racing series. Social Media helps garner current fan excitement, assists us in building our fan base and it proves yet again, that IndyCar could not have been paired with a better title sponsor than Verizon.

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As a fan of this series since the age of 3 (back when tweeting was nothing more than the sound a yellow bird made while trying to escape Sylvester), I have only ever known the majesty of IMS through a catch fence. Never having been on “the other side of the fence” before this year, to say I was proud to walk into those pits before qualifying on Friday would be a ridiculous understatement. I don’t know if there is a word to describe exactly how I felt but I think it was a combination of being extremely overwhelmed, terribly humbled & yet… feeling like I was exactly where I was always meant to be. It just felt right. Granted, I have been in the pits of other tracks for years, but never at IMS. It was a moment I doubt I will ever forget. There were quite a few of those moments on Friday, actually… but more on that later.

Qualifications for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis got a little bit crazy with the weather not really making up its mind and causing 2 red flags, both during the Firestone Fast Six portion of three-part session – one for track inspection due to conditions and one after Andretti Autosport driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay made hard contact with the wall on the frontstretch, thus losing his two fastest laps and making Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the #17 KV/AFS Chevy, the winner of the Verizon P1 Award. In the post-qualifications presser, Saavedra commented on the changing track conditions, “We made a huge leap this morning and then the whole (qualifications) session was just weird. It started to rain and went from wet, to dry, to super dry, to super wet. I loved it.”

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I actually wasn’t in the pits for the live qualification results, because I had to hussle across town and get ready for my next big event of the day: RevIndy! This inaugural event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, brought together Verizon IndyCar Series drivers, local & national celebrity chefs, and some of the most talented musical acts for a night under the stars benefiting a group very near & dear to our racing series. The Methodist Health foundation in partnership with IU Health, provides Trauma care throughout the state of Indiana & skilled medical care to drivers, spectators & staff at IMS during the month of May.

I was honored to be a part of this fundraising event’s kick-off year, as a member of the Rev Social Crew. I had been invited by Trendy Minds, along with 5 other individuals, to live tweet and document the evening on social media – I had a great time doing this and hope to be a part of the event for years to come. Prior to the red carpet arrivals at RevIndy that evening, the Social Crew had the pleasure of taking a VIP tour of the IMS Pagoda with Laura Steele (@reallaurasteele) – the tour even included an impromptu meet with the President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Doug Boles (@jdouglas4). Mr. Boles divulged that his favorite moment at the Speedway every year is the 15 minutes prior to the green flag of the Indy 500. I can only imagine the excitement and energy that is going through the control room at that time… I can understand why that would stand out to him as the best moment all year! (On a side note, if you ever get a chance to stop and talk with Mr. Boles, please take the opportunity – he’s wonderful with the fans and he loves the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as much as we do.)

After our tour of the Pagoda, we were treated to a meeting with one of the RevIndy musicians, Jon McLaughlin (who you may remember from his rendition of God Bless America at the 2013 Indianapolis 500) and two celebrity chefs, Spike Mendelsohn & Vic Vegas. All three of these guys were genuinely excited to be a part of such an incredible event and I thank them for lending their talents and helping make Rev such a memorable experience for everyone! Pictures from RevIndy are on my Twitter page so feel free to scroll through and check them out if you weren’t able to follow along live last weekend! I have to give a shout-out to Amy as well and say thank you for making it over to RevIndy later in the evening as my “+1” after manning the dunk tank at the Indy Family Foundation Festival!

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Friday was just the beginning of what ended up being one of my favorite race weekends, yet. Stay tuned for a review of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis race day and the first Indianapolis 500 practice of 2014. Believe it or not, it’s just going to keep getting better. But honestly, would you expect any less from the month of May?