Let Me Qualify that by Saying…

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Both weekends at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month have been incredible. I’ve been surprised by the occurrences of every single day. Opportunities present themselves, individuals introduce themselves, networking is constant and the making of new friendships and lifelong memories are too numerous to count. So much has been going on that I actually found it hard to grab a distinct focus for this piece. So since I couldn’t really choose, I decided we should just cover everything from the Indianapolis 500 qualifying weekend. Hope that works for all of you!

FRIDAY, MAY 16th, 2014

20140516_112913The morning started off with a decent stretch of rain clouds, making a puddle filled Indianapolis Motor Speedway a delight to those with mesh-covered tennis shoes. Thankfully, I had my boots with me because of that lovely hourly forecast on weather.com. I made my way from the infield to Gasoline Alley, running into my #plus1, Amy (known to most of the IndyCar community as @openwheelmom) and heading to the pits with her. We were going to start Fast Friday off the right way, with a lap in one of the event cars! We set our umbrella to the side and jumped into a revved-up 2014 Chevrolet Impala being piloted by IndyCar driver, Stefan Wilson! The wet conditions were no deterrent for him, nor was it a concern for us… we were ready to attack the oval with no fear! We hit 120mph on the back stretch and while I found myself smiling from ear-to-ear the entire time, I didn’t notice the extreme adrenaline rush until I got back out before Turn 1 and could feel the blood still rushing through my veins! We thanked Stefan for his time and I headed back towards the garages to seek shelter until the sprinkles died down while Amy headed back to her job for the day, helping out in the Dreyer & Reinbold suite.

SAM_3821Unfortunately, the rain ruled the day on Friday, turning a planned 6 hour open-track practice session, to 18 minutes of activity. The day was not a total loss though, yielding the first 230mph speed we have seen at the Speedway since 2003. Think about that… an entire DECADE of racing at IMS without reaching that lap average speed in a car. That feat had to make Ed Carpenter pretty proud when he hit it in the last minute of practice. A yellow flag was waved over the track moments after Carpenter’s lap was recorded, due to rain. We stayed under yellow with no track action for just over an hour before the checkered came out for the session at 4:20 PM.  In the post-practice press conference, Carpenter elaborated on the “230” accomplishment,

“It felt good. The car is definitely up-to-speed this year. When it comes to predicting the pole what the pole is going to be, I think a lot of it will be figuring out what the weather is. That 230 I did today, I don’t think that would happen on a clean track. But if it warms up enough and the air gets a little thinner, certainly I think 230s are realistic, even up to 232 and 233.”

SAM_3685While we have only seen one driver hit 232 this month – Marco Andretti, qualifying weekend during Saturday morning practice session – anything is possible on race day and with mid-70’s predicted without much humidity, there is a good chance we could see Carpenter’s prediction come true on Sunday. How amazing would that be?! I hope you will be enjoying it live from the beauty and energy-filled Indianapolis Motor Speedway as I am planning… but if not, make sure you tune in to ABC for The Greatest Spectacle in Racing: the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500! The fun starts at 11:00 AM (EST).

SATURDAY, MAY 17th, 2014

The first day of Indy 500 qualifying started off much drier than Fast Friday, but made up for that in chilly temperatures. The morning practice session was delayed one hour in order to bring the track temp up to 100 degrees. Everyone was bundled up in jackets & scarves in the pits while waiting for the green flag. I made the best use of my time, snapping photographs of cars and drivers, even being fortunate enough to have quick chats with both Dario Franchitti and James Davison. Everyone was eager to get their cars on the oval and at 9am, it was finally time to start those engines. Practice was relatively uneventful other than the previously mentioned 232 average lap speed achieved by Marco Andretti about 8 minutes in.

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After the checkered flag dropped for AM practice, I headed over to Pagoda Plaza with Amy to assist with hosting the IndyFans Tweet Up that she organizes at every track. I was honored to help out however I could, and did so by having everyone “sign in” with me. I was able to do this very easily thanks to the “Notes” feature on my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet, powered by Verizon Wireless. I used the text entry feature to walk around the TweetUp, greeting all the fans that came by and asking them for their Twitter handle! We had a few dozen #indyfamily members show up, take pictures, talk racing and of course, laugh a LOT!20140517_102744 Many of us wore pink to support Pippa Mann & the #pippagoespink initiative – a vibrant way to help start conversations and do what we can to bring awareness to Race For The Cure & the Susan G. Komen foundation during the month of May and leading up to the Indy 500. (It can also give you a chance to win a pink Ritmo Mundo watch!) You won’t be able to miss Pippa’s car on raceday… it’s the bright pink & white livery flying around the oval and creating donations with every lap it completes!

Thankfully, the Tweet Up brought more than just smiling faces… it brought actual sunshine! For the first time in the day, we were able to shed the layers and soak in a little bit of the sun… responsibly of course, with sunblock applied & an #outrunthesun bracelet upon the wrist! (Shout out to Josef Newgarden for promoting healthy sun exposure and skin cancer awareness at tracks throughout the Verizon IndyCar Series season.)
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Towards the end of the event, a flash mob broke out in Pagoda Plaza! Dancers ranged from kids to adults, yellow shirts to first-time fans, and they brought smiles to everyone’s faces with their choreography to Pharrell Williams’ hit song, “Happy”. Pagoda Plaza was packed to the brim with IndyFans and IMS visitors excited to be there and proud to be involved with something special at the Speedway.

Kudos to all involved with these different fan activities… but especially to Amy, who consistently organizes & participates in great family-friendly events at every track she visits.

We certainly were feeling happy around this time, just like that Pharrell Williams song had encouraged us to be, so we headed over to the IMS Pagoda for our next commitment of the day. The great people at Just Marketing International had arranged for the Social Media Influencers to check out the Verizon Technology Showcase. We all met up and then headed to the 10th Floor of the IMS Pagoda, where we were greeted with way more than we expected. The technology advancements that Verizon has on the horizon are extremely impressive, and they will impact not only your experience as a consumer in general, but your experience as a fan of the Verizon IndyCar Series and as a visitor to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the future. Now while many of the apps and mobile technology we learned about are not available immediately, they will be very soon and rest assured… you will not be disappointed.

One experience that we (as the team of Social Media Influencers) were certainly not disappointed with was the view from up there! We were lucky enough to go out on the deck of the 10th floor and we attempted to take-in a nearly 360 degree vantage point of the Speedway. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me this moment was accompanied by goosebumps and my eyes welling up with tears. It was overwhelming to see IMS from this angle – the downtown skyline off in the distance, the garages bustling below with people, and the sound of the cars as they reverberated off the Pagoda during qualifications… just absolutely breath-taking.

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Speaking of qualifying, it took me a moment to get my head out of the clouds (literally), and take that long elevator ride back down to the ethanol fumes and burning rubber that I live for! All 33 cars made successful qualifying attempts and the entire session ran incident-free. Ed Carpenter was the fastest of Qualifying Day 1, followed by Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport), Helio Castroneves (Team Penske),  James Hinchcliffe (Andretti Autosport), Will Power (Team Penske), Marco Andretti (Andretti Autosport), Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) & JR Hildebrand (Ed Carpenter Racing).

SUNDAY, MAY 18th, 2014

20140518_143839Carpenter went on to maintain the fastest average lap speed, dominating the field and taking the Verizon P1 Award at the Indianapolis 500 for the second year in a row – joining the likes of Parnelli Jones, Mario Andretti, AJ Foyt Jr, and Helio Castroneves. James Hinchcliffe will start from P2 “yet again”, in his own words, finding himself all too comfortable in the role of “always the bridesmaid.” I thought this might be his first Pole but due to cracking the throttle in Lap 4, he may have given up the fraction of a second needed to sit atop the IMS pylon on Memorial Day weekend.  It would have been great to see him acquire his first career P1 starting position at the Yard of Bricks, especially after his accident & concussion during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but it wasn’t meant to be this time around. I look forward to seeing what he does from Row 1 this weekend. It’s going to be an incredible race, I promise you that.

I don’t know if you are reading this having watched the qualifying on ESPN3 Streaming or on ABC this past weekend… but I do know that I may have witnessed something you didn’t. A 34th car “qualified” this past Sunday. That’s right, a 34th car. No bump day for this driver though, he is well in control, back on the track against the odds, and with plenty of plans to keep redefining what those odds are. Sam Schmidt, former IndyCar driver who severed his spine in a racing incident, causing paralysis for the past 14 years, took to the IMS track between Sunday morning practice and Sunday afternoon qualifying to drive a modified Chevrolet Corvette Stingray for four full laps, and getting up to an average lap speed of 70 mph and a high speed on track of 100 mph! The technology was created by ARROW to allow Sam to get back in the drivers seat and control the speed & direction of the car with his head, mouth and eyes. I have to tell you, watching him drive that car so flawlessly… it was like art in motion. I was able to stand right by the start/finish line, against the pit lane wall with 6 current IndyCar drivers (Martin Plowman, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Townsend Bell & Mikhail Aleshin) in front of me, cheering him on emphatically. I’m not sure who was more excited – the drivers or the fans! Though I think at that point we were all truly one – with each other and with this place. We were the epitome of #indyfamily – encouraging one of our own to NEVER give up and standing there to greet and congratulate him on a job well done. What a moment to witness… I will never forget that.

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That’s the thing about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – they say that the track is alive, and I have to agree. Even though I am not driving on it at 200+ mph, it has interacted with me, demanded so much from me and given back even more. She’s a wicked and temperamental mistress to the drivers that call her bricks home; she’s a mysterious and challenging personality that emotes every possible feeling from fans who find her reliably stable and yet ever-changing at the same time. One thing however, is for certain… whether this is your “rookie year” or you’ve walked around this racing Mecca more times than you could possibly count, every now & then in the month of May, IMS whispers back to you – sometimes answering your prayers, sometimes creating more questions, and at some point (inevitably) she makes you wonder how you survive without her for 11 months out of the year. Everyone who gives themselves to the awe-inducing structure which sits at Georgetown & 16th comes away with differing memories & opinions, but one solid fact: Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a part of your life now… and you’ll never be the same.

 

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