After a 10 hour day at the office, I made my commute from Cleveland to Ohio’s state capital, Columbus. The plan was to grab a quick dinner and actually get a full night’s sleep prior to waking up before the sun and making the rest of my drive to Indianapolis this morning. But, as has proven true time and time again, the racing gods laugh when we make plans.
I sat down on the couch in my comfy hotel room, with the sun setting over Polaris Parkway, through the window to my left. I grabbed my dinner and drink and thought, “I’ll watch the pre-game for the Cavs vs Raptors game and then go to sleep. Perfect.” Scrolling through quickly to find the game, I flipped by something familiar to the recesses of my mind and had to go back a few channels… there it was. The stands and frontstretch of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, circa 1987. Al Unser, Sr. was suddenly taking up my entire screen, drinking milk in celebration of his fourth and final Indianapolis 500 victory. He took a moment to put the headphones on and talk to his brother Bobby Unser in the booth and even speak about Danny Ongais sustaining a concussion and that being the reason he (Unser) found himself in a Penske car for the ‘500’. Unser stated that this win should have belonged to Ongais.
In a moment where Sr. had every right to enjoy the “this is my moment” atmosphere, he focused on the people and situation that made the opportunity to race that day a possibility for him. I thought it was so cool to hear this champion shine light on the fact that this was technically someone else’s car and he felt that the win should have been achieved by that original driver, rather than basking in the glow of victory and his historic achievement. Truly, a class act.
It’s no surprise though, this group is a special one. And even though the level of competition is unparallelled to any other sport, everyone is a family. When tragedy strikes, they mourn together. When history is made, they all stand in reverence. It’s a support system and they all push one another to be better. Maybe that’s why IndyCar racing is so addictive for those of us in its grasp – the performance on track is just as captivating as the personalities off track.
Once you take it all in, in person, that’s it. You can’t skip past it on tv, you can’t NOT listen to the commentary on your IndyCar Mobile app, and you can’t hang up the phone with a fellow aficionado, even though you both have work to do and lives to live (right Matt?)
The program moved into the 1988 Indianapolis 500 and as you may have guessed, that had me putting the remote down and forgetting about basketball.
Watching the images of the green-washed infield, enjoying the on-board camera views over the shoulders of Mario Andretti and Danny Sullivan, and recalling all the details of the Speedway from when I was a child had my synapses firing and led to emotions surfacing that I didn’t expect. Seeing the chassis’ and engines that have long left our sport left me yearning for more manufacturers in today’s series. The drivers and owners who seem timeless made me thankful that I have been around this for enough decades to appreciate, understand and recognize their contributions and significance. And last but certainly not least, the commentary from Jim Lampley, Sam Posey, and the aforementioned Bobby Unser still makes me sit up and take notice with every call. The broadcast felt like a soundtrack to the past and transported me back to being a kid sitting in the seats with my family along the frontstretch in a space that is now occupied by suites because our perspective was simply THAT good.
I soaked it all in last night and more times than I can count I found myself smiling without conscious intention. That’s what the Indianapolis Motor Speedway does though… it evokes.
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