I'll be listening to The Race on the radio at a friend's party Sunday, instead of going to The Track. That's the preferred parlance, by the way. It's "You goin' to the Track this year?", not "the Race", probably because for a lot of people what the cars were doing was of minor importance, especially in its less family-friendly days. I've seen things at that racetrack you can't even print on the internets.
I was an insider by birth. Had free passes to everything, except the race itself (you could still get your pick of tickets, but you paid face value). I got a coveted Silver Badge soon as I was eighteen. Used to work in the office when I was in school, answering phones and eating free pizza. I could get people tickets, which was akin to local celebrity.
It's an engineer's sport now, and so less exciting. I don't think that's nostalgia. The guys in those days were a special breed. They raced for prize money, not sponsorship deals; the didn't have to remember to say, "Well, it's a shame because the guys really had the Quaker State-Pepsi-Motorola car dialed in." They'd say, "Shit. Sumpin' broke." I could walk down Crawfordsville Road to my friend's house and wave at A.J. Watson, who was working on cars that won six Indys, including back-to-back 1-2 finishes, in his garage. I could go with another buddy to the garage that Jim Hurtubise ran as his shop to get Cokes. He always treated us like he'd been waiting all day for us to show up and bother him. He kept what was left of his hands, burned in a horrific crash at Milwaukee, hidden from us. Even the legendarily churlish A.J. Foyt was nice to me, although most strangers were advised to walk around him like a farmboy walks around a nursing sow.
I've seen the start of the race from the pits three times, and it's the sort of phantasmagoria that makes you wish Hunter S. had been a race fan. But the real treat, when I worked there, was to grab a seat high up in Turn Four just before they opened the gates at 6am, and watch as ten thousand cars tried to grab spots close to the fence, or go to the end of the tunnel under the main straight and watch cars fly off the ramp like the Dukes of Hazzard. Now, that's racing. My favorite Indy memory, though, came at the awards banquet in 1966 when the great British world champion Graham Hill won. In place of all the mumbed platitudes and feigned modesty, he closed his speech with, "Did you hear they just developed a new Pill for men? You put it in your shoe and it makes you limp."
I was just old enough to get the joke.
This year, you may have heard, it's all about Danica Patrick, a rookie driving for Rahal-Letterman who happens to be the first woman with a legitimate shot to win the thing. I like Tony Kannan, though something tells me it could just be Dario Franchitti's year, but I'll be rooting for Danica, since it would be such a great story. Then once the drinking's done it's time to come home, catch some of the NASCAR race, then watch the late-name "same day" teevee coverage on Channel 6. Hey, if you like chicken vindaloo, you might as well eat a couple pounds of the stuff one day a year, right? And choose a three-day weekend to do it.