Covid-19 changed many people’s lives. Loyal Indianapolis 500 fans weren’t spared. It ran with a skeleton crew in 2021 (135,000 fan limit) masked and mourning. In 2020 it was held, but without fans in attendance. To say that this year’s race was epic is an understatement. 300,000 attendees, including this one, made history upon the full return of racing at Indy.
If you’ve ever been there, the swelling of the crowd begins early. Indy is family and traditions were everywhere. Attending with the brothers Sevi, Al and Chris extended their 32 year streak by parking in the same driveway of the same house a few blocks from the track.
Tailgating, reminiscing and laughter echos through the streets of small houses where generations have held the “park here” signs in yards with pride. $20 here $30 there, its cheaper than long term parking at the airport.
Trekking a few blocks to the track, we early birds are treated to an empty sidewalk that will be ten wide by evening. Police officers station themselves in a mile wide diameter from the starting line bricks to guide the faithful to the multiple entrances of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway which is lovingly called “The Racing Capital of the World”.
Tickets in hand, souvenirs and programs purchased and coolers with the day’s fare are toted to our home away from home at the first turn near the top of the stands.
The decision was carefully made by the Sevi brothers to station ourselves at this outpost, the first curve. A full view of the cars exiting the pits and first full straightaway delight the senses and bring suspense with every scream of the tires. Jumbo-trons dot the infield and make the action manageable for rookie fans like me. I’d highly recommend attending with an experienced Indy goer for the first time. Al recommended ear protection with AM/FM radios to save our hearing and listen to track announcers once the race started. Of course sunscreen, hats and that cooler full of goodies made it up the aluminum steps to our bench seats for the day. It gets a little friendly at Indy, in the seats and with the people surrounding you.
Enter the Schorr family…
Dean Schorr has been attending the Indianapolis 500 for seventy years. How do I know this? His grandsons had t-shirts! They happened to sit right in front of us in our section. A few short hellos and we made that personal connection that is Indy. Grandsons Tyler Reinneck and Carter Toal sit next to their grandpa with pride. The threesome are at the track after a tough couple of years missing a special lady, named Ellen. You see, Ellen was Dean’s wife who passed away on his birthday 12/20/20 from Covid.
Hailing from Columbia, IL the gas station owner has racing in his blood and has passed it down to Tyler and Carter. Arriving early, like we did, they had been down to the snake pit already. Coming to the 500, Grand Prix races and qualifying, the Schorr agenda has been full . A lover of Camaros, Dean sold his 1969 and is now sporting around in a 2012. At 86 years young, his eyes returned a twinkle as I told him of my impending coverage and he laughed and said, “it only took 70 years” to get his story into print. Tyler is pretty sure there are more stories to tell. With this being the 106th running of the Indy 500, I’m sure there are millions to tell. All this had happened before the engines even started…
I confess, I cried at the start of the race. Maybe it was the Purdue Marching Band or singing the National Anthem. Songs echoed like “Back Home in Indiana” and “America the Beautiful”. Hats removed and heads raised as the Thunderbirds buzzed the stadium not once but twice.
A giant American flag was unfurled. Patriotism was at its finest with the race being on Memorial Day weekend. Service members riding in the back of Chevy Silverados waving to the crowds. We were all remembering those who gave it all for our country.
Grand Marshall Blake Shelton sent the “drivers to their cars” and Hollywood star Miles Teller, fresh from the opening of Top Gun: Maverick, instructed riders to “start their engines”.
Pole position holder Scott Dixon broke an Indy record with his 234.046 mph average during qualifying. He also broke the “number of laps leading the race” record over Al Unser Sr.’s 644 with lap 133 hitting a sweet 645 top of the heap. Leading most of the race, Dixon was not meant for the winner’s circle. A too fast approach to the pits brought a speeding penalty and Dixon ended the race in 17th place.
Excitement was paramount after each of four caution flags came out due to crashes. Each re-start was like starting the race all over again. Jockeying for position and the timing of pit stops orchestrated an unforgettable day. With just four laps to go, Jimmie Johnson crashed. The seven time NASCAR Cup Series winner was driving in his rookie IndyCar Series race. The red flag came out with Marcus Ericsson’s significant lead now in jeopardy.
Drivers were escorted to the pit lane and cars were turned off. After about 10 minutes the cars were restarted and took one yellow caution lap and then went full-bore for two more. A fifth crash with one lap to go ended the race and brought the checkered flag. Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing finished first followed by Pato O’Ward and Tony Kanaan.
As fans streamed from the track after the last cheer was shouted, I reflected upon my first experience at Indy.
Friends make the difference.
Traditions are important and can bring comfort when nothing else can. Keep your loved ones close. Don’t let COVID-19 or anything else steal your joy. There is always joy, find it.