Many things have changed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway over the past several years — some for the better, some not. In my opinion, no change has been better received than moving Carb Day from Thursday to Friday. The massive crowd at IMS today supported this change once again.
Though the crowd was by far the biggest of the month so far, it seemed to be much more subdued than in recent past years. There was still plenty of excitement and a party atmosphere, but the drunks and crazies didn’t seem to be out in quite the number as they had been previously. An overcast sky and temperatures just barely breaking into the 60s may have been a primary factor for this difference.
The Tower Terrace section was almost completely filled from the Pagoda North to well into the sections below the Terrace Suites. Behind the stands, the Pagoda Plaza was almost elbow-to-elbow with people, and the area north of the Museum cordoned off for the concert was overflowing past the designated boundaries. Of course, there were still many people there who had no interest whatsoever in the cars on track, but the most encouraging sign was the number of families in attendance who were enjoying both the on-track activity and the reduced age limit in Gasoline Alley. I mentioned the number of families on hand last weekend, but today’s attendance seemed to emphasize this point even more. With the move of Carb Day to Friday, many more families are able to make a three-day weekend of the event and really take in the entire “500” experience. I’m no expert on crowd estimation by any means, but I don’t think I could argue if somebody estimated crowds in the 75,000-100,000 range.
To be honest, I arrived in a bit of a rush this morning and didn’t get to focus too much on the IZOD IndyCar Series practice. However, looking at the top of the time sheet didn’t reveal many surprises. I was pleased to see Alex Tagliani post a solid time late in the session to put him near the top of the order. Last year, Alex qualified well but didn’t have the horses beneath him to stay competitive during the race. I hope this year will be a different story and he’ll be able to pedal fast enough to hang with the big boys throughout the race.
During the Firestone Freedom 100 race for the Firestone Indy Lights, I had the unique experience of helping Versus pit reporter Jake Query as his spotter/gopher. This was a completely different experience from anything I’ve ever done on the track before and gives a whole new perspective to the event. It was the first time I had ever been on the actual track when the command to start engines was given and the cars were pushed away. That was quite a different point of view. During the race, I was so busy running here, there, and everywhere that it was difficult to really know what was happening on track. I’ve often heard Kevin Lee talk about how he has to watch the race afterward to really understand what happened, and now I can kind of relate. I hope to help Jake out again at future races, and now that I’ve gotten my feet wet, I’ll have a little better of an understanding of what he will be looking for. I hope my lack of preparation didn’t reflect poorly on Jake’s performance.
Without really having had time to read much of the news out of the track today, I would have to imagine that many people have been talking about the big accident at the end of the Firestone Freedom 100 involving Anders Krohn and Jorge Goncalvez. Though it took him a while, Andres Krohn finally walked out of the Indiana University Health Medical Center under his own power, which is a real testament to the safety of the Dallara cars, the HANS device, and the SAFER barrier installed at IMS. His impact was nearly head-on at probably 185 mph and he walked away. It appeared to be the type of incident that has caused so many basilar skull fractures over the years, so it was truly remarkable to watch him walk away unscathed.
The second portion of that incident involving the car of Jorge Goncalvez was one of the most vicious impacts I’ve seen in a long time. Unfortunately, what I immediately noticed was that the big impact that he had with the inside wall was with a portion not protected with a SAFER barrier. With all the improvement that the Speedway has made over the years with regard to safety, I do not understand why there are still portions of the wall that are not lined with SAFER barrier. So many incidents in both open-wheel racing and stock car racing have seen cars find bare walls. At some point, track owners are going to realize there are no areas of wall that should be without protection. Sadly, it seems that walls, especially the inside walls, are not covered until a driver has the misfortune of hitting the unprotected area. I hope the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will take this opportunity to add SAFER barriers along the inside walls and the outside walls in both the north and south chute.
Following the pit stop competition, Steph and I took the opportunity to roam through Gasoline Alley and soak up the atmosphere there. Though most of the cars were in closed garages, there were a number of drivers still greeting their fans and signing autographs or taking pictures. Both Graham Rahal and Simona de Silvestro, whose garages just happen to be right across from each other, were drawing a huge crowd and obliging as many people as possible. A few banks of garages away, we found Buddy Rice in his typical state of relaxation and catching up with a handful of guests outside of the Panther garage. Finally, we spent a few minutes with Pippa Mann, who was kind enough to allow us to interrupt her as she was working on a diary entry for her website. When asked if she was getting nervous about starting in this year’s Indianapolis 500, Pippa replied, “I won’t get nervous until about lap 6,” a reference to her two appearances in the Firestone Freedom 100, where she was eliminated in an accident on lap 2 after starting from the pole last year and on lap 7 as a rookie in 2009. Always looking to engage her fans as much as possible, Pippa was expecting to attend four separate events this evening, but I never got the sense she was complaining about it. She understands what an honor it is to be a starter in the Indianapolis 500, and she is absorbing every minute of it.
After a quick dinner, it was off to Curt Cavin’s Carb Night Burger Bash at 96th Street Steakburgers on Indy’s northeast side. The event, which raises money for several local charities, has grown significantly over the past couple years and was probably attended by 300-400 people tonight. In addition to doing a live edition of his radio show with Kevin Lee, Curt also led auctions for dozens of items such as a signed helmet, Tony Kanaan’s race suit from Brazil, Paddock Penthouse race tickets, a pair of INDYCAR hard cards, and much, much more. Among the special guests that stopped by were Pippa Mann, Dan Wheldon, Simona de Silvestro, Randy Bernard, and Johnny Rutherford. This is definitely a great event that I would strongly encourage all race fans to attend if they are in town. Several of the fans who regularly read and support More Front Wing were in attendance, and I really enjoyed the chance to personally thank them for the kind words and encouragement they have given to Steph and me.
Tomorrow should be a fairly light day with just the autograph session and public drivers’ meeting in the morning at the track. Don’t expect much in the way of fireworks at the drivers’ meeting as I believe most of the sensitive issues were hammered out in the private meeting this morning prior to the final practice. Following track activity, I will be heading out to the Indiana State Fairgrounds for the National Auto Racing Memorabilia Show, which I always find very interesting. If all goes according to plan, I hope to hit the Night Before the 500 midget races for a short while at Lucas Oil Raceway before calling it a fairly early night.
Though I don’t expect much in the way of breaking news tomorrow, stay tuned to MoreFrontWing.com and @MoreFrontWing on Twitter for updates all day from the Speedway and other “500” related events.