I’ll be honest up front: you’re not going to get a lot of breaking news from me this weekend. I have the joy of having my infant daughter here with me, and while she’s been wonderful and it’s a phenomenal experience to share my love of racing with her at her young age, it’s somewhat limits where I can be and when. In a way, though, it’s worked out well — Paul’s been in the media center and the garages gathering headlines, and I’ve been spending more time than usual taking in the fan perspective of the race weekend experience. Perhaps being able to provide two different angles on the same event will help us to come up with some interesting commentary.
Unfortunately, I arrived at the infield a fair bit later than I had hoped to due to a very long line at the credential office. (I fell victim to the same very long line at about the same time on Carb Day last year. You’d think I would have learned.) By the time I got parked and had taken the shuttle in from the North 40, the morning’s INDYCAR practice had already concluded and the Firestone Freedom 100 was to commence shortly. I had just enough time to do a quick tour of the Pagoda Plaza before needing to find a seat for the race.
The Plaza itself was rammed full of revelers. While many of them had clearly been enjoying some adult beverages, the crowd certainly wasn’t unruly and never became so at any point during the day (at least, not that I noticed). There was a very happy and easy-going vibe throughout the Speedway. Perhaps the cooler weather contributed to fans being energetic and in good spirits.
While in the area, I stopped by the display of the 2012 concept cars. I’d heard from several people that the cars looked significantly better in person. I came away with two observations: 1) I still didn’t find the cars particularly attractive, even in person; and 2) it doesn’t matter whether they look great in person because the vast majority of people will be looking at them through the product of a lens anyway. I found myself needing to repeat the point that these are just a concept and not necessarily the final product because if they were final I would be disappointed. I will note, though, that the cars were attracting a great deal of attention. There were people examining them and stopping for pictures each time I walked by. So, if the purpose of displaying the cars was simply to generate interest and discussion, it seems to be working.
Just before moving on from the Pagoda Plaza to find a seat for the Firestone Indy Lights race, I found these wonderful people. There was apparently a third member of their party carrying PT around, but that person had gone off to do his own thing. That seems oddly fitting.
Because of where I happened to find myself just as the engines were about to fire for the Firestone Freedom 100, I spent the race in the stands on pit lane immediately to the north of the pylon. As it turns out, this was a poor selection, particularly for a FIL race that barely sees any action on pit lane. But even as a vantage point for the big cars, this wouldn’t be my choice. Much closer to turn 1 or turn 4 would be better suited to my race watching style. That said, there was a video board across from me, at least, so I had a decent idea of what was going on despite not being able to see the turns very well.
As I mentioned on Twitter at the time, the weather today felt a great deal like what I imagine Race Day in 1992 must have felt like – slightly damp and very chilly. Given that the FIL field is largely comprised of rookies and road and street course experts, I was very concerned about what role the cool weather was going to play. I was pleasantly surprised at first after around the first half of the race went off incident-free with some great racing, particularly between Esteban Guerrieri and Josef Newgarden, who are now clearly the top contenders for the championship. But once there was one incident, that was enough to cool the tires and repeatedly catch the drivers off-guard on restarts, and the race never properly recovered, culminating in the very scary incident between Anders Krohn and Jorge Goncalvez that caused the race to end under yellow. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, and the event must surely have been an excellent learning experience for every driver in the field.
After the FIL race, I headed over to the Paddock to watch the pit stop competition. This was another unfortunate decision, especially since I had already been so close to Tower Terrace. (It takes a few visits to IMS to work through these rookie mistakes.) The event was extremely popular with the fans, and the Tower Terrace from my vantage point on the other side of the track looked elbow-to-elbow. From there, I never did get a look at the crowd for the concert, but I imagine that most folks on the grounds stayed for it just to have an excuse to continue the jovial atmosphere.
The last major event of the day was the Carb Night Burger Bash hosted by Curt Cavin of the Indianapolis Star and Kevin Lee of Versus at 96th Street Steakburgers in Carmel. This event continues to grow significantly every year, and money is always raised that’s used to support children with hearing challenges. This year, appearances were made by Pippa Mann, Randy Bernard, Simona de Silvestro, Dan Wheldon, and more. It was fantastic to see so many Twitter peeps again and to meet quite a few new ones. Our thanks goes out to Curt for allowing us to toss a couple of More Front Wing shirts onto the raffle table as well. We hope the winners enjoy them!
On a personal note, I was thrilled that my first track day with baby went extremely well through a combination of good planning and baby’s perpetually sunny disposition. I had her in a baby carrier all day and used a solid pair of hearing protectors that we’d been practicing wearing for a couple of months. Not only did she make out fine but she slept through the entire Lights race and allowed me to concentrate and tweet throughout it. I was amazed at how well it went and how little I felt limited by it, and I hope the rest of the weekend goes just as well.
Along the same line of thinking, though, I was also amazed at the number of parents at the track with children today who didn’t have hearing protection for them. There’s clearly a lack of education among parents of the damage that long-term, high-decibel sound exposure can do to a child’s hearing — never mind the fact that loud noises are just more uncomfortable to younger, more sensitive ears. INDYCAR would be wise to start a campaign explaining to parents the importance of covering their children’s ears while at the track to protect the budding future fans of the sport.
All in all, today was an excellent first day at the track. Watch here and on Twitter for more updates from More Front Wing tomorrow and throughout the rest of the weekend.