2:36 PM ET (Paul) – While most of the official activities here at the track were wrapped up by noon, fans here have had plenty to keep them busy throughout the day.
The day started with the autograph session for the Field of 33 in tomorrow’s race this morning at 9:00 AM. When I arrived shortly after 8:00, the Pagoda Plaza was near capacity and several of the autograph lines were already closed. As they do every year, the fans turned out in droves to meet their favorite drivers and get as many autographs as possible.
Following the drivers’ autograph session, the Public Drivers Meeting took place on pit lane. As with other years, the defending winner Tony Kanaan was honored with several awards, including the presentation of the Baby Borgs from Borg-Warner, the Winners Drink Milk Award from the American Dairy Association, and the Champion of Champions Ring from Herff-Jones. Winning car owners Jimmy Vasser and Kevin Kalkhoven were also honored for their victories in last year’s race.
Before the starters’ rings were distributed, special rings were presented to pace car driver Dario Franchitti and to outgoing singing legend Jim Nabors. Nabors received a standing ovation from the crowd, drivers, and other dignitaries as his place in the history of this great event was recognized.
As the drivers were introduced individually to the assembled audience, it is always interesting to hear who receives the loudest applause. To the surprise of no one, Tony Kanaan once again was the best received, followed closely by Helio Castroneves and native Hoosier Ed Carpenter.
INDYCAR Race Director Beaux Barfield addressed the drivers (though he was more addressing the fans than the drivers) with the final instructions for tomorrow’s race. Of course, the pit lane has been striped since last weekend (for the first time since I believe the current asphalt surface was placed in 2004), and there are now designated fast and slow lanes on pit road. Barfield did not get into details about the new rules, only mentioning that they would be in place as previously discussed.
Also new this year is that pit sign board men will no longer be used as the “no man’s land” between pit road and the front straight will be off limits to crew and INDYCAR officials during the race. This is a great break in tradition but one that is probably well past due. It’s dangerous having those teams members there, and since the use of radios became prevalent decades ago, the sign boards are redundant and unnecessary.
Once the drivers’ meeting concluded, the drivers were immediately shuttled downtown to participate in the IPL 500 Festival Parade and a good portion of the crowd departed.
Steph and I, along with our friend James Black of 16thandGeorgetown.com, were given an opportunity to take a pace car around the 2.5-mile oval courtesy of Chevrolet. Our driver, Gail Truess, is the driver of the INDYCAR medical team vehicle during race events and a former race driver herself. Gail was hard on the throttle and had the Camaro singing at full song by the time we exited Turn 1. The sensation of speed was incredible as we rode only a couple feet from the SAFER and at only about half the speed drivers will be turning tomorrow. Upon exiting Turn 2, I made mention of the skid marks left by Kurt Busch in his practice crash last Monday. Truess responded that she had posted on Facebook that she was excited to have finally met Busch, referring to when she collected him and drove him to the hospital following the accident. While we were “only” doing 120 mph into Turn 3, it seems as if we were going much faster, and the thought of doubling that speed seemed ludicrous! It was a great experience, and we were all very appreciative to Chevrolet for giving us such an opportunity.
Following a quick lunch, Steph and I made our way to the Museum gift shops to find merchandise for our little ones back home. Neither of us found anything we felt our kids would care much about, a theme that seems to be the same from year to year. I am always disappointed by the lack of high-quality kids’ merchandise available at the gift shops or at the museum. In terms of clothing for children, it seems there are never more than a few items available and they are almost always tacky, gaudy, or too babyish. My desire was to find my kids simple event or track t-shirts, but everything looked very childish and nothing like anything my kids would want. I don’t think my standards are extremely high but I always find the children’s clothing choices here disappointing.
Another disappointment here is the continued lack of merchandise displaying the new Verizon IndyCar Series logo. While there are shirts and hats available for this year’s drivers and sponsors, very few of them have the current VICS log on them. Now that the series is approaching its sixth event of the year and more than two months removed from the Verizon announcement, it seems strange to still not have such merchandise available, especially at the marquee event. Consider this a massive opportunity lost, especially given the massive crowd that was still touring the Hall of Fame and Museum and perusing the gift shops.
Finally, we wrapped the day by wandering through the IMS Memorabilia show in the Pagoda Pavilion. MFW’s John Lingle was selling and signing copies of his book, Hard Luck Lloyd and was being well received. Most of the other items for sale were similar to the items that have been available for many years. Old posters, die-cast, credentials, hats, crew shirts and much more are the theme of the day, and photos of nearly every driver to have ever lapped the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are available from one vendor or another.
All in all, it’s been another good day here at the World’s Greatest Racecourse in what is generally considered the Call Before the Storm. Saturday generally has the most relaxed feel of the month and today was no different. With tonight’s Jason Aldean concert, I expect tonight to be more raucous than the past several years and another good way to create buzz before tomorrow’s race.
That will do it for us here on Firestone Mario Andretti Legends Day here at IMS. Both of us will generally be relaxing tonight and attending to other prior engagements. However, we will both be at the track bright and early tomorrow gearing up for what promises to be an incredible race.
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