I swore that I had written a detailed breakdown back in 2004 of my first Indianapolis 500 weekend living here, which until this year was the strangest Indy 500 day of that era. Alas, after checking the archives, I found I wrote way more about the crazy weather that day than about my experience on my first race day as an Indiana resident.
Yesterday was way stranger than 2004, which just featured tornado warnings as the race was ending. But, then again, everything is way stranger this year than any other year, right?
For starters it was super weird having the race in August. It just didn’t feel right. The entire month of May in Indianapolis revolves around the race. There is the Mini-Marathon, which includes a lap around the track, early in May. There’s the Grand Prix race, a recent addition but a nice warmup. Then there’s qualifying weekend, Carb Day, and the slow build up to race day itself. Once the calendar flips from April to May, the entire area has a different vibe that you can’t miss even if you don’t care about the race. Houses have checkered flags hanging from their porches, their mailboxes, or along their fences. You see people in certain industries associated with the race driving cars that are stamped with the race’s logo. The race is inescapable.
All of that was lost with the delay to August. I know I wasn’t the only person who, a week ago, said, “Oh, the race is next weekend?!?!” Even with qualifying and practice it still did not feel like the same buildup of energy and attention that comes in a normal year.
No spectators at the race was weird. I’ve only been to the race once, which was enough for me. But it is a normal part of life in Indy to know which of your friends are going, where they are sitting, if they have a “secret” route to the Speedway that cuts 15 minutes off their commute, etc.
And then the ending of the race was weird and disappointing. A single-car crash with five laps to go forced the race to end under yellow, robbing us of a potentially epic ending. Sure, the yellow finish could have happened in any other year, but it happening seemed extremely appropriate for 2020.
It was also strange for the race to be shown live in Indy. That only happened once, a couple years ago on the race’s 100th edition, when the Speedway was sold out weeks in advance. Normally Indy residents listen to the race on the radio – to what is a shockingly good broadcast – and then watch the replay in the evening if the race was exciting. But this year, with the stands shut, we were able to watch live on NBC with the rest of the country. I had the TV out by the pool on but had to duck inside soon after the race began to avoid the heat. It was funny to peek outside and get a five-second preview of what was about to happen thanks the to difference between getting the signal over the air versus via cable.
Normally the race-day flyover circles around the metro area as it times out its approach to the track properly. Last year a group of military planes of mixed vintages flew directly over our house twice before heading to the track. So I was very disappointed that the Thunderbirds didn’t come over our house. I could hear them once, as they veered away from Speedway and then back toward it, but could not actually see them.
As with every modified sporting event of this summer, I was thankful the race happened and hopeful that next May will bring a return to normalcy at the track and around our city.
With the exception of while we were away in Captiva, we have not eaten in a restaurant since early March. We finally broke that string Saturday, going out to lunch at a spot that we used to go regularly before we moved. We were hoping to sit outside but only two of the tables had umbrellas and those were both filled, so we took a booth inside. Which ended up being fine, as it was fairly early and there were only two other groups inside. Fitting the theme for the weekend, it was weird. You want to support locally owned places that are struggling to stay afloat. But I’m also not super excited to make dining-in a regular activity again just yet.