Weather delay on race day shows how adaptable we really are

by | May 29, 2024 | Pop/Life

photo from Indiana Capital Chronicle/Getty Images/James Gilbert

I ate my track picnic at my kitchen counter this year. I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before, so I’m writing it down for future race reference. The fried chicken was as delicious as any other year, though it felt weird eating it over a plate.

Every year, the Indianapolis 500 is our city’s most special event. It’s embedded in our culture, so grandly, so omnipresent, it’s hard to find a person or a place in the area untouched by it. 

The event and its long list of traditions can feel delicate in some ways, reliant on something as unpredictable as the weather. In other ways, it feels as strong as Indiana limestone. When a few hundred thousand diverse people have a shared purpose, it’s amazing how well we can adapt. 

A weather delay that forecasters began predicting in the middle of the week actually came true. I love not trusting the National Weather Service when it gives me bad news five days ahead of time. I treat those people like NBA referees: every call they make is the beginning of the argument, not the end of it. But they got it right this time. Golf claps for them this weekend, and I will go back to not trusting them by Saturday. 

We ride our bikes to the track on race day, a tradition I recommend for anyone capable within about ten miles of Speedway. It’s a thirty-minute ride for us and we buy advanced parking from Bike Indy right outside the main entrance. It’s so convenient, we waited at home for the weather to pass. Much like my strange race picnic, I took my traditional post-race nap before the race this year. Odd, yes, but I’m too old to complain about any nap.

I started to stir around 2:00 p.m. and when I realized it wasn’t raining, I jumped a little. I yelled at my no-napping wife for a weather report, and she told me things were looking good, so I better get it together. The text messages from our bike group started chiming in while I was in the shower, and at 3:00 p.m., nine of us left the neighborhood for the track. 

Greatest spectacle

When we got close to our seats in Stand A, we wondered what the concession stands would run out of first. With a four-hour delay, that’s like hosting two races to the vendors. Beer was the consensus pick, but we were wrong. Food ran out first. I’d like to think that collectively we simply drink less these days, but that can’t possibly be true. 

I had no idea how many fans would be in their seats after the delay and a pseudo-evacuation of a crowd the size of Cincinnati. Uh, everyone stayed. Our seats are in the middle of the row, and the people who had to stand to let us in were irritated at our inconveniently late arrival. We were really right on time and didn’t even miss any of the pre-race pageantry. 

People have all kinds of favorite pre-race traditions, but ever since my dad’s funeral, the playing of “Taps,” has become mine. As I’ve written before, there is no place in America that celebrates Memorial Day better than Indianapolis.

I love the seats and the roof over our heads that our friends share with us in Turn 1. The bad part is that we usually miss the flyover. But this year, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds made two passes. The first one we couldn’t see, but the second one was right at us, scattering above right when Jim Cornelison was nailing the end of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Awesome. 

Right before the drivers started their engines, the teenager sitting next to me handed an iPhone charging battery to the men sitting in front of us, thanking them for the boost. They didn’t know each other. 

Whining was high this year about the local TV blackout, a controversy irrelevant to me. But they lifted it at the last minute this year due to the circumstances. We adapted again, leaving around Lap 125 in time to watch the last twenty-five at home. 

Josef Newgarden won his second 500 in a row and Roger Penske won his 20th as a team owner. I love what he has done for the track since buying it, but rooting for his teams on race day feels like going to a casino and rooting for the house. 

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway team is awfully good at what they do. The best really. And every year, especially an imperfect one like this year, they rejuvenate my confidence that our community can set aside its differences and accomplish anything when we work together. 

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