One thing never changes about Memorial Day weekend: I always find a way to watch the Indianapolis 500.
When I was young, I listened to the race on the radio while at family gatherings. I have a clear memory of listening to Gordon Johncock winning the 500 the year we picnicked to a park in Lake Station (I think it was Lake Station, memory is slippery like that).
I’ve been lucky enough to visit the track once on a field trip, a few weeks after the race (pre-Brickyard 400 era). We drove around the track in a tour bus, which is nothing like taking laps at top speed in an open wheel racecar, but does give you some idea of the sheer size of the Speedway. We bought a lightswitch cover shaped like a racecar that was installed in my brother’s room. I sat in a racecar and imitated Bobby Rahal’s fistpump after his 500 win.
Living in Indiana, as I did for much of my life, you always hear about people going down to Indy in May to spectate or work at the track or volunteer at one of the 500 Festival events. I know some of my friends from Purdue are at the race right now as I type this. But I’ve never actually watched the 500-Mile Race live.
I think I’d like to do that, once. Just once.
Watching the 500 is one of the ways I connect with Indiana. It’s one of the few links back to home and childhood that I cherish, like Peanut Buster bars at Dairy Queen and Chicago TV news. Wherever I may be on Memorial Day weekend, I will always make a little time for the race. Sure, the 500 doesn’t have the lustre it did back in the day, but that’s not the point. The point is the shared experience with millions of race fans and millions of Hoosiers around the world. The point is to see open wheel racecars go really fast. Vroom vroom.