TRAVEL JOURNAL INDEX >Who Are You?
Indianapolis, IN 05/27/06 (Day 32)
Who Are You?
Ever had a dream? We’ve had many and about half of them are about to come true… It’s only 9 am and already we’re getting a tour of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum by none other than Donald Davidson, the track historian. One guy actually walks up to us and whispers “Is that Donald Davidson?” before waking away in awe after we confirm that it is.
Here’s just a sampling of what Mr. Donaldson teaches us: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was built in 1901 as a one mile dirt test track because the roads in Indianapolis were too bad to drive on. It was soon repaved with 200,000 bricks, giving it its lingering nickname, the brickyard. In the late 1930s the bricks were slowly paved over after a team, which Davidson will not name, complained about the bricks. Now just one thin stretch of bricks shows through the paving and those have been diamond ground to reduce friction with the race car tires. Then he shows us a bunch of secret stuff in a secret room that we’re not allowed to tell you about but it was mind boggling. We’re serious. We’re probably already in trouble.
The museum itself is pretty mind-boggling too and we get a kick out of their newest exhibit which recreates a common pit area from the ‘50s, complete with girly calendar and a helpful sign that warns drivers not to try to turn right or turn around on the track.
Then it’s off to watch the annual pre-race parade through the streets of surprisingly charming downtown Indianapolis. Originally Chevrolet had arranged for us to actually drive one of this year’s racers in the parade but that fell through at the last minute so we get to work pretending not to be disappointed as we settle into our seats.
Then, somewhere between a marching band with the world’s biggest drum (we’re skeptical) and Gene Simmons from Kiss (who wrote the race’s pretty icky theme song, “I Am Indy,” and seems happy to stick his tongue out for anyone which is also icky), we get luckier than lucky and end up being driven around the parade in the back of a red 1928 Studebaker. Do not ask us how. We do not exactly know how (thanks Travis). We start waving and hope no one kicks us out as we pull in front of the three Indy racers who will be starting in row one tomorrow. It’s like being in a procession through London right in front of the queen.
Soon, automotive journalist (he’s gonna love that) Mike Austin joins us. Then we pick up jalopnik.com associate editor Ray Wert who literally climbs in the back of the Studebaker while the car is moving and starts whipping the crowd into a pre-race frenzy in an unabashed demonstration of the best thing about parades: the power. If you’re in one, you can get the crowd of spectators huddled along the side of the parade route to do your bidding. If you are over 21, here’s some video of what we mean as demonstraged by Mr. Wert.
The only problem with becoming part of a parade at the very last second is that there is no time to tell the parade announcers who the heck you are. This means we complete the entire parade route without ever being identified, which inspires many in the boiling hot crowd to begin shouting “Who are you?” as we slowly pass by. It’s a good question when you think about it. Perhaps because they, too, had no idea who we were ESPN cuts us out of their televised parade coverage after we’ve called everyone we’ve ever known to tell them to look for us.
We barely make it back to the track in time to get blown off by Lance Armstrong, the guy who gets to drive the Corvette VO6 that is the official pace car this year. To be fair, Lance was a little busy getting some pace car driving pointers from three-time Indy winner Johnny Rutherford who now coaches all Indy 500 pace car drivers. But it didn’t actually look like Lance needed any help as he pulled out onto the track for a practice lap or 12.
Lance eventually gets the Corvette VO6 up to 132 miles an hour, but he’s bummed because he heard Morgan Freeman (who drove the Corvette pace car at the 2004 Indy 500) got up to 152. The guy just does not know how to come in second.
After following Lance around like a puppy for another hour or so, we get blown off again but the sting is lessened by the fact that we also get to be driven around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Corvette pace car. Unfortunately, there are still workers on the track so we have to keep the Corvette under 100 mph. But you can still tick that dream off our list!