Random Thoughts On The 2011 Indianapolis 500

We’re now three days removed from the one-hundredth anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 and the whole day keeps replaying in my mind – the entire month, actually. Now, of course, comes the annual post-race letdown. I took Tuesday off work, just to recuperate physically. This old body doesn’t bounce back as quickly as it used to. Now, if I can only recover mentally…

As I said yesterday, there was so much hype leading up to this race – I was afraid that the race might either be a dud, get rained out or be marred by a tragic accident. Instead; we got a safe race, near-perfect weather and a race for the ages. This one will be talked about for years, and even generations, to come.

The race has been pretty well dissected and documented in every corner, by now. But I wanted to take a look at some of the other aspects that defined the race and the Month of May.

TV coverage: Most of the Month of May TV coverage was handled by Versus. The calendar month actually started on another continent, as the IndyCar Series suffered a one-day rain delay in Brazil. As Versus signed off on Sunday, we were told the race would run at 1:00 on Monday. While most set their DVR accordingly, a few of us saw on Twitter that the race would actually be run at 8:00 Monday morning. Consequently, many came home from work Monday afternoon to watch back-to-back episodes of Sports Soup and fishing. Not good.

But two days later, Versus redeemed themselves with the debut of INDYCAR Open Wheel Weekly. This was (emphasis on “was”) a great show that was funny, informative, had outstanding guests and a great chemistry between the trio hosting the show – Lindy Thackston, Kevin Lee and the unpredictable Robin Miller. We learned this past Monday night that after only four well-done episodes, the show has been put on hiatus due to lack of sponsorship. Their Tuesday at 4:00pm time slot was horrible. I always remembered to set the DVR, but I know several hard-core IndyCar fans that didn’t. If they could get a prime-time slot on Tuesday or Wednesday evenings, that would be ideal. Lindy Thackston actually moved back to Indianapolis from her home in Orlando, in order to do the weekly show – which was originally scheduled to run through the end of the season. This puts a huge damper on what had been a strong Month of May for Versus.

I say that because I thought their efforts in covering qualifying weekend were outstanding. I wasn’t crazy about having part of Pole Day dumped in favor of a Preakness Pre-Race show, but I thought they did an excellent job overall. The addition of Wally Dallenbach in the booth has worked much better than I had originally thought, and I think Kevin Lee has been the consummate professional in the pits with Lindy Thackston. I finally finished watching my DVR coverage of qualifying weekend just right before I returned to Indianapolis for race weekend and I give them an A-grade for their efforts, especially during the rain delays.

I watched the ESPN coverage of the race in its entirety on Monday night when I returned. I had heard a lot of negative comments about too many commercials, missing a re-start and how clueless the guys in the booth were. Although I didn’t think their efforts matched what Versus had done the previous week, I thought they did a pretty decent job. The opening was good. I realize I live under a rock, but I have no idea who “veteran actor William Fichtner” was. I understand that he is on Entourage” but since I’ve never seen that show, his significance was lost on me. Still, I thought he did a good job delivering his lines as he walked at a very fast pace on the track as graphically produced images of iconic cars raced by.

I am still at a loss as to why Brent Musburger is on the telecast. The role of host is a little awkward and I don’t understand why it is necessary. It adds a nice touch to hear Musburger’s voice giving his signature “You are looking live…” but after that, it’s clear the man knows nothing about racing. I question if he even watches any other races throughout the year. His mispronunciations are inexcusable and his infatuation with Danica Patrick is laughable. When she was running as far back as nineteenth, Brent barely glossed over the leaders as he started frothing at the mouth at the mere sight of Danica’s Go Daddy car. When she actually led a few laps, one sensed he needed to excuse himself.

I thought ESPN did a nice job giving us different shots of the Speedway. Their cable-cam is irritating for fans in the seats, but gives unique angles for television. They also had some very impressive aerial shots.

The pit coverage was solid. Dr. Jerry Punch, Jamie Little and Rick DeBruhl do good work together. The only thing that bothered me was once when Jamie Little pointed out that someone was taking four tires. Uh, Jamie…it’s only in NASCAR when that is something of note.

As for the guys in the booth, I still consider Marty Reid to be the weak link. He comes across like he should be hosting Hollywood Squares, instead of the TV voice of the 500. I know many consider Scott Goodyear to be very boring; I just call him reserved – which isn’t always a bad thing. Eddie Cheever brought a little more candor this year, which is why they brought him on board. As for too many commercials – be glad someone is willing to buy airtime and they did give us the side-by-side that NASCAR and FOX are now claiming credit for. Overall, I didn’t hear any major gaffes that offended me as a fan and I’ll give ESPN a B-grade for Sunday’s coverage.

Pre-race traffic: I should have seen this coming. With ticket sales up this year, it was obvious that there would be more congestion on the roads on Sunday morning. It didn’t help that I missed my usual exit and had to find my way to the north end of the track, when I usually go into the 16thStreet tunnel on Race Day. But from the comments I heard from others, I’m not sure that would’ve made a difference. An overnight stabbing on Georgetown Road along with a pedestrian being struck and killed in the same area didn’t help, as Georgetown Road was closed off for hours before the bomb went off.

Speaking of the bomb, they might want to look at opening the track at 5:00 am. That’s what time they used to open it before they moved the start of the race back. They moved it to 6:00 to coincide with the move to Daylight Savings Time in Indiana. Now that they have lopped an hour off of the race morning, it might help relieve some of the congestion to open the gates at 5:00.

The construction on I-465 at the Crawfordsville Road exit surely played a part in everyone’s traffic nightmare. The traffic situation seemed to be a common thread among everyone I talked to on race morning. I am normally inside the track by 7:00 or no later than 7:30. Tthis year, it was almost 9:00. Whoever is in charge of such things, has some homework to do before next May.

PA sound problems: Another snafu had to do with the PA system at the track. While Dave Calabro sounded fine, there were problems with the other microphones. Miss America was so loud in her singing that it sounded like she was going to crack the speakers and had some feedback on her rendition of America The Beautiful. Then they had the opposite problem with Taps and Back Home Again In Indiana, two of my favorite moments. The sound was so low at the beginning of each, you could barely hear it.

On the plus side – Bob Jenkins did a nice job spelling Calabro from time to time on the PA.

Flags on the grid: Being the fuddy-duddy that I am, I usually don’t enjoy change. A vast improvement must be abundantly clear before I’ll accept any change – especially when it is in regards to the sacred pre-race ceremonies of the Indianapolis 500. But there was a new touch on Sunday that I rather enjoyed. There were banners by each car on the grid. As each driver was introduced on the yard of bricks, the banner by their car was raised for all to see on the main straightway. By the time all the drivers were introduced and all the flags were raised, the whole thing formed a giant American flag. Personally, I thought it was a nice touch.

Vintage cars & iconic drivers: I really enjoyed seeing the 1911 cars running down the main straightaway, along with the former winners riding on the back of the pace cars. I also enjoyed seeing these iconic drivers piloting the legendary winning cars from past decades. The only thing I would have changed would have been to do it before the starting field was placed on the grid on the main stretch. They sort of had to snake their way through the pits and those that had seats on the front stretch (like me) never really got a good look at those cars running.

Pre-race flyover: Normally, the pre-race flyover is directly over the front-straightaway where everyone can see it from their seats. This year, the stealth bomber flew over the direct center of the track, making it virtually impossible for those of us sitting behind the pits to see it. Bummer.

Weather: After such oppressive heat last year, the forecast looked like we were in for more of the same this year. Surprisingly, it was quite pleasant. There was a nice breeze from the south and I never got overly hot. For the first time all month, rain was never even a possibility on Sunday.

Crowd behavior: I’ve had the same seats since 2004. In that time, I’ve come across my share of unruly fans in our section. This year however, most everyone seemed to be there to watch the race instead of seeing how much alcohol they could consume before noon. Although there were a few exceptions, the post-race crowd afterwards seemed much more well-behaved also.

Official Program: Last year, I griped that the 2010 program was one of the worst programs that IMS had ever come up with. The cover was terrible, the pages were of a thin, cheap stock and there was very little content. Well, they redeemed themselves this year. The 2011 program was excellent. It had a lot of historical facts, as well as great photos of current and historic cars. But the best thing is that all ninety-five races are given a one-page summary, along with stats and a photo that is rarer than most. Although the program is up to fifteen dollars, it is well worth the money.

All in all: I came away from my two weekends at IMS, very impressed. The place is a well-oiled machine. They do what they do very well. Do they suffer the occasional glitch? Of course they do. Show me a facility that handles the amount of people they do in the Month of May, that doesn’t have a random problem.

From the concessions, to the ticket office, to the gift shops and all of the “yellow shirts” that keep things moving; they can pull off an event like this almost without a hitch. I would also like to thank Tim Sullivan in the IMS Media Center for treating us so well. Whether you are a lowly blogger or the top dog with ESPN, everyone is treated equally and made to feel welcome in the Media Center. For people like Susan and myself in the former category, we were certainly made to feel at home.

And then of course, there was that race. The more I think about it and the more time goes on, I’m thinking that the 2011 Indianapolis 500 may end up being one of my favorite races. It already is my favorite that I have attended in person, but it may become my all-time favorite. Whenever I think about it, which is still about 99.9% of my waking moments – I still feel myself just beaming. I am so fortunate to have witnessed it in person.

Susan and I will have a few more posts this week about the 500, then we’ll turn the page and focus on next weekend’s race at Texas. Hopefully, by then I’ll come out of my post-race letdown and actually be able to look forward. Probably not.

George Phillips

28 Responses to “Random Thoughts On The 2011 Indianapolis 500”

  1. Maybe the George’s should check out some new speakers, not the first time I’ve heard the sound system was a bit out-of-date.

    Of course you didn’t see the stealth bomber–that’s the whole point.

  2. Two more thoughts, sorry–not awake yet. I’ve said this before, but seems like it would better to capitalize on the momentum of the 500 and have another race in the week immediately following it. And–about Open Wheel Weekly–no sponsor, is that why it’s gone? Really? On a channel with 75 different fishing shows and 52 hunting shows, they couldn’t find anyone to sponsor one little ol’ racing show?

  3. Is it just me or is it time for Mari Hulman George to be retired from the ‘start engines’ command. By far the biggest question I heard from the non-fans that was watching the 500 is “who is that old woman?” She may have done more for Indy cars than most anyone around but it may be time to step aside from that tradition. It would be a great marketing opportunity for the league to have not a B-list celebrity give the command but maybe look within the league to someone who has given more to the sport that most: sam schmidt and alex zanadri come to mind. Or how about a fan or high school essay/multimedia contest that requires some effort on the part of a “regular person” to get up there in front of millions. Better yet …. give a Make A Wish kid a chance to do it. Imagine what the smile on the Make A Wish kid’s face would have been when they cut to the pace car camera as it made its way around the track at the start of the race. AJ Foyt would have been really smiling big knowing he was making that kid’s wish come true. MH George could ride around the track in any other car she wanted.

    • indygrrl Says:

      Fly Tamikazu Fakuda (the Samurai Starter from Motegi) in for it. Will certainly add some excitement.

    • I’d recommend an A-list celebrity, a racing legend such as Mario or A.J., a military serviceman such as a soldier-of-the-year, or a Make-A-Wish type deal.

    • indygrrl Says:

      The Make a Wish idea is a good one, but I can see the team sponsors jockeying for position to get their favorite charity (tax write offs) representative in the car and it would end up being some political thing instead of making a wish come true. Wouldn’t you like to be around the meeting table while the suits were all trying to figure out which “illness” would get top billing at Indy.

  4. Simona Fan Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the race and can’t wait to go to my first IndyCar race of my life next week in Texas. My wife now knows something about the drivers and will probably be rooting for JR Hildebrand to redeem himself with a win there. Couldn’t ask for anything more from the race.

    As far as the broadcast goes, the problem I have with Marty Reid is that he doesn’t know the cars. “There’s a car on the apron!” I can see that Marty, who is it? Or “Alex Tagliani goes around…… (checks his cheatsheet for five seconds’) … Oriol Servia”. It’s obvious that he hasn’t been at the track all month and he doesn’t know the cars on sight.

    And Scott Goodyear is just never excited, impressed or surprised. Decades from now they’ll show Hildebrand crashing into the wall and instead of hearing the broadcast booth go crazy, like play-by-play guys should, they’ll hear Marty trying to finish his sentence about how great it is for a National Guard car to win on Memorial Weekend while Scott Goodyear gives a disappointed “oh….”. They’ll have to use the IMS radio broadcast audio to make it sound amazing.

  5. Ron Ford Says:

    I liked everything about the race. It pretty much had it all and will rank as one of my all time favorites.

    My only complaint, and it is a minor one, is regarding the national anthem. Some guy named Seal, a faux country and western singer and a piano player. Lots of vocal histrionics. Why not just a simple, straightforward rendition? I am quite sure that a singer from the armed forces or even a kid from the Broadripple High School glee club could have done better. Maybe I had one too many bowls of grumpy flakes this morning.

    Now I am off to the Milwaukee Mile track this morning to watch testing. There will be IndyCar testing there today through Friday. The promoter will be throwing a “watching party” for fans. Sunshine, 75 degrees, beer, brats, and racing. Life is good:)

    • indygrrl Says:

      I gotta disagree there. I do like a traditional Star Spangled Banner rendition, and living in Nashville, I have heard every rendition there can be from some pretty famous people at the Titans and Predators games. I thought Seal and Kelly Clarkson did a great job on the anthem. I guess since they dumped Trump, they had to bring in some star power somewhere. It was stylized, but in a good way.

    • Definitely should’ve had one of the armed forces’ chorales’ members sing our anthem in uniform, appropriately, straight, rather than cheese-it-up so that we’re not so puzzled and disgusted at our anthem’s abuse and our non-IndyCar-fan friends and relatives don’t ask us if this ‘performance’ is typical

      • indygrrl Says:

        Unfortunately it is the non-IndyCar fans that they are trying to “hook” by bringing in some big name stars to participate any way they can. I DO prefer a traditional Star Spangled Banner, but there are some pop stars that can really do it well, I just can’t think of them right now. Lady Gaga:-/ It was like that thing they did a few years ago with Gene Simmons doing “I AM INDY!”

  6. I don’t want to be negative after that Epic 500, but I really have come around to the opinion that Indycar has got to get out of this Vs. contract. Don’t misunderstand, I love the production that they have put together, and it is worlds better than ABC/ESPN’s indifferent efforts. It’s just that I don’t really think Comcast/NBC/Vs. is a committed partner to raising Indycar’s profile. With sponsorship dollars hard to come by, TV ratings are a huge incentive for wooing new sponsors. Vs. just hasn’t delivered.

    I had hoped the Comcast/NBC merger might offer a way back onto broadcast TV, with a quality product, but after seeing how they gutted the Vs. website of Indycar content, and now canceled this show after 1 month, in favor of showing reruns of fishing shows, I’d say the writing is on the wall.

    In an ideal world, IMS Productions could take over the TV production of the races, and bring in the right talent (like Vs. did), but still have the races broadcast on the ABC/ESPN megalith, which is what the sponsors want. Maybe there’s a way to cut a deal there, maybe not.

  7. George you are absolutely right on the 2011 program. I loved it! Great stuff!

  8. George, I concur with most all of your assessments except that I still haven’t watched the telecast replay yet. I live in that dreaded ABC57 South Bend market that broke away from the race with a ‘dangerous’ weather update that lasted for the entire last 15 LAPS OF THE 100th ANNIVERSARY INDY 500. Sponsors here are livid as are the people who take the time to watch live. I can’t bear to watch the thing. I know I will, but no impetus to do so, especially since I was there in person.

    Almost every year I have something that I wish they would include in the pre-green flag build-up. This year’s was the 1911 race cars and previous winners in different decade cars bit. I greatly appreciate seeing the drivers and cars from the past. Having them featured in the festivities should be an annual event just as Jim Nabors, Taps, and the command.

    While it was a good race with on track passing and many ‘OH NOOO” moments watching cars going side by side into Turn 1, it didn’t feel like a true race for the ages until the yellow at lap 158 when I knew that fuel and gambling could be pivotal should the race go green for the remainder.

    I was betting on a late yellow, which didn’t come and then set up one of the best closing 10 laps I can remember. It was a great race and I can only hope to be able to see and record that finish it somehow.

    • Simona Fan Says:


      If you have cable you should be able to watch the race in its entirety on ESPN3.com. They should have the whole race sans weather interruption.

  9. carburetor Says:

    I would have to agree w/Tom G. As much as I enjoy the Versus coverage of our sport, they do not have sufficient market penetration to really help propel the sport back into sponsorship prominence. Don’t know if any of you caught the article and comments by the Go Daddy CEO about Versus (compared them to short-wave radio…) but he was all for D Patrick moving to NASCAR full time because of his belief in the greater exposure of NASCAR for sponsors. Similarly, the article in last week’s Sports Illustrated was equally non-flattering. We have to find a network with sufficient clout to generate some passion about IndyCar…

    • Ron Ford Says:

      The Go Daddy suit also said that watching IndyCar was like “watching paint dry”. Jerk!

    • I also agree that the Versus presentation of races and the Tuesday shows has been high-quality & admirable BUT Versus lacks market penetration to ‘help propel the sport into prominence.’ I had hoped that IndyCar might be shifted to NBC or that versus would be renamed NBCSports and NBC would HEAVILY promoted the renamed channel…
      However, Comcast apparently wants to use hockey and IndyCar to grow interest in Versus, so … that’s not exposing our sport to a wider audience. Home viewers who enjoyed the 500 show on ABC cannot tun in to ABC on June 4, 5, 11, or 12 to see another IndyCar race…

  10. billytheskink Says:

    This race was my first trip to the Speedway and it was about as perfect as a trip can be.

    The race was great, the events surrounding the race were great, the weather was great, and everyone we dealt with (yellow shirts, police, locals, race fans) was very friendly and helpful.
    My father and I found getting to and from the track on race day to be much easier than we anticipated, though that obviously wasn’t the case for everyone.

    I’ve been to a handful of big sporting events in my life, but Indy was the best-run and certainly the most sincere of any of these events.

  11. I guess as far as “crowd behavior” you were not on the Main Gate parking as we were. Each person was edging and inching toward the only exit on to 16th Street that was full or other traffic and pedestrians. There were 65 cops, non of which were assisting. After at least an hour of idling, when we edged closer, a corvette convertible driver asked us to roll down our window and shouted, ” Move ahead one more inch if you want a crease in your car.” We exchanged a few words, indeed did inch forward, but decided with his attitude, he indeed should travel on first. He skidded his testosterone filled tires as he left the lot and we had to just laugh!

    • He’s driving a Corvette and threatening to “crease” your car? Unless it’s a Ford Pinto, I’m thinking that dude is creasing before you.

      And everyone knows ability to skid tires is directly related to I.Q.

  12. George,

    Most of your comments on the race are spot-on. Like you, I could not see the flyover, as we were seated in the next to the top row of the lower deck paddock, roughly 150 yards past the yard of bricks. As a result, the “roof” over our head obscured any view of anything high up, including the video boards if you were standing.

    It was VERY obvious where, in the opening ceremonies, ABC was at commercial. Everything ground to a halt, and, at one point, Dave Collabro even pointed out that ABC was on “break.”

    The PA system was absolutely worthless at the end of the race (or during anytime when there was significant crowd noise.) I was pointing out to my wife that Hildebrand had crashed and still won, until the scoring strip on the aforementioned “roof” told me otherwise. In the excitement, we completely missed Wheldon getting by. I had taken this into account and brought a “Walkman” so I could listen to the IMS network, but, unfortunately, the batteries died early on and, silly me, I did not bring a spare.

    In fact, we had to hurry back to our motel in Anderson after the race so as to see what had happened at the end. (Race is broadcast on delay on the Indy ABC affiliate at 7 pm.)

    One thing that really surprised us was the difficulty getting into the Speedway for Carb Day. Having watched the event the last few years on TV, I was totally unaware that there were so many in attendance, probably since most of them were hanging out in turn 2 waiting for the concert. We had left the northeast side of town around 9 am, and still completely missed the INDYCAR practice.

    In the final analysis, I probably won’t go back again. This was a special year, but much as I love the 500 and am glued to any and all coverage thereof, the trip is simply too long and daunting and the views from my recliner are more all encompassing. I found myself wondering how, when the field would go three wide into turn one, (and out of my view) they would manage to get through without incident.

    Yes, taking in all the people, sights and sounds of the bands and early festivities is good and something everyone should experience once in their lifetime. And, yes, it was good to see all the things that the Hulman/George family has done to the place since last I attended a race in 1987. Maybe I would reconsider if I had a friend with a suite, or a motor home to camp out in, but barring those unlikely events, I suspect I’ll be watching from home henceforth.


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