Guess Where I’m Going Today

This week I have the opportunity to do something I’ve wanted to do all my life, but was never able to do it until now. As most of you read this, I am on my way back to Indianapolis less than forty-eight hours after leaving there on Sunday. I am heading back up in order to attend every practice session leading up to Qualifying Weekend and I hope to be there by the time practice starts this morning at 11:00 EDT.

I’ve mentioned here before that a couple of years ago, my job was outsourced. Even though I am doing the same job and even stayed in the same office with the same phone number – I had a new employer. While there were many positives associated with that move, one of the negatives was that I lost all of my vacation time that I had built up (five weeks) with my old employer.

Over the past two years, I’ve built some vacation time back up; but guess what – it’s happened again. My current employer has lost the contract, effective July 1. Fortunately the new contractor has agreed to retain me (albeit with a sizable pay cut), but again I lose my vacation time. So since I have some time to burn before July 1, I’ve chosen to use it doing something I’ve always wanted to do – attend the week of practice.

Some of you will be very envious, while some will be perplexed at how I could spend four days of vacation at The Speedway just watching cars go by endlessly from 11:00 to 6:00 each and every day, Tuesday through Friday. To each his own, but I can’t think of a better way to spend four days. Even if it rains every day, I think I will still have the time of my life…but I’m hoping for sunny skies each day.

My wife, Susan, was with me this past weekend at the Grand Prix. But she is trying to save her own vacation time and not burn it, so I’ll be in Indianapolis alone all week. However, she was able to find an ultra-cheap flight to Indianapolis on Friday night so she will be back with me for qualifying and then we will both drive back to Nashville next Sunday night…until we come back Friday for the race. That’s the craziness that comes with the Month of May.

I started attending Pole Day as a kid starting in 1967, and attended every Pole Day thereafter through 1972. After the 1972 race, my father inexplicably lost interest in the Indianapolis 500. I went twenty years before returning for the frigid 1992 race. In 1993, I attended Pole Qualifying Weekend. My first wife’s father (who was a great guy) had a friend that worked for USAC and he got us into the garage area for the whole weekend. I was in absolute heaven. That’s when I learned how much I enjoyed just sitting in the stands watching practice.

We had planned to return for the first qualifying weekend the next year, but my father’s illness prevented that from happening. However, he insisted we attend the race two weeks later (which we did). After he passed away in December of 1994, I bought two bronze badges for 1995 so that we wouldn’t have to keep glomming on to my father-in-law’s friend. My wife went with me the first weekend, but my oldest brother joined me at the track the second weekend – the weekend that Team Penske failed to make the race.

By that time, I had realized just how addicted I had become to just being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It didn’t matter if it was for the race, qualifying, practice or if there was snow on the ground in February – I just loved being inside that track.

When live streaming of practice for the Indianapolis 500 became a thing about twenty years ago, I found that I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I would sit at work sneaking peaks whenever I could, just to catch the feeling of being at the track. I made a promise to myself that someday, I would go and spend the whole first week of practice.

In those days, that required quite a commitment – of both time and money. Opening Day was on Saturday and they would practice all day every day until the next Saturday, which was Pole Day. So not only was that an entire week away from work, you were talking about a very extended and expensive stay in a hotel room – plus meals.

One silver lining to more and more practice days being lopped off of the IMS calendar is that in order to keep that promise to myself, I’m only talking three extra days of vacation time from what I normally do these days. Nowadays, most hotels offer a free hot breakfast and the IMS Media Center has a cafeteria for lunch. My out-of-pocket meals are limited to what I eat for dinner and however many classic jumbo tenderloins I want to eat at the track. Plus, with Susan’s job where she travels so much – she has points built up with practically every major hotel chain, so this extended stay at IMS will not cost me much at all.

I had mentioned to a few people back in April that I was thinking about doing this. Some that live in the Indianapolis area were even kind enough to offer me a place to stay. While that was greatly appreciated, I think my presence would get old after a day or so. Plus, after spending all day at the track – I’ll probably be ready for some alone time each night. But thanks to those that offered.

I will still be posting from here regularly – even more so. Some of the things I had planned for this week will still be here each morning, but there could also be updates from the track here each day. When I post updates depends on what is going on each day.

So follow along as I go on my great adventure. By Wednesday afternoon, I may be wondering what in the world I was thinking to do this – but I don’t think so. Even though I’m about to spend six full days in a row at the track, I think those days will fly by – but it will be good to have Susan rejoin me on Friday night.

By the end of the week, I’ll give an honest assessment if this is something I would recommend. I figure that there are others out there who have wondered about just hanging out at IMS for all of practice, but never acted on it. I figured with my job situation and the way my vacation time keeps getting reset to zero, this would be the only opportunity I would have to do this until I’m retired. And by then, I may be too old to do it…or enjoy it. So, I’ve pulled the trigger and taken advantage of this opportunity to experience something I never have at IMS. I can’t wait to see how I like it.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Guess Where I’m Going Today”

  1. The chance of rain in Indy is low until Sunday when the odds go to 40 percent. Temperatures should be good. I’ll be up there Saturday and Sunday, with a Saturday night detour to Indiana Downs in Shelbyville after qualifications. Looking forward to a great weekend! Have fun this week! I used to go to the opening day of practice in the pre-grand prix days. It is a nice and relaxing way to spend the day(s).

  2. No doubt you’ll have the time of your life and won’t be bored for one minute (at the track). If you need someone to join you for a tenderloin at Dawson’s and talk track, or race karts at Ms. Fisher’s place, just hollar!

  3. Sounds like a pretty fantastic week to me. Enjoy!

  4. James T Suel Says:

    George I have done it many times . I’ve seen every race since 1960, and have spent many May’s at the speedway. 1968 I got out of high school and spent my last free summer, going to every IndyCar race on the schedule. Spent the entire month of may at the speedway. This year I went to the Gp a d will be this Friday, thru the weekend.a d the race weekend. So enjoy hope to bump into you up there.

  5. Patrick Says:

    I have used vacation time to attend practice since 1969. I can’t tell you how enjoyable it has been to watch my favorite drivers on a daily basis. Gary Bettenhausen, Tim Richmond, and Simona. You will have a great time and if I see you I will say hi.

  6. have fun george, look forward to reading about your week in Indy.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Sounds like a great use of vacation time to me.

  8. Good for you George . I have done the entire practices before , I have lied , Quit a job when I was 20 years old and returned to Indiana for the month of May. I am much like you and enjoy being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway any time of the year . I already know how much you will enjoy the practice days . This year no practice as I am busy until May 20th so no practice this week . One thing I have picked up on practice days is the sound of the Speedway . I am going to make a wager on the Horse Wing & Wheel running tomorrow as it is May . Enjoy George .

  9. Bruce B Says:

    This is awesome George! With the job changing so much, maybe someone can make room for you on the Indy reporting staff. Always enjoy your reports!! Have a great time!!! Vvvrrrooooooomm!!!

  10. Ron Ford Says:

    George, by now I imagine you have a custom seat cushion with a cupholder for your classic tenderloin mustard. Perhaps you can arrange to have Robin Miller do an interview with you as part of his open wheel “tough guy” series. You being someone who has he mental and physical toughness to sit through countless practices through the years despite what the weather throws at you.

  11. Yannick Says:

    It comes as a complete surprise to me that you have chosen to cover Indianapolis 500 Practice from trackside this year. I remember while I was still at uni, I ran the webstream in the background while working and I could listen to the sound of the engines and the voice of IMS radio network. From that experience, I guess for spectators, it might be a bit like going fishing but for the drivers and teams on track, it’s a lot of hard work. Also, it is likely that by being trackside, you are going to pick up some kind of information that will help you pick the correct winner ahead of the race. Here’s hoping that your room for the week of practise is actually cheaper than for the weekend of the race.

  12. Yannick Says:

    Correction: “on” … I meant “on the weekend of the race”… I guess the non-native speaker just let his guard down a little after a long working day.

  13. Mark Wick Says:

    George, you will be in heaven, unless it rains all day. For about 20 years I was at IMS every day in May from opening day on, including some days when no running was scheduled. One year in the early 80s I arrived at the track before it opened Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, as I had done for about 10 years, but when I arrived on Tuesday, I was prepared to stay in the track until after the fourth day of qualifying. I literally lived in the track for nearly two weeks.
    Some of my many years covering the race I was being paid by the day, plus payment for whatever photos I had published. Most years I was there on my own, with payment for photos published.
    I know you will enjoy your time there.

  14. Talón de Brea Says:

    You get to do this AND you still have a wife … good for you!

  15. Congrats on attending the week long practice sessions. I am SO jealous. Have been watching since the first moment today, but to be there would be so sweet.

    I am sorry about your job situation. Enjoy your time off.

  16. Patrick Says:

    Today I was able to give Dario some original newspaper clippings and pictures of Jimmy Clark from 1965. He seemed thrilled to get them. I didn’t get to talk to him much because he was being mobbed by autograph seekers. I have been carrying that stuff around for a couple years waiting for an opportunity to give it to him. Wish I could have talked to him for a minute or two but maybe some other time. Looking forward to another great day tomorrow and maybe I’ll see George.

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