The Month of May From England

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By Matthew Lawrenson

Note from George:  If you’ll recall last August, I got an e-mail from a longtime reader of this site, Matthew Lawrenson from the UK, who asked if he could do a guest post giving his perspective of life in the UK as an IndyCar fan. Then this past February, he wanted to give his take on the new TV rights package that appeared to be shutting out fans in the UK. They ended up getting the package just days before the season-opening race at St. Petersburg. Now he would like to share his experiences of watching Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 from overseas. It’s an interesting take, and I think you’ll enjoy it. – GP

I’m sure I wouldn’t be wrong in assuming that most readers of this blog are based in the USA. IndyCar is, after all, based entirely in North America.  As such, most of the media coverage is aimed towards the American market. Understandable, and thankfully these days the internet makes news easier, faster and cheaper to find. But the coverage of the 500 in the UK? Well, good luck in finding any at all.

As a result, the May Experience is somewhat different for the UK-based fan. You wouldn’t think it, but it takes almost as much planning and effort as going to the race in person. So, this post is about how I’ve experienced the last four weeks.

I booked the last week of May off work last July. That was the easy part, seeing as we know the 500 is held on the last Sunday in May. Amusingly, the following day is a Holiday in the UK, except for people in essential services and, sadly, retail. If nothing else, not being at work this week has saved me a day of answering phone calls and saying "We’re open until 10pm as usual." to each and every one of them.

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After that, all I had to do was wait. And, after 9 months of news gradually trickling in from various sources, most of my info I gleaned from the Racer magazine site and Twitter. Yes, thankfully social media is useful for some things and not just a platform for those who like to strongly disagree outside of thumping distance.

I follow several IndyCar related feeds on Twitter. The IMS account, the series account and, of course, one George Phillips. But the most entertaining Tweeter on the IndyCar scene is one J. Douglas Boles. Many is the day is I’ve started up my Twitter app and thought "I wonder what Doug’s up to today?" You find out exactly what the Speedway is like from him. Look, here’s a photo of Doug posting the race tickets; here’s one of Doug taking a photo of some fans when they asked him while passing; and here’s Doug taking donuts to some drenched fans during practice. In fact Doug Boles is so helpful, I half expected to see a tweet from him pictured standing next to the McLaren car during qualifying saying "Fernando’s having car trouble, so I got in and qualified it for him. Always glad to make people’s time at IMS enjoyable! @alo_official"

Once all the prelude is over, we get to see some cars on track. In the UK the first we see is the Indy GP. Contrary to my doom-laden post about TV rights back in March, IndyCar did get our TV rights sorted out, though a lot closer to the first race than I was comfortable with. So, Sky Sports F1 it is. As most of that channel’s content is endlessly repeated filler, it slots in fairly easily. Unfortunately, the Indy GP clashed with a replay of a big soccer match, so I had to watch it in the sports bar with the sound off. "More people" wanted to watch that, apparently.

There’s no coverage of practice on Sky Sports F1, but again the internet comes to the UK IndyCar fan’s rescue. Not from illegal streaming feeds, because piracy is wrong, children. No, we can get the free IndyCar app on our devices too. Not only can you see live timing data, hear a radio feed (albeit 18 seconds behind the timing), you also get an outline track map with little numbered circles going round it. And with the power of IMAGINATION, it’s just like being there. Almost.

That’s how I saw qualifying, the drama of Kyle Kaiser (or as the British media described him ‘some American we’ve never heard of’) bumping Fernando Alonso and everything. The perception of IndyCar amongst most UK race fans is "where drivers who don’t make it in F1 go" and to see a 2-time F1 champion fail to qualify at IMS with the weight of McLaren behind him was ironic to say the least. I’ve amused myself by thinking up chapter titles for books detailing McLaren’s 2019 Indianapolis effort. "Four Corners The Same. How Hard Could It Be?", "But That’s The Wrong Shade Of Orange!" and "You Gave Me A Top Gear Only Good For 227.5?" are what I’ve come up with so far. I’m sure there are many others.

With all that out of the way, I booked my table at the sports bar and looked up the long-range weather forecasts for the Indianapolis area on May 26th. For most of the previous week, I dealt with questions from co-workers about what I was doing on my holiday. It usually went like this :

"What are you doing next week, Matthew?"

"Oh the usual, going to pubs, traveling a bit and watching the Indy 500 on Sunday."

"Indy 500? What’s that?"

"It’s a motor race."

"Is it bikes, like the Isle of Man TT?"

"No, cars. Like Formula 1."

"And where is it?"

"Indianapolis…(pause for blank stare)...it’s in America."

"You’re going to America?"

And so on. Still, my workplace is probably one of the better informed places in England about IndyCar racing now.

Everything went to plan on race day itself for me. I had three beers beforehand, and arrived at 5pm at Wings & Beer Co. for my reserved seat.  They put the sound on my TV up after a few minutes, thus allowing all the bar’s other patrons to be baffled by the 500’s opening ceremonies. "So many singers, and so loud too." indicated the looks on their faces.  When the dudes who were there for the Newport County v Tranmere Rovers fans drank up, I had all of my seating section to myself.

wings&beer

After that, it was easy. Sit down. Watch race. Go to bar and restroom as needed. After it was over, I just made the bus home. So, all in all, a good day for certain sure.

5 Responses to “The Month of May From England”

  1. People think I’m a diehard for being on the road before 5am on race day. But you mate are a genuine diehard IndyCar fan, and I love it! Hopefully someday your passion will rub off on some of your fellow patrons and your section at the pub will be full of race fans.

    Thanks for the story!

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Sounds like a good day to me.. for certain sure, and not too terribly dissimilar to the times I have watched the Chili Bowl at a sports bar during the NFL playoffs.

  3. Bruce B Says:

    Sounds like my struggles trying to follow F1 in the 1970’s. If it wasn’t Monaco a week later, you really didn’t see much else. Try to make the trip over here my British Indy fan! I don’t think you’d be disappointed with the race in person!

  4. Thanks Matthew for sharing your 500 experience in the UK. Most of my family and friends think i am a little nuts sitting in front of TV to watch all the practice, quali, and race days. Now I don’t explain why I am tied up in May.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    As a former resident of Glasgow who learned about the 500 after arriving in Indiana in 1958 then covered about 30 Indy 500s, I found this quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

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