It Just Won’t Be the Same

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Welcome to the Month of May! The first day in May has always been special to me. When I was a kid in the sixties, May 1 was the day that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway officially opened for practice for the Indianapolis 500. That was also the date that my father would start his annual month-long subscription to The Indianapolis Star, because that was about the only way to get any news from the track during the month, while living in Tennessee.

As I grew older, the Month of May grew shorter. The first week of practice was lopped off in 1974 in response to the nation’s energy crisis, and it never came back. Then the second weekend of qualifying was done away with in 1998, only to be reinstated in 2001 before permanently being done away with again in 2010. Last year, practice for the Indianapolis 500 didn’t start until the Tuesday before the single Qualifying weekend.

May 1 has also become an annual milestone in recent years. That is the anniversary of when I launched this site. It was eleven years ago today on May 1, 2009 that I posted my first article here. Today’s post marks 2,089 articles that I’ve posted, with 23,984 comments. Last year at this time was a big celebration for me when I reached ten years with this site. This year, eleven seems a little meh.

Last year was another milestone for me, however. For the first time in my life, I fulfilled a life-long dream of being present at IMS for every practice day in 2019, leading up to Qualifying weekend. After being there for the Grand Prix weekend, Susan and I drove back to Nashville on Sunday. I worked on Monday and then drove back up to Indianapolis by myself Monday night, so I could be at the track on Tuesday morning. I had no agenda or no one to answer to. I just went and did whatever I wanted to at IMS for four straight days. Susan flew back up to Indianapolis to join me late Friday night and we drove back together that Sunday night after qualifying was over. It was one of the most enjoyable weeks I’ve ever spent and I hope to do it again sometime…but it won’t be this year.

As we all know, this year we are losing our Month of May. Throughout the whole COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve managed to stay fairly upbeat and positive. Even as the country begins to start trying to reach the first stages of normalcy in May, this is going to be a very odd month for us racing fans. Not only has a wheel not yet turned for the NTT IndyCar Series, our Month of May has been lost. Yes, the Indianapolis 500 has been postponed to August 23, and not cancelled – and I think it will run in August – but it just won’t be the same.

I’m not a lover of the GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but I had grown accustomed to it serving as the official kickoff for the Month of May. It will now run in July, with another visit to the IMS road course now scheduled for October. The Indianapolis 500 will now be a stand-alone event for two weekends in August – sandwiched in between Mid-Ohio and Gateway – with practice starting on Wednesday before qualifying.

Roger Penske and Doug Boles have said they are going to try and keep things as normal as possible, but it won’t be the same. Jim Cornelison will sing (Back Home Again in) Indiana for the fourth year in a row, for which I am very thankful. A celebrity will sing our National Anthem and there will (hopefully) be balloons launched before the command to start engines. Will Taps be played this year? That is usually in keeping with the Memorial Day weekend to honor those that gave the ultimate sacrifice. Will it be appropriate to do that in August? I think so, but I’m not sure it will happen. I am pretty certain that the winner will drink milk after the race, although I’m always hopeful that they won’t pour it over their head or sling it around Victory Lane.

Despite all of those familiar traditions, IMS just won’t feel the same in late August as it usually does in May. One positive note is that central Indiana doesn’t get near as much rain in August as it does in May. And for those of you that are predicting unbearable heat in August, the average temperature in Indianapolis for Aug 23 over the past two years has been 79°. Anything close to that this August will be much better than what we dealt with in 2006 and 2012 – so I actually think the weather may be an improvement over what we usually see in May. But even if it’s an improvement, it just won’t be the same.

Normally, I go from posting three times a week to every day in the Month of May. I won’t be doing that this year. I will also forego the usual Indianapolis 500 Trivia Contest that I do here every May. I may or may not do it in August, but it is very doubtful that I will be posting every day in August. It just won’t be the same.

I also have an idea that in August, we may get an abbreviated version of Donald Davidson and The Talk of Gasoline Alley (TOGA). That’s been an ongoing issue for the past few years. A decade or so ago, TOGA would start as early as the end of April (depending on how the calendar fell). Donald would do a nightly hour on 1070 The Fan; and then another hour on Network Indiana – sometimes even on the weekend, both hours streamed live. Now Donald starts around the fourth or fifth of May and we get only one hour on weeknights. If the Pacers are in the playoffs, he gets preempted some nights.

Fortunately, we will be getting Donald once a week this May. Starting next Thursday May 7, Donald will be on every Thursday from 6:00 to 7:00 pm EDT. That will give us a tantalizing taste of normalcy. For a couple of weeks in late March, he came on for the second hour of Trackside. With Mid-Ohio the weekend before Qualifying weekend, I have an idea we’ll just get two weeks of Donald this August – just another reason why it just won’t be the same.

We have plans to be at the track in August for Fast Friday, Qualifying Weekend, Carb Day and Race Weekend. We know there are no major bands scheduled for Carb Day, but being the old fogy that I am – I see that as a good thing. As for Legends Day, if they run the vintage cars on Saturday morning of Race Weekend – I’ll be happy. Anything else that day is just a bonus.

So welcome to the Month of May! Any other time, we would be amped up and ready to dive right into car and driver combinations, who needs sponsorship and what rides are still available. Instead, we are starved for racing and the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is still 113 days away. When it gets here, we’ll appreciate it just that much more. Best of all, when it does finally run in August, we’ll be just nine months away from the 105th Running. But this May, it just won’t be the same.

George Phillips

18 Responses to “It Just Won’t Be the Same”

  1. Dave from Mukwonago Says:

    I think the strangest thing will be the reduced attendance. I think it will feel much different walking the grounds that weekend. Hope I’m wrong.

  2. It will seem like just another race weekend with races on either side of it. You are right, it just won’t be the same,

  3. Bob F. Says:

    What have they done to my Glorious Month of May? Only bright spot is if it gets rained out on the 23rd, they would likely run the race the next day on my birthday. That would be a story I could tell for years to come.

  4. Jack in Virginia Says:

    I think they should still play Taps, but dedicate it to those who lost their battle with Covid-19.

    • Bruce B Says:

      In all due respect for those that have lost their lives to COVID-19, the playing of Taps should be solely for the military tribute. But as we know, nothing stays the same. Thanks for your dedicated blog George! 👍

      • Alan Stewart Says:

        Taps can be played anytime, and honor whoever. It’s not just a military tribute. I absolutely think it should be played, though. No, the calendar won’t say May, but I think they should keep everything in the order it’s always been.

        • Bruce Waine Says:

          24 NOTES THE STORY OF TAPS
          by Jari Villanueva, Taps Historian Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized or more apt to evoke emotion than “Taps.” The melody is both eloquent and haunting and the history of its origin is interesting and somewhat clouded in controversy and myth.

          The use of “Taps” is unique to the United States military, as the call is sounded at funerals, wreath-laying ceremonies and memorial services.

          “Taps” originally began as a signal to extinguish lights. Up until the Civil War, the infantry call for “Extinguish Lights” was the one set down in the Infantry manuals which had been borrowed from the French.

          The music for “Taps” was changed by Major General Daniel Adams Butterfield for his brigade in July, 1862. Butterfield was not pleased with the call for “Extinguish Lights” feeling that it was too formal to signal the day’s end. With the help of the brigade bugler, Oliver Willcox Norton, he created “Taps” to honor his men while in camp at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia following the Seven Days’ battles during the Peninsular Campaign.

          Butterfield did not compose “Taps” but actually revised an earlier bugle call.

          The call we know today as “Taps” existed in an early version of the call “Tattoo” which had gone out of use by the Civil War.

          Butterfield knew this early call from his days before the war as a colonel in the 12th New York Militia. As a signal at the end of the day, armies have used “Tattoo” to alert troops to prepare for the evening roll call. Butterfield took the last 5 and a half measures of the “Tattoo” and revised them into the 24 notes we know today.

          The new call soon spread to other units of the Union Army.

          The earliest official reference to the mandatory use of “Taps” at military funeral ceremonies is found in the U.S. Army Infantry Drill Regulations for 1891, although it had doubtless been used unofficially long before that time, under its former designation, “Extinguish Lights.”

          The first use of “Taps” at a funeral was during the Peninsular Campaign in Virginia. Captain John C. Tidball of Battery A, 2nd Artillery ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Because the enemy was close, he worried that the traditional three volleys would renew fighting.

          The origin of the word “Taps” is thought to have come from the Dutch word for “Tattoo”“Taptoe.” More than likely, “Taps” comes from the three drum taps that were beat as a signal for “Extinguish Lights” when a bugle was not used.

          As with many other customs, the twenty-four notes that comprise this solemn tradition began long ago and continue to this day.

          Although General Butterfield merely revised an earlier bugle call, his role in producing those twenty-four notes gave him a place in the history of both music and of war.

          Today, “Taps” is sounded as the final call every evening on military installations and at military funerals.

          In 2012 Congress recognized “Taps” as the “National Song of Remembrance.”

  5. Gary Manes Says:

    Nail on head George. Less fans are my prediction, but I hope I’m wrong. My hope is they do every pre race activity like normal…

  6. James T Suel Says:

    I find that its already different, my soul says smile its may! But it’s just not the same For me this will be the first may I haven’t been in Indianapolis since 1960. But I will be there in August, and happy that the speedway is running. I am up for Donald Davidson any time.

  7. billytheskink Says:

    Any time we get Donald Davidson is great more than strange. It won’t be too strange to hear him in August too since he has been doing TOGA during Brickyard 400 weeks as well the past several years.

    Having the whole Indy event in August will be strange, but I think having qualifying in August will be the strangest thing to me. The 500 is more than just another race, of course, but it is still similar to the other races in the way it is conducted, the rules it is run under. Indy qualifying, though? It is the only time during the season that we see multiple days, 4 lap qualifying runs, focus on speed numbers over time figures, the triumph and tragedy of bumping, little one-offs punching above their weight or struggling as expected. There may be nothing from the 500 that I associate more with May than the time trials.

  8. Mark Wick Says:

    One part of race day that I expect will be different if the race runs in August will be the lack of high school bands marching and playing around the track before the ceremonies that make it onto television.
    My first participation in 500 activities was marching in the 500 Festival parade, then around the track on race morning in 1967. One of the three years I marched with the Jefferson High School band the Drum Major was followed by band members carrying flags arranged in rows of three. I was on the outside of row one. Somewhere in a box of old items I may still have the photo I bought from the Speedway, taken from the photo platform above the outside grandstand in Turn 1, of that moment.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      Perhaps you remember the Purdue University “Golden Girls” Addie and Teddie who were their voluptuous baton twirlers in the late sixties marching band always dressed in golden costumes.

      • Mark Wick Says:

        I certainly do. I lived in Lafayette and my Dad was the MC of the Purdue Quarterback lunches. I was also the manager of the Jeff football and we all got passes to the Purdue Games.

        • Ron Ford Says:

          Thank you for replying Mark. I lived in the H-1 dorm when I attended Purdue. I would hike over to the band practice field just to see Addie. When I think of her I am reminded of that quote about Marilyn Monroe: “Marilyn-We hate to see you leave, but we love to watch you walk away.”

  9. Carburetor Says:

    George–I started reading your blog about 7 months after you started (I had just been laid off of work for the first time in my life) and have faithfully been reading it ever since. It is a joy to read and I have learned a great deal. I thought I knew much about the 500 since I’ve been following every race since 1960, but have gained even more appreciation since I’ve been a reader of your blog. Thank you for this.

    May will not be the same this year. It would have been especially interesting this year as the first one with Roger Penske’s leadership. Nevertheless it will be fun once the race is run; and we can look forward to the next May when hopefully this dreaded virus is controlled, or maybe even vanquished. That Memorial Day commemoration may also allow us to remember not only those in our armed forces who have sacrificed, but also the 60,000+ souls who’ve lost their lives to this hideous virus. Until then, I can hardly wait to hear those engines start again.

  10. Big Mac Says:

    I voted for “Other,” because I think the strangest thing will be the absence of fans. In your Monday column, George, you said that you expect the race to run with fans in masks, but I think that’s highly unlikely. While I think that universal mask-wearing will be an important component of reducing the spread of the virus, I doubt that it will be sufficient; some degree of social distancing will still be necessary. And if any social distancing whatsoever is needed, then one thing you absolutely shouldn’t do is to bring together several hundred thousand fans from all over the country.

    While George may still be able to attend as a member of the media, I doubt that the other commenters who say they’ll be there will actually be there. I’d dearly love to be wrong about this, but I don’t think I am.

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