Who Knows What We’ll Get?

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Ever since the new date of August 23 was named for this year’s Indianapolis 500, reactions have been all over the board from wondering if the event will be pushed back to October or whether or not it will be run at all. Some think it should be condensed to a “normal” race weekend, with practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and the race on Sunday; while others think it should go as scheduled – as close to the May schedule as possible.

Then of course, there is the issue of having fans present. Some say it will take place with empty grandstands, while others go to the other extreme and say the stands will be full. Then there’s the confusing idea of selling a limited number of tickets to allow some fans in, while barring others. How on earth do you make that decision?

Others have chosen to speculate on the weather, or to be more specific – to complain about it. They say that the weather in Indianapolis is unbearably hot in August. To listen to them, one would think that to sit in the stands of IMS will be similar to the surface of the sun and that we will all die from a heat stroke during the race.

I’m not a Hoosier and I’m not sure that I’ve ever been to Indianapolis in August, so I’m not talking (writing) from experience. I know that August in Nashville can be fairly hot, but usually not as hot as July. But I did a little research to see what we might expect this August.

We all know that rain is usually a factor most years in the Month of May. Most years, we’ll lose at least some practice time due to rain; and it seems that qualifying is affected by rain more years than not. This has been a cold May so far, at least here in Tennessee and I think in Indiana as well. Looking at the Indianapolis weather, it was 37° there yesterday morning. This weekend would have been qualifying weekend for the Indianapolis 500. As I type this, the forecast in Indianapolis for Saturday and Sunday calls for thunderstorms both days with a high of 78° for the weekend. The temperature isn’t bad, but if that forecast plays out, it would have ended up being a wash-out weekend. Who knows? This may be the year that the scheduled Race Day in May gets an all-day downpour. Personally, I hope it does since we won’t be there for it.

I don’t know about Indiana, but in Tennessee – August is known more for drought than excessive heat. That’s bad news if you’re trying to grow crops or a nice green lawn, but it’s ideal if you’re trying to run an IndyCar race. I’m just guessing here, but I’ll bet that August is drier in central Indiana than May.

Rather than guess, I actually checked it out. The average rainfall in May for Marion County (Indianapolis) is 5.05 inches. In August, that drops to 3.13 inches – nearly a 40% drop. So you’re probably thinking that the drop in rainfall is most likely due to the excessive heat. I guess that depends on what your definition of excessive is.

If you’ve spent much time at all at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, you have probably experienced miserable weather in all extremes. I have felt like I was on the verge of freezing to death within that facility, more times than I can remember in May. As a kid, most of my Pole Day recollections are of gray skies and cold temperatures. When the wind starts whipping around the various structures in that facility, a cool day can feel frigid.

Most fans will recall the 1992 race when I think the high for the day was 50°, but to most of us in the stands that day – we’d swear it was about 35°. I was there with my now ex-wife, so that made things seem even more frigid. But as cold as that day was, the 2016 IndyCar Grand Prix didn’t feel too far behind. Standing out on those cold mounds and getting blasted by the wind was no fun. I was wearing a polo, sweatshirt and polar-fleece pullover and I still froze.

We’ve all dealt with the opposite situation at IMS – the heat. We used to have Race Day seats in the Pit Row Terrace, behind the second pit stall just before Turn One. If you know where I’m talking about, you know there is no shade there – just uncovered aluminum seating. Adding to the misery is that we were on the inside of the track, meaning we were facing west. As the day wore one, the sun would be more in our faces. Some years, we would absolutely bake during the race.

The 2006 race comes to mind. It was absolutely brutal that day. Most of our section had emptied out before the halfway point. They hadn’t gone home, mind you – they were all huddled in the shade behind the seats. I’ll give my wife credit – she sat through the entire race and didn’t complain once about the heat. That just shows what a trooper Susan really is.

We sat in those seats from 2004 through the 2012 race. While I never remember a cool race while sitting there, most were more pleasant than the 2006 race. That is, until we sat through the 2012 race. The high temperature reached about 90° for both the 2006 and 2012 races, I don’t know if it was due to the humidity, or if we had gotten older – but the 90° temps sure seemed a lot hotter in 2012 than they did in 2006. That night, we decided it was time to move across the track and into the shade.

For 2013, we were in our current seats in Stand A – under the overhang for protection from rain and the blazing sun. As luck would have it, that day dawned very chilly. When we arrived at the track at 6:00 am, it was a blustery 55° and it didn’t get above 64° all day. So much for needing to be in the shade, for that year anyway. But since that cool day in 2013, the shade has been very welcomed. The 2018 race reached 90° during the race. When Will Power won that day, I’m sure he was drenched with sweat, but we were quite comfortable in our shaded seats.

My point is…it can be just as hot or hotter in May, than all of those gnashing their teeth over sitting in the stands on an August afternoon.

Last year’s Indianapolis 500 was run in near-perfect conditions. May 26, 2019 in Indianapolis had a high of 78° and a low of 61°. Want to know what the temps were on August 23 (the date for this year’s race) in 2019? A high of 79° and a low of 56°; which sounds fairly pleasant to me.

You’re probably thinking “OK…that was one year, but most years – it is unbearable in Indianapolis in August”. That’s the way I would think. So I did a three year comparison.

Aside from the one-degree difference between Race Day in May and August 23, 2019; I went back two more years and compared each Race Day to Aug 23 of that year. When the 101st Indianapolis 500 was run on May 28, 2017; the high was a mild 73°, with a low of 64°. That same year, the high on August 23 was just a bit warmer at 79°, with a low of 61°. The following year, the 2018 Indianapolis 500 was run in 90° weather with a low of 70°. Compared to that beastly day; August 23 of that year – the high was a very pleasant 79° with a low of 55°.

There seems to be one common theme. For the past three years, the high on August 23 has been a constant 79° each year; while the high temperature for Race Day each May has bounced from 73° to 90° to 78° – all in a span from 2017-19.

What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing. Those that are wringing their collective hands over worries that this year’s Indianapolis 500 will be held in a sweltering heat wave, could prove to be totally correct. We don’t really know. All we really know is that many have been made to look foolish trying to predict the weather in central Indiana. But if three consecutive recent years are any indication, you might feel comfortable by drawing two conclusions. First, we see that the weather in May seems to be a lot more volatile than August, with a lot more rain. Secondly, saying that all of August is unbearably hot in Indianapolis seems to be more myth than fact. If you tell me that this year’s Indianapolis 500 is run in 79° conditions, with little chance of rain – I’ll take that every time.

George Phillips

6 Responses to “Who Knows What We’ll Get?”

  1. Trust me, August in Indiana is the most miserably hot month of the year. And for some reason 90° in August feels much hotter than 90° in May. I stopped going to the Brickyard 400 because of the August heat. That being said, my money is on the race not happening this year.

  2. I seem to remember being hot more often than being comfortable while sitting on the aluminium stands. I was very lucky one year and sat in the Irsay turn two suite which was heaven. Proof its good to be wealthy. Hot or cold ,rain or shine , if spectators are allowed and if health allows I will be there

  3. I have not missed the opening weekend of qualifications since 1985. This is going to be one strange Saturday in May. I’m still not over no Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May.

    I attended the first 20 Brickyard 400’s. A lot of those were in the first week of August, which might be the hottest week in Indiana. Much more hot days than pleasant. But being in the last half of August, it should be a bit cooler. I’m actually expecting bearable weather.

    I also think the race will be run with fans. If this country is still shut down in August, we will be in the beginning of economic collapse.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Is this the part where my Texan self scoffs at anyone who finds temperatures under 100 degrees hot? Eh… No, I’ve spent many a day in hot bleachers watching races and baseball games and football games, it can be hard even in the 80s.

    But as the old saying goes, it’s not the heat… it’s the humidity that’ll get you. A humid 87 with no wind and no clouds is quite a bit worse than a dry 99 with a breeze and a few clouds.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    I lived in Indiana, mostly central Indiana for 57 years and many of my worst memories are of the August heat and HUMIDITY. You can’t even breathe. You don’t want to even move. Some days you can swipe your hand horizontally through the air and see the path through the haze.
    Not every day is like that, of course, but if there is a race this year in August, and the weather is like that, it will be a horrible experience for everyone, except for some from the very deep south or the tropics.

  6. Indianapolis had (from memory) about a week of very temperate (for the month) 60 degree days in February when they hosted the Superbowl. You can’t predict the weather in August any more than you can predict the state of this pandemic in August. All we can do, in any profession, is plan ahead and hope for the best. And if it doesn’t work out, at least we tried.

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