Everyone Thinks They Are an Expert

If you are a parent, think back to those days when you and your significant-other were expecting for the first time. It seemed that anyone, male or female, that had already gone through childbirth was an expert that was more than willing to tell you exactly what you needed to do. Often times, we found what one person told us today was the exact opposite of what someone had told us just the day before. Having been through the experience made them the authority on anything related to being a new parent.

This may seem like an odd tie-in, but I came across something similar on Facebook last week. I belong to many Indianapolis 500 groups on Facebook. The other day, a fellow group-member posted that he was planning to go to the Indianapolis 500 for the very first time next May. He asked for recommendations or some type of Indy 500 for Dummies crash course that might help in planning the trip.

As you can imagine, he did not come up short for suggestions. I read through each and every idea that people had. I quickly learned one thing – we all have different ideas of the perfect way to spend Race Weekend at Indianapolis.

As anyone can tell you, Race Weekend for the Indianapolis 500 is different than any other weekend at any other track. At most events, there is practice on Friday, practice and qualifying on Saturday and the actual race on Sunday. Although there hasn’t been a thirty-day buildup for the Indianapolis 500 in almost half a century; the fact that qualifying takes place one full week before the event tells you this is still something very special.

Estimates widely vary, but let’s be conservative and say that a quarter of a million people attend Race Day for the Indianapolis 500 each year. Among that many people, there will be vast differences of opinion on the ideal way to spend that weekend. The problem is that everyone who attends on a regular basis thinks that they are an expert. They think the way they choose to spend Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis, is the way everyone should spend it.

One size does not fit all, when it comes to attending the Indianapolis 500. I know what I like to do and how I want to do things, but that wouldn’t work for everyone. For one thing, I like getting to the track very early on Race Morning. Susan knows to expect the alarm to go off at 3:30 am that day. She also knows my goal is to be inside the gates at the track before the opening bomb goes off at 6:00 am.

One of the perks of having credentials is that we are allowed inside the gates at any time. There is usually a noticeable line at the gates waiting for that bomb to go off, signifying that it’s time to open the gates to the public. I already want to be inside before that happens. There is something very peaceful about being at the track at that time. It is usually still very dark then, but we get to watch the sun peek over the Turn Two stands and slowly make the familiar landmarks visible.

My biggest fear on Race Day is getting caught in a traffic snarl near the hotel. The Speedway gives out more media parking passes than the lot holds, so I also fear not being able to park there. A couple of years ago, my friend, Paul Dalbey of Fieldof33.com, was delayed on Race Morning and was shut out of the media lot. Needless to say, he was not happy when he lugged his laptop and camera equipment from wherever he ended up parking.

Once I’m inside the track, I am relaxed. I have no set agenda, but the next few hours seem to fly by as the activity and anticipation builds throughout the morning.

But that’s not for everyone. Some value their sleep and like to get to their seats just as the command to start engines is given. I could never do that, but others could never follow my regimen either.

I also saw where some advice-givers insisted that the Indianapolis 500 newby must attend the 500 Festival Parade on Saturday. This may be a sacrilege to some, but I think I’d rather hit myself in the head with a hammer than to attend the parade. Parades don’t do a whole lot for me. I have a fond memory of going to our local Christmas parade to see Santa Claus, when I was about four. We went back when I was about ten and the appeal had already diminished. If I never attend another parade of any type for my remaining days, it will suit me just find. And is there anything cheesier than the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? One of the few bright spots of this pandemic is that it removed that from our viewing pleasure this year.

One of my favorite activities is the running of the roadsters on Legends Day – the day before the race. It’s a low-key affair, narrated by Donald Davidson on the PA. But when I hear an Offy or Novi heading down the front straightaway, it gets my blood pumping like nothing else can. But I also know that’s not for everyone. If you are not a lifelong fan of the Indianapolis 500 or care little about the history, a roadster may be so foreign to you that you care nothing about the sight or sound of it. You may find yourself bored to death.

The same goes for the museum. I usually go through the museum twice each May. I’ll go on a less crowded day over either the Grand Prix weekend or the Qualifying weekend, when I really want to take my time and study the cars on display. But on Race Weekend, when either one or both brothers roll into town – the visit to the museum on the day before the race is an annual ritual. Yes, it’s crowded with smelly and un-bathed bodies, but there is an energy in there that is palpable. Once again, the museum is not for everyone. Susan despises going in there. She will just go hang out and browse the gift shop, while we make our way through the exhibits amongst the masses.

I saw where many insisted that downtown Indianapolis was the only place to stay, while others claimed that you had to stay at least fifty miles away to save money. My preference? We stay west of the Speedway. Sometimes we stay as far out as Avon, but our favorite area is around the intersection of I-465 and Rockville Road. It’s a much easier drive on Race Morning, it’s close to the track and the price is much better than downtown.

Many seem to think that wherever they watch the race is the only viewing angle you should consider. Some think that you should sit in the turns, in order to see passing and most of the crashes. Others swear by sitting along the main straightaway to feel more connected to the pre-race ceremonies and the pit-action.

I’ve mostly experienced the Indianapolis 500 from five viewing standpointS. My first race in 1965, I was down low in Stand J. While I still have vivid memories of that day, and it ignited a lifelong passion for the Indianapolis 500; I would not recommend sitting there – at least not sitting as low as we were. Most of my adolescent years were spent in Stand A, across from the entrance to Gasoline Alley. That is where my seats are today. I have also had seats that no longer exist; on the inside of Turn One, and the inside of Turn Four. For almost a decade, we sat in the Pit Road Terrace, near the entrance to Turn One. You got to see pit action up close, but the view of the track and video boards were limited. The main reason why we moved after the 2012 race was because of the blazing afternoon sun. We now sit in the shade and have a much better view of the straightaway and Turn One. My favorite seats? They no longer exist. In 1992, I bought tickets through a ticket broker in the days before the internet. We were up high, between the entrance to Gasoline Alley and the Master Control Tower. We were directly behind Danny Sullivan’s pit, which was just ahead of his teammate – the winning car of Al Unser, Jr. That day was cold, but we could certainly see well. If it wasn’t for the normally hot afternoon sun, I would try to sit in the Tower Terrace again. Unfortunately, the "new" Pagoda is much bigger than the Master Control Tower and it obstructs the view to the south.

Some said eating a meal at St. Elmo Steak House was a must. I’ve done it a few times. Mostly in the early nineties, but Susan and I ate there a couple of years ago on a Titans-Colts weekend. We each drank one glass of wine by and our bill (with tip) was still $300. It’s good, but it’s not that good. Plus, it’s downtown where parking can be a hassle.

If you’ve been coming to this site for a while, you know my favorite place to dine – Dawson’s on Main in Speedway. It is within walking distance of Turn One. It has a very casual and unpretentious atmosphere with a wide variety on their reasonably priced menu. On weekends, they serve delicious prime rib, but they also serve a very good breaded pork tenderloin sandwich for $10 (with a side). But not everyone likes Dawson’s. They say it is too casual and laid back, or has too many locals and regulars (which appeals to me). If Susan would let me, I would eat almost every meal in May there.

But to do that, would leave out our usual Saturday-before-the-race breakfast at Charlie Brown’s, just down the street from Dawson’s. It is another very unpretentious establishment that has tons of racing memorabilia and a big breakfast menu, starting and ending with pancakes – with a whole lot in between.

Why am I going through all of this about things to do surrounding the Indianapolis 500 as we head into the holiday season? Because it’s never too early to plan. Assuming that the pandemic allows everything t happen (which may be a big assumption, at this point), if you’ve never been – you probably want to get a good idea of what you want to do.

The guy was smart to throw it out into a Facebook group. He got a lot of good suggestions, but he will have to pick and choose what to do for himself. First of all, there is no way he would time to do it all. Secondly, what sounds great to one person, may be a complete turn-off for another. I learned a long time ago to not get mad if someone doesn’t do what I suggested at the Indianapolis 500. My likes may not be your likes.

So just in case someone reading this is contemplating attending their first Indianapolis 500 next May, what advice would you give them without trying to sound like an expert?

George Phillips

8 Responses to “Everyone Thinks They Are an Expert”

  1. You can’t trust a person who doesn’t like Dawson’s.

  2. My suggestion would be to read over suggestions and choose ones that appeal to you. You will never be able to do everything as there is so much to do and so many good places to eat and drink in Indianapolis.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    My advice: a trip to the Mug ‘N Bun is worth it if you like root beer, but not especially for anything else. I cannot say enough good things about Sal’s Pizzeria in Plainfield or Brownsburg.

    I think it is fun to see what everyone likes to do during their 500 experience. Me, I rather like parades… but I like being at the Speedway for Legends Day more.

  4. Race weekend is much like Christmas, everyone has their traditions. My advice to a first timer would be not to try and cram too much into a couple of days. Pick a two or three and enjoy those to there fullest. If like most of us, you’ll fall in love with the 500 and will be back and develop your own traditions. We’re almost halfway to the next 500. Can’t wait.

  5. Rick Johnson Says:

    George, I totally agree with your comment about the parade (though my wife would strenuously disagree). Charlie Brown’s for breakfast is an annual tradition. I also like Workingman’s Friend Tavern (though you have to go on Thursday before the race or Monday afterwards…it’s closed race weekend). I’ll have to give Dawson’s a try. I enjoy the Memorabilia Show and Driver’s Meeting in addition to the roadsters on Legends Day. I agree about going to the Museum when it isn’t crowded if you’re in town a few days before race weekend. I wish that IMS still had Community Day on Wednesday so that I could drive my rental car around the track, and I’ll miss the Freedom 100 in 2021.

  6. “…what advice would you give them…”?
    do not do what i do.

    thin the crowd a little.

  7. When I was young we would go to the parade. I knew where they started lining up and you could wait for the drivers to show up for personal pictures with them and/or autographs. Perhaps the parade appeals more to a younger family. As far as the Macy’s parade……I think it’s still on, just nobody in person. It will have to be watched on tv. No different than the 500 this year. 🤷‍♂️

  8. George,

    That was powerful. I hope it gets picked up by others somehow, it ought to.

    I went through a prolonged deadly healthcare crisis, lasted many months. Hopeless at times. But sometimes people defy the odds! Hang in there.

    We will miss Mrs. Phillips this year and always miss your dad. Mac Thomson

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