The Buzz is Back – It Now Feels Like May

Back around the first week in May, fellow IndyCar blogger and good friend Mike Silver of The Pit Window wrote a post about the lack of buzz for the Month of May. His post seemed to be dead-on at the time. Mike actually lives in Indianapolis and has been following this sport a long time. I trust his judgment. He writes a very good blog, by the way. If you haven’t visited his site, you need to check it out.

At the time, I completely agreed with him. We were just coming off the Texas double-header, but things seemed rather quiet regarding the Month of May. With so many events surrounding the month being scaled back or even cancelled – it was understandable why there was little or no buzz around town compared to what there had been prior to the pandemic. If I could feel the lack of buzz all the way to Nashville, imagine how surreal May must feel for those living in Indianapolis that plan their lives around this time of year.

I can’t speak for Mike, or any other residents of the Indianapolis area – but after this past weekend, it now feels like May to me.

The Grand Prix weekend always has a slightly awkward feel to it – almost like a dress rehearsal for Qualifying on the next weekend. Not all of the stands are open, some of the gift shops may not have all of their merchandise stocked yet and the concessions can be limited. This past weekend, the Grand Prix felt like the Grand Prix. The only difference was that the Garage Area had far fewer people than in years past.

That sort of perplexes me. The cost for the bronze badge is the same as it has been for the past few years. The only difference is that you must provide proof of vaccination each day to get a new wrist band for that particular day in order to be let in. If you have not yet been vaccinated, you must submit to a COVID rapid test each day, which takes approximately 15 minutes for the results. Quite honestly, this was the main reason we got vaccinated – so that we could have access in May. The bronze badges are still for sale, under these conditions.

If anything, the Grand Prix had more concession stands operating than in year’s past. Each time we walked past the row of food vendors set up just south of the tunnel and behind the Pagoda, my mouth would start watering. The smell coming from the various stands was intoxicating.

I was encouraged by the size of the crowds in the selected areas of open stands for the Grand Prix. Considering what was there, there was more of a buzz on the grounds than I was really expecting.

Though we did not get to scout out where the tenderloins are, we got to do a lot of our usual May traditions last weekend – at IMS and around town. Small family traditions that evolve for each of us is what makes May so special. What is special to one family, won’t appeal at all to another – but that’s OK. We got to stay in one of the many hotels in my favorite area – the intersection of I-465 and Rockville Road. It may not be the swankiest of areas, but it puts us close to the track and to Main Street in Speedway – where some of our favorite restaurants are.

Tops on that list of restaurants is Dawson’s on Main. We ate there last Friday night and they were definitely on their game. It was busy, but we didn’t have to wait too long for a table, even though we didn’t have reservations. While it was tough to pass on their delicious tenderloin – we noticed that they had prime rib as a special on the menu, and it did not disappoint. It had an excellent seasoning to it and it was cooked perfectly. I got the large cut (14 oz), while Susan got the 12 oz cut. I ate all of mine and half of hers, but I regretted it later. By the time we got back to the hotel, I was stuffed and could hardly move. It was a good kind of miserable, if that makes any sense.

Another tradition of ours is that we always like strolling through the garage area first thing in the morning. Although there weren’t many fans in there, there was a definite buzz as the crew members were running around getting ready for the morning warm-up that was to take place a few hours later. To me, there is nothing more cathartic than coming upon an engine being fired up in the garage area. I’ve been going into the garage area since the early 90s and that is something I never take for granted. The sound and the smell is indescribable. That’s why when you hear a starter whirring, a crowd immediately gathers. After being away for two years just made it that much better, when we came upon the car of Ryan Hunter-Reay being fired up. I just stood there and enjoyed the noise and the distinct smell of ethanol exhaust (although I still prefer the aroma of methanol).

He’s not Tom Carnegie, but Dave Calabro has been on the PA for decades and has been the lead announcer on the PA since Carnegie retired after the 2006 race. Calabro’s voice is very distinctive, and when you hear it, you know you’re at IMS. Hearing Dave Calabro’s voice booming through the grounds reassured me that it was the Month of May and things were feeling very familiar.

During the race itself, it felt like the Grand Prix weekend. If you try to compare the Grand Prix weekend to the Indianapolis 500, you’ll come away disappointed. But if you treat it as a regular IndyCar race weekend – you’ll enjoy yourself. It has a completely different feel, but they’ve held this event since 2014, so the event has developed its own personality. It is a great appetizer for ramping up to Indianapolis 500 practice, qualifying and race weekend.

If it was up to me, I would’ve gone back to Dawson’s on Saturday night. Susan, however, thought it would be a good idea to try the new place that went into Sarah Fisher’s 1911 Grille had occupied – Brozinni’s Pizza. She had been a trooper all weekend, so I deferred to her wishes – although I tend to think Change is Bad. In this case, it was. Susan was more impressed with Brozinni’s than I was. I found the pizza fairly ordinary, but the service not great. The beer was ice cold and the pizza came out hot. But we ordered an appetizer that never came out. When they brought the pizza out, I asked about the appetizer and got a confused look. They finally brought it out when we here halfway done with the pizza. I could’ve pitched a fit and made a scene. Instead I just paid the bill without comment, but filed it away in my memory. We did learn that their first night to open had been just the previous Wednesday, and this was only their fourth night – so maybe they deserve a break. We might try it again, but probably not this May.

With no track activity on the Sunday after the Grand Prix, it’s always a very relaxing day for us. We sleep in and I usually write my Monday article that morning. We then go to Long’s Donuts. I first learned about Long’s from reading some of Robin Miller’s columns from years ago. We probably first went there about ten years ago and usually make about two trips each May. We went there Sunday, and it has not changed. There is something about their homemade donuts that sort of snap, when you bite into them. We get a big assortment each time, eat them on the way home and have them leftover for a couple of days at home.

From there, we always go to the track and visit the gift shop inside the museum. It is usually not crowded at all, and Sunday was no exception. We were able to buy several items we couldn’t live without, and took our time doing it. We also bought another tradition – the program. On the way out of town, we stopped at the Mug-n-Bun to have a frosty mug of their homemade root beer – another May tradition. We got on the interstate and headed home and arrived safely around 6:30 pm, gaining an hour in the process as we went from Eastern time to Central.

I had bought into the fact that this May was going to be completely different from anything we had ever seen. I was focusing on all the things that weren’t going to be happening – like Legend’s Day, the Festival Parade, concerts, most Carb Day activities, etc. But after last weekend, I discovered there is still enough happening at the track that it does feel like May after all. I am looking forward to returning to IMS on Friday morning for Fast Friday and the Qualifying Weekend and take in all that we missed a year ago. As far as I’m concerned – the buzz is back!

George Phillips

11 Responses to “The Buzz is Back – It Now Feels Like May”

  1. I agree, George. Thanks for the kind words. I really felt it yesterday when the weather finally turned to May. the GP also woke me out of the doldrums.

  2. Wow George, I thought you of all people would understand there are things people should stand for or they’ll fall for anything!

    I ain’t getting no damned vaccine! And IMS isn’t going to make me, I don’t care how long I’ve been going there. I’m NOT responding to, “SHOW US YOUR PAPERS.” Besides, according to HIPPA you DO NOT have to answer questions about your health. Period.

    Trading freedom for a sporting event? Not on your life, my friend….

    Phil Kaiser

    PS: Judging from the looks of the garage area I’m definitely not alone. What is so hard to understand?

    • You’ve obviously mistaken me for someone with deep convictions and principles. Apparently, you don’t realize how truly shallow I am. When it comes to the Indianapolis 500, my convictions are definitely for sale. Enjoy being alone with your principles, on Memorial Day weekend.

    • Courts and legal professionals have consistently ruled that HIPAA (not HIPPA) does not apply to non health care related entities and industries. Roger Penske has every right to ask about one’s vaccination status before granting him or her entry into his privately owned facility, just as it is your right to act like a petulant child and proudly proclaim that ain’t no one gonna make your get no damn vaccine. Enjoy exercising your rights at home.

      • Phil Kaiser Says:

        A petulant child. Bless your heart.

        A little background, I am a seven time heart attack survivor, they started when I was 30. Both grandfathers dead before they were 45 from it. Dad died six days shy of his 58th birthday. I am now the possessor of four stents, five bypasses and a pacemaker/defibrillator, which I obtained in 2018 after suffering my last HA in Turn One on Pole Day that year, after being given the “paddles” to bring me back to life. I just achieved my 58th year last August.

        You don’t even know me, but want to call me names. So now who is the petulant child?

        • Oh, and Pauly, it’s “damned,” not damn….

        • Mr Kaiser with your extensive coronary disease you are very fortunate to be around to watch another 500. If asked I assume your cardiologist would advise you to be vaccinated. I defend your right to decide what to do with your health care choices, as I continue to resist a colonoscopy . However , we both then must accept the consequences of a our decisions be it dealing with our health or rules set out by private businesses.

      • My health care decisions are no one else’s business. Including Roger Penske or any other businessman. Those in the vaccine cult need to get over it.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    There is something about the cars finally hitting the track that brings that buzz.

    I recall strolling through the paddock of a Champcar race in 2007 and it was kind of sad. The paddock was nearly empty, and housed a mere 17 cars. Nearly all were gasping for sponsorship, and few of the few sponsors that were present were recognizable to my eye. Less than a decade earlier I had strolled through a similar paddock brimming with fans and cars covered in familiar decals. But when the engines fired and the cars launched out of their pit boxes? Those sad sights just melted away… the buzz was back.

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