Indianapolis 500 Preview

For the past few years, Susan and I have driven up on the Thursday night before Carb Day and stayed on the outskirts of Indianapolis so that we could get to the track early. Then we go check into our regular hotel for the weekend. With nothing going on besides the two-hour practice today, we decided weeks ago that we were not going to do that this year. As I was driving back home from Qualifying Sunday night, Susan called and said she had found a cheap hotel for Thursday night in Greenwood if we wanted to drive up. It was her idea, but she didn’t really have to twist my arm – so we drove up here last night after I got off work. After all, I didn’t want to disappoint her.

The weather is looking iffy, at best. Some forecasts say the system may push through overnight. Others indicate it will push through this morning before the 11:00 am EDT start of practice, while some call for lingering showers throughout the day. I’m guessing that there may be some rain this morning that will still cause the track to be wet by 11:00; so practice could be delayed, but will still take place – at least that’s my prediction.

Keep in mind, every car has gotten a new engine. The teams need to do system checks to make sure everything is hooked up properly. You don’t want the first time a new engine runs to be on the parade laps on Sunday morning. If any lines are loose or leaking, that’ll be too late to fix it. They really need to get this practice in.

The last two weekends have really felt normal. I also think Sunday will feel pretty normal, albeit with smaller crowds (which is not altogether a bad thing). Where I think things are going to feel weird this weekend are today and Saturday. After the two-hour practice today, there is nothing else. There is no Pit-Stop competition and no concert afterward. Today was always a good day for people-watching, after the track activity had ceased. It was probably the biggest collection of partiers for the month, outside of Race Day – which is so busy you don’t really like dealing with them. On Carb Day, part of the fun is just watching the drunks – from a distance, of course.

It’ll work out OK for us, though. My brother and his wife will be arriving in town this afternoon, so we can visit with them after the practice and we plan to go to Dawson’s tonight. In case you haven’t noticed, I eat at Dawson’s every chance I get.

Tomorrow will feel odd too. One of my favorite parts of Race Weekend is Legends Day – the day before the race. It starts around 9:00 in the morning with the vintage cars making multiple laps around the track, usually with Donald Davidson on the PA telling the history of many of the cars. For those that never saw a roadster run or heard the Novi engine, it can be very educational. For those of us that actually saw roadsters and heard the Novi in actual races, it takes us back to our childhood. Many times, this two-hour session can be one of the main highlights of my month – but we won’t have it this year.

There is also usually a memorabilia show, where any collector can buy practically any item they want, so long as they are willing to pay. I’ll confess, I’ve never spent a dime at the memorabilia show, but I go in there every year just to see what all is available. If you want Don Branson’s autograph, a signed picture of Roberto Guerrero or a Marlboro Team Penske crew shirt or fire suit – you can get it there.

The only Saturday tradition we will keep is going to the IMS Museum. I was there last weekend, but my brother wants to go. Since it is now $15 a pop, I think Susan will be happier in the gift shop. The museum has never been her highlight of the month. When it was $3, I didn’t care if she left early. At $15, she’ll probably gladly sit it out.

I am hoping for another dinner at Dawson’s, but the other three in my party may not be keen on that. Wherever we go, it will be early because Susan and I will have a 3:30 am wake-up call on Sunday morning. My goal each year is to be inside the track before the opening-bomb goes off at 6:00 am. That’s mainly because the track gives out more media parking passes than they have spaces. By 5:30, the lot is already filling up. But I also really enjoy the feel of the place before the gates open. To be inside the gates and overlooking the track while it is still peaceful and quite is almost surreal. You know that in just a couple of hours, the whole place will be brimming with activity. As I stare out at the track before dawn, I know that six hours from that point will be the start of another historic chapter that I am fortunate enough to be there to witness.

The pandemic dealt all of us a cruel blow last year. That makes this year that much sweeter. I never took being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for granted, but I’ll admit – I’ve felt more appreciation for being there in the last couple of weekends than before. My hope is that next year, we will be back to a full schedule of track activities and anyone that wants to go – can go.

As far as Sunday’s race goes, I’ve been thinking about who my pick will be. Not that it matters, because in the twelve previous Mays I have had this site, I have correctly picked one winner – Tony Kanaan in 2013. That means I am 1-11 in my Indianapolis 500 picks, which is not very good. I think my problem is that I tend to go against the grain and not take the obvious pick.

This year, the obvious pick is Scott Dixon. – despite the fact that Dixon has won this race once in eighteen tries. He is on the pole, leads the points and has a fast car with a good team. Plus he has experience at this track, more than all but two other drivers in the field – Kanaan and Helio Castroneves. Like a dummy, I’m not going with the obvious.

My heart says to go with the two Brazilians in the field – Helio and Kanaan. Both were in the Firestone Fast Nine last week. Kanaan will start fifth, while Helio will start eighth; but my head tells me that neither former winner will be drinking the milk on Sunday.

It won’t surprise me if a Chevy-powered car wins on Sunday. Before the boost was cranked up last weekend, Chevy and Honda were perceived to be virtually equal. The boost has been turned back down for today’s Carb Day practice, as well as for Sunday’s race. I think both will be on equal footing again, now that the artificial enhancer has been removed. I wish they would stop that contrived practice in future years. It is meant to generate headlines, and that is all.

Colton Herta makes a strong case for putting his name and face on the Borg-Warner Trophy. If he did, he would surpass Troy Ruttman as the youngest winner of the Indianapolis 500 – a record that has stood since 1952. However, I think Ruttman’s record is safe for another year. The same goes for Rinus VeeKay, who is even younger than Herta.

All week long, I’ve gone back and forth on who might win – but I’m finally ready to make my prediction. After coming very close for the last several years, I predict that Alexander Rossi is going to collect his second Indianapolis 500, after winning as a rookie in 2016. He is starting tenth, and you can win from there. Rossi performs very well at this track and can make a car work where no one else seems to be able to. If not for a fuel probe issue in the pits in 2019, he could have been in a better position to hold off the eventual winner, Simon Pagenaud. Last year, a bad call in the pits relegated him to the back, which put him in desperation mode and he ultimately put his car in the wall.

After the miserable season and a half that Rossi has been through – much of it, no fault of his own – I think Rossi is going to put it all together to give him his second win in six tries, and put me at 2-11 for my Indianapolis 500 picks.

I will be back here with a post possibly before the practice, but definitely afterward. You may follow along with us on Twitter for comments, photos and videos. You may follow me at @Oilpressurebog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later.

George Phillips

7 Responses to “Indianapolis 500 Preview”

  1. There is a memorabilia show in Plainfield tonight and tomorrow. Embassy Suites, i believe.

  2. Taking Pato for the W this weekend. Enjoy it George! I will be watching from the TV this year.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Here’s to safe and fun racing, and go Graham!

    I do miss the Freedom 100.

  4. Talón de Brea Says:

    Over breakfast, I interrupted reading today’s post and checked out the Dawson’s menu online … I can see why you like the place. And it was nice of them to name one of their classy selections after Susan …

    Here’s hoping for a safe, fast and memorable weekend.

  5. Mark Wick Says:

    Many of my favorite memories from IMS are the transition from the quite emptiness of very early morning race day inside the track, to the crowds, noise, and mayhem that follow the opening bomb going off. I had that experience more than 20 times.

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