Random Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500

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I am going to insert myself into this a little bit, but when it’s my website, I guess I can do whatever I want. As I sit and type this in our hotel room on Monday morning, I am still amazed at what we witnessed yesterday. I’ve been to a lot of Indianapolis 500s in my lifetime, but I’ve also missed more than I care to admit – including a twenty-year gap between 1972 and 1992. If you look at those dates, you’ll notice that I was never there when the first four-time winners won their fourth. In fact, I never saw Rick Mears win any of his races.

That all changed yesterday when Helio Castroneves won his fourth Indianapolis 500 in a dramatic fashion. I read a sobering comment on Facebook this morning from someone just a little older than me, but it most likely applies to me as well. I’m paraphrasing, but the comment said that we have probably seen the last four-time winner in our lifetime.

Who else will do it? Besides Castroneves, there were only two other multiple winners in the field – Juan Montoya (age 45) and Takuma Sato (44). They are both sitting on two wins. I guess it’s possible, but highly doubtful that either of them have two more Indianapolis 500 wins in their futures. All of the other current winners in yesterday’s race have “only” one Indianapolis 500 win on their resume. Most of them are in their forties or late thirties. Only Alexander Rossi is still in his twenties, and he turns thirty in September.

Will any of this young crop of talented drivers reel off four wins before I assume room temperature? Probably not. That’s why I am relishing what I was there to witness yesterday.

Yesterday’s win by Castroneves was no fluke, nor did an off-schedule pit strategy magically put him in the lead by Lap 200. As AJ Foyt said in congratulating Helio; “He worked hard for it, and he earned it”. When Foyt’s full statement was read to Castroneves in yesterday’s post-race press conference, he was visibly moved by it and said he was honored to have the first four-time winner say such a thing.

Castroneves and Alex Palou battled back and forth for the final thirty or so laps. While other cars were leading during pit stop shuffles, the focus was on them because everyone knew they were the effective leaders. When last year’s winner, Takuma Sato, finally pitted on Lap 193 – Castroneves and Palou were finally atop the scoring pylon, but not always in that order. In the end, Castroneves used his wealth of experience to out duel the eager second-year driver to win by less than half a second, kicking off the biggest celebration I’ve personally ever witnessed at that track.  While any driver is ecstatic to win the biggest race in the world, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone so happy to win a race, as Helio Castroneves was yesterday.

TV Coverage:  Since the race was shown live here locally, there was no delayed broadcast here last night, despite hearing rumors to the contrary. Maybe it came on after NBC’s playoff hockey game, but I was long gone by then. That’s a long way of saying I haven’t seen any of the broadcast. That doesn’t mean I didn’t see all of the complaining on social media about NBC’s coverage. Was it really that bad, or was it just the vocal minority of IndyCar fans that have to gripe about something?

I’m not sure perfect event coverage really exists. What may be perfect to me, may be abhorrent to you. It wasn’t long ago that IndyCar fans were cheering when NBC pushed ABC/ESPN out the door. Be thankful while you have NBC. I don’t think there are too many major outlets beating Roger Penske’s door down to try and steal the rights away from NBC. Overall, I think they do a pretty good job, and I hope they return when the current contract is up at the end of this season.

Lots of Silver Linings:  Alex Palou looked and sounded completely deflated in yesterday’s post-race press conference, and rightfully so. He had come within a half-second of winning the Indianapolis 500 in only his second try. History is littered with drivers who came that close early in their career, but could never reach the top. Scott Goodyear comes to mind, as well as Michael Andretti.

Even though he wasn’t thinking about it at the time, there were a lot of silver linings to come from Palou’s day yesterday. First of all, like Helio – his being there at the end was no fluke. Palou started sixth and led thirty-five laps, second only to Conor Daly’s forty laps led. With little oval experience, he came ever so close to outdueling a twenty-year veteran with multiple wins. He may not yet realize it this morning, but he will learn from this experience.

Alex Palou also woke up this morning as the NTT IndyCar Series points leader. With Scott Dixon finishing seventeenth, and Palou second; once you add in the double points, Dixon finds himself in second place trailing Palou by thirty-six points.

Youth was Served: Although a forty year-old Scott Dixon won the pole and Helio Castroneves won the race at age forty-six; the young chargers continued to charge on Sunday. Twenty-four year-old Alex Palou finished second on Sunday and now leads the points. Twenty-two year-old Pato O’Ward drove a heads-up race, led seventeen laps and finished fourth. O’Ward now trails Dixon by a single point in the championship. The most recent winner going into Sunday was Rinus VeeKay. He started on the front row, and took the lead away from another promising young driver, Colton Herta, on Lap Two. Altogether, VeeKay led thirty-two laps, albeit early in the race. He still finished a respectable eighth and sits fifth in points.

The only disappointment of the young drivers was Colton Herta. He led the opening lap after starting on the front row, and ended up leading thirteen laps  on the day. But when it was all over, Herta had slipped back to a forgettable sixteenth place finish.

When You Know it’s Over:  First of all, I offer a sincere apology to Alexander Rossi for picking him to win yesterday. My ability to curse drivers continues, as the drivers I pick end up dealing with the most bizarre circumstances. The Stefan Wilson crash in the pits dealt a lot of drivers low on fuel a crushing blow. Rossi was one of many drivers who came in for emergency pit service for a splash of fuel. Like Dixon, Rossi coasted in on fumes and could not get the car re-started, pretty well ruining his day early on.

Before the season started, Rossi proclaimed that after last year’s rough season, anything less than a championship will be unacceptable. To rub salt in Rossi’s wounds, here’s a stat that tells you how bad Rossi’s season is going and how far gone his championship hopes are – Six races into the season; Helio Castroneves started his first IndyCar race of the season yesterday, while Rossi started his sixth. Helio is now ahead of Rossi in the points. Not good.

The Crowd:  I’ve never been good at estimating crowd sizes, but I’m thinking there was more than 40% capacity on the grounds yesterday. I’m not complaining, mind you. I thought Mayor Joe Hogsett was being totally unreasonable by having IMS officials agree to that number when other major sports venues went to 100% capacity in early April, with no lingering effects. I also thought it was no coincidence that he set June 7 as the date to remove the county-wide mask mandate. Even locked-down Nashville did away with it weeks ago. Roger Penske wanted to make sure that this race would happen with fans, no matter how many hoops he had to jump through. I sense that the mayor and Penske had locked horns many times over this during the past fifteen months, and the continued mask mandate was Hogsett’s last way of sticking it to The Captain.

Well…I’m thinking The Captain got the last laugh. Our section in Stand A appeared to be more like 80% full. As I gazed across the track from our seats, the place looked practically full down to Turn Four, and all the way into the Short Chute between Turns One and Two. I know the infield crowd, which was not allowed to come this year, accounts for a lot of the 60% that supposedly was not allowed in – but I think IMS officials may have sold more seats than they originally agreed to.

Personally, I loved it. I consider the almost full stands of maskless fans to be a collective middle-finger to Mayor Hogsett and his like that suddenly want to ignore the CDC guidance, because it doesn’t fit their narrative. End of rant.

The Crowd II:  Whatever the number in attendance for Sunday’s race was, those that were there were excited to be there. They were loud and boisterous, without being rowdy or obnoxious. When the crowd is limited to those paying for higher-priced seats in the stands, the chances are higher that there were more hard-core race fans in attendance and fewer that were there just for the party.

When Helio Castroneves crossed the yard of bricks for the 200th time, the crowd unleashed a cheer that would be hard to surpass. Even as Castroneves extended his victory celebration by climbing the fence and running north toward Turn Four afterwards, the crowd loved it. When he finally made it to Victory Lane for the “official” celebration, the crowd loved it. It seemed that few had left, when Helio was ridden around the track on the back of the pace car. The crowd stood and cheered, and even climbed the fence in his honor as he passed by.

Yesterday’s crowd seemed very knowledgeable and appreciative of what they had just witnessed.

Pre-Race Ceremonies: Many of the customs and traditions we’ve grown to love over the years were scaled back or eliminated this year, presumably due to the pandemic. The colorful balloons that have been launched just before the command to start engines since 1947 were not there yesterday. This was not due to the environmental concerns that seem to surface every year, but instead due to the pandemic. It was explained that they did not want to put additional staff in the infield. That explanation sounds a little lame to me.

I’m hoping the balloons return for next year, but I’m not sure they will. I don’t hate the planet as some claim, but I’m not convinced that the so-called facts and data to prove that the balloons do great harm to the environment are valid. There have been too many holes shot in the arguments made by groups such as Balloons Blow and other fringe groups like them. One thing we’ve learned in the last few years – there is fake news on both sides of any argument.

I was happy that they played the video of Bob Jenkins narrating the traditional Memorial Day homage that PA announcer Jim Phillippe used to recite each race morning for decades. The playing of Taps brought the usual chills as everyone in attendance suddenly went silent, showing respect for our veterans that paid the ultimate price. Jim Cornelison did another stirring rendition of (Back Home Again in) Indiana; proving once again that he is worthy of being brought back, year after year.

One thing that fell completely flat was the contrived Drivers, to your cars. Years ago, Tom Carnegie would give a dramatic, but downplayed Drivers, to your machines in that magical voice that seemingly spread throughout Marion County. Yesterday, two guys from “social media sensation” (the Speedway’s words, not mine), something called Dude Perfect, gave a very imperfect, ear-piercing, over-the-top screech telling the drivers to report to their cars. I think PA announcer Dave Calabro could do a much better and less-obnoxious job of this.

The traditional Parade of Bands did not take place at 8:00 am like it normally does. I am assuming this was due to potential COVID issues as well. Hopefully, this tradition will return next year.

All in All:  It’s hard to say I’ve ever been to a bad Indianapolis 500. Then again, I wasn’t there in 1973, the first year I missed in quite a while. All that were there say that was a race that everyone wanted to forget. Some races sort of fade into my memory as not being overly spectacular compared to others, while others stand out as being outstanding. I think I can safely say that when I look back at the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, I will remember it as an outstanding race.

First of all, I was very happy with the winner. Secondly, it was a picture-perfect day. Everyone was happy to be back after missing last year’s race that ended up taking place in August. There was just a very upbeat and happy spirit about the place all day.

It was a very safe race, with only two cautions – both for single car accidents that caused no injuries. There were thirty cars running at the end, that had to be a record (but I don’t know that), while twenty-two cars were still on the lead lap when the checkered-flag fell.

Most of all, I got to sit and enjoy the day with family. My older brother came over from Virginia with his wife and sat with us. Susan’s oldest son and his friend drove up from Nashville on Saturday and sat with us.  All that was missing was my oldest brother, who normally comes, but chose to opt out this year and take the credit for next year. I’m thinking he may be regretting his choice today.

I will share three self-indulgent photos from yesterday. One of Susan and me in the pits before the race, another of the two of us in our seats during the race, then the last of the two of us, along with my brother Jack and his wife Karen while we were at Dawson’s on Main last night after the race. Paul Dalbey joined us and was kind enough to snap it for us.

Pits 2021

Seats 2021

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This past weekend was one of the best race weekends I’ve spent at IMS in a while. I’m not sure exactly which one was the absolute best, but the 2021 Indianapolis 500 ranks up at the top along with a few others. Thanks to those that followed along with us throughout the Month of May. It served as a reminder how special this whole experience truly is.

George and Susan Phillips

Please Note:  Posting every day in May takes its toll. Being away from home for three straight weekends leads to neglected yard work and household chores. With a rare off-weekend following the Indianapolis 500 this year, I am going to take advantage of that and take an extended break from here. Therefore, there will be no posts here for the remainder of this week, nor next Monday – unless something major happens. I will return here on Wednesday June 9, refreshed and ready to go as we head into the summer stretch for the NTT IndyCar Series. – GP

30 Responses to “Random Thoughts on the Indianapolis 500”

  1. Rick Johnson Says:

    George, thanks for all your May blogs…enjoy your break from blogging.

    I was disappointed they didn’t pay tribute to Bobby Unser in the pre-race show (though I know they did it during either practice or qualifications), and I was also surprised that during the NBCSN pre-pre-race show they didn’t play the video of Sam Schmidt walking and dancing at his daughter’s wedding while wearing the exoskeleton. Overall, the NBC coverage was fine.

    Taps, as played by SSG Ron Duncan, is always a highlight…gets me really teary-eyed. I thought that Genarld Wilson, who sang the “God Bless America” was outstanding. I’d love to have him return along with Jim Cornelison.

    I wish Roger Penske would say “Lady and Gentlemen, start your engines,” instead of “Drivers…”, and I wish Helio and all future winning drivers would not pour the milk over their heads, but that’s just me.

    In all, a great race, and I can’t wait until next year.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    I thought it was damn good race, and you are right, we most likely won’t see another 4 time winner in our lifetime. I feel lucky to have seen every 500 since 1960 (except) 2020. The pre-race was lacking in my opinion. Hopefully all the traditional events will be back in 22. I was 9 years old in 1960 and 70 for this years race and I still love it the same.. I had hoped to run into you and Susan, but maybe next year.

  3. Had to miss my first 500 since 82 because of recent surgery so I watched on TV. I thought the broadcast was quite good. One of the better ones in a long time.

  4. SkipinSC Says:

    As I posted on Facebook, ” a great race with an even greater result.” Even though I was watching from the comfort of our living room, the excitement, particularly toward the end when it became apparent that Helio was in it to win it, was palpable. (And I was there for Foyt’s 4th, Al Sr’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, and Mears first two. ) Sorry I missed seeing the history live, but glad you and Susan got to savor it all. Safe travels home!

  5. Thanks so much, George and Susan, for your extensive coverage of May. I so appreciate all of your tremendous efforts and love for Indy. I don’t think the smile on my face or in my heart for Helio’s dramatic fourth win will disappear anytime soon.

  6. Paul Fitzgerald Says:

    George
    Why would Mayor Hogsett want to stick it to Roger Penske and the Speedway? Please keep politics out of your blog.

    I also thought the crowd was way above 135,000. What a great day.

    • What politics? I was talking about the mayor’s approach to the pandemic. Does a person’s view of the pandemic identify their politics? It shouldn’t.

      • The mayor clearly stuck it to Penske. Why wait a week? There were a lot of politics in this.

      • But why make a negative comment about an awesome day. Just leave it out.

        • It wasn’t negative. I loved all the extra people there.

          • I loved all the people there too but why take a shot at the mayor? I truly don’t think he tried to put it to Penske. It may have been stated at 135,000 people but maybe it was a wink of the eye and sell as many tickets as you can? I just didn’t like the tone you took with the mayor. I’m not of his party but I think he has tried hard during Covid and he definitely is a sports fan and would never try to hurt Penske or the Indy 500.

  7. Patrick Says:

    For some reason the Indy NBC station kept their talking heads on an extra hour and didn’t show the network pre-race coverage. We missed driver introductions and who knows what else. Not very happy about that. Glad to hear about Bob Jenkins’ homage speech but tv didn’t show it. I always thought Carnegie’s call of drivers to the cars was one of the most tense and dramatic moments. Sounds like it’s been turned into a farce so I’m glad tv missed that as well. I can understand Roger Penske’s speech under the circumstances but I hpoe it doesn’t become a habit. It all ran together and distracted from his command. Very good to see George and Susan enjoying the race together.

  8. I thought the coverage was quite good, especially in the last 50 laps when they refrained from focusing on the leaders who still had to make their final pit stop! Way better than previous years like when they gushed over Bertrand Baguette leading with 10 laps to go and mostly ignored Dario, Hildebrand, and Wheldon who were actually fighting it out for the win.

  9. Mark Wick Says:

    I watched the NBC coverage, the full network only, and don’t have any complaints. I would like to get a definitive answer to what Simona’s status was at the end of the race. Officially she is listed as out due to contact. In yesterday’s wrap up, George, you said she was running. TV showed her sideways in the pits for her last stop and the crew turning her around and pushing her into her pit. I couldn’t see any damage and there was not yellow, but no further mention of her. I don’t recall any race so totally shaped by what happened in the pits. Wilson’s day ended and Rossi’s and Dixon’s effectively ended with Wilson’s first attempted pit entry, RHR’s strong race was ended by a failed pit entry, ditto for McLaughlin. Carpenter stalled and his crew couldn’t find the started during his first pit stop, but he came back to finish a contending fifth. And Rahal left his pit with a wheel not properly installed ending his day and probably ending Daly’s hopes for a win. I may be missing some other pit miseries.

    • Patrick Says:

      Simona wrote a column for an Australian website and said she had the same brake problem other people had. No brake pressure and suddenly the rear tires locked up. She hit the pit wall with the rear of the car and damaged it. I don’t know if the car could have been repaired or not but it was so late in the race it probably wasn’t worth the effort. There was a battle for the lead going on and I think that’s why tv had to forget about Simona.

  10. Bruce B Says:

    Thank you for your coverage George! We all appreciate your love and devotion to the 500. The NW VISTA looked about 75-80% full with fans so happy to be back and witnessing a great race!! I understand what you are saying about probably never witnessing another 4 time win. However, there is a real possibility we could witness the first 5 time winner. Helio knows Indy and he knows how to get around the Speedway quickly. Actually he was only .06 of a second in winning his 4th 500 in 2014. I realize Helio is 46 but he still appears in great health and obviously knows how to get it done at Indy. Give him 2 or 3 more shots and I think he could do it!

  11. Not a Helio fan myself but that was a great drive. I hope he stays at 4 though, I would prefer we not get a 5 time winner especially one with a controversial 1 in there, that people are already debating. Personally I never wanted to see another 4 time winner and would have preferred Dario to Helio. Indy is a different animal though, so it will be annoying to hear another decade of people begging for Helio to be full time again when, outside of the 500, he’s not done much for several years.

    As far as future 4 time winners, Rossi is the only one currently with a win that could get there, I doubt it but I think anyone who does it, hasn’t won the race yet to start the process. At this point, I don’t know if Newgarden will ever figure this place out, Pato possibly or Colton have age on their side at least. Was somewhat fun to see Daly calling Ferucci a clown only to have trouble and watch Santino go to another Indy top 10, 3 races, 7,4,6 finishes, it’s not Roberto Guerrero numbers but he’s a solid bet for Indy, better than watching Stefan Wilson to be sure!

    • Why throw Wilson under the bus? He certainly wasn’t the only one that had brake problems. Last time he raced he was leading with 10 laps left.

      • DUDE! What the F! He didn’t throw anyone under the bus, just said he liked watching Ferrucci better than Wilson, why the butthurt? Rabid Wilson fan or something?

        I think you doth protest too much my man….

      • OliverW Says:

        You sure like buses but please be careful one doesn’t take you out.

      • I miss Justin Wilson on the track but bringing Stefan back all the time really doesn’t fix that. I mean wasn’t he leading based on strategy? I am not trying to dog on the guy but it’s a travesty if Ferucci is watching at home next year and Wilson is once again taking a spot up at Andretti. I know everyone hates Ferucci though.

    • OliverW Says:

      And Santino had the fastest lap on lap 116 at 39.587 being a whopping 0.247 faster than anyone else. I can see him win this in the future.

  12. Michele Porten Says:

    Bravo George!
    It’s awesome you and Susan were both able to attend the race. It truly was a magical finish. Helio’s win had me crying tears of joy!

  13. billytheskink Says:

    I’m afraid I let myself get too caught up in my rooting interest yesterday. That was an action-packed and entertaining race with a historic and popular winner… and yet I mostly sat around after the race absolutely gutted for and contemplating what might have been for Graham Rahal. The ticket renewal ad that the radio network kept running after the race that made prominent use of the audio clip “Rahal hits the wall!” from the radio broadcast didn’t help.

    *sigh*

    Next year…

  14. Yannick Says:

    Thanks George and Susan for the coverageof yet another Indianapolis 500.
    The result has been quite spectacular.
    Here’s hoping Helio gets a chance now to drive the #06 car into the Leaders Circle in the points standings before season’s end.

  15. George, the stands were full (I was over in 3), and here’s how they got away with it:

    The Track has NEVER let out it’s official attendance figures in the past, as you know, so they were able to claim that the INFIELD amounted to 60% of their capacity and the stands only amount to 40% of the grounds’ capacity. Then they announce no crowd in the infield and voila, we get full stands!

    It was a numbers gimmick that was a stroke of GENIUS by whomever came up with it at IMS!

  16. J. Melitski Says:

    Sir,

    Your words couldn’t be more true! I traveled to Speedway, Indiana from NJ, for my 32nd Indy 500! It was amazing! The weather, the maskless fans—it was something we all needed! We camped in Lot 1C, and I can say for a fact—the fans were abuzz like never before!

    Keep up the good work—I enjoyed your blog immensely!

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