Keep Memorial Day Weekend Open

For whatever reason, Fridays have always had very light traffic on this site. Even on race weekends, my “(Fill in the blank) Preview” posts go largely ignored. Imagine how small the readership is in the offseason. No, I’m not abandoning my Friday posts, but there is a good chance many of you missed my post this past Friday. It has relevance to what I am writing about today, so you may want to go back and read it.

At least some people read it, because it generated an e-mail to me on Friday morning, from a reader who saw it and shared a similar story to my Orlando wedding trip over Memorial Day weekend in 1989. Without invading his privacy, I’ll be real vague and leave out most of the specifics he shared with me.

A few years ago, he had plans to go to the Indianapolis 500. His daughter was getting married, and for a variety of reasons – she and her groom chose the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend for her nuptials. Being the father of the bride, you can figure out where the reader spent Race Day that year (although he did confess to keeping up with the race on his phone).

This gentleman already had concrete plans to attend the 2022 Indianapolis 500, but he recently found out a grandchild is due at the end of May. Like a dutiful grandfather-to-be, he has now scrapped his plans for the 106th Running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing in order to be there for the birth of his grandchild. In consolation, he has moved his racing weekend back a month and will attend the IndyCar weekend at Road America instead. If you know how much I love Road America, you know I don’t consider that much of a step-down.

But it begged the question, that only hardcore race fans will get; and that is – why do people make major plans over Memorial Day weekend, when immediate family members that go to the Indianapolis 500, are obviously busy that weekend? If you are a casual fan reading this, you’ll consider that an idiotic question. If you are a die-hard, you’ll probably think it’s a very legitimate question.

May is already busy enough with graduations and other matters that demand family attention. Why do people plan weddings that weekend, when there are fifty-one other weekends on the calendar? Even if I wasn’t a race fan, I think it’s a little selfish to expect your friends and relatives to give up a holiday weekend for your wedding. Years ago, someone once told me that there is no one more selfish than a young couple getting married. Since then, I’ve seen repeated examples play out that confirms that notion.

A year or two before Susan and I got married ourselves, I heard a race fan complaining about missing the upcoming 500 that year, because a close friend was getting married that same weekend. I made the comment to Susan how thoughtless it was for any couple to expect people to give up their holiday weekend to attend their Memorial Day wedding. She then informed me that her first wedding took place over Memorial Day weekend in 1987. While Big Al was winning his fourth, Susan was going down the aisle. Obviously, her first husband was not a racing fan. No wonder the marriage was doomed for divorce.

I’m not just limiting this rant to Memorial Day or racing. I’ll never forget back in 1980, when I was still in college – a friend of mine and his fiancé chose to get married in Knoxville on the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend. She is the one that set the date. The problem was that the Tennessee Vols were opening their season that night in Knoxville against the Georgia Bulldogs. Except for the wedding party that had no choice, not a single one of his friends from college showed up. We were all at the game, watching the Vols lose 16-15 against a freshman named Herschel Walker.

My friend was incensed that not a single one of his supposed close friends went to his wedding. What did he expect? Football schedules are set up years in advance. They knew the Vols were in town that weekend. If they really wanted people to be there, they should have picked another date. He never spoke to any of us ever again, and I’ve completely lost touch with the guy. For the record, I did hear that they got divorced about three years later. If she was that thoughtless about other people’s plans, he was probably better off anyway.

I am being semi-sarcastic here, but the Indianapolis 500 has been run over Memorial Day weekend since the early seventies, when Congress made Memorial Day a Monday holiday, instead of always on May 30. I can remember attending several races during the middle of the week in the sixties. While it went against tradition, it does make it easier to attend over a three-day weekend.

That was almost fifty years ago, when Congress did that. Since then, generations have been going every year over the same weekend (except for 2020) in May. Families make plans around Memorial Day, knowing it is off-limits to certain family members each and every year.

People do things over holiday weekends. If you were planning your own wedding, would you plan it over Thanksgiving weekend? Probably not, because you know no one would come. Why is Memorial Day or Labor Day open season for weddings?

Another friend has a sister-in-law that has an early June birthday. Her husband (his brother) planned a surprise birthday party (two weeks early) for her over Memorial Day weekend and expected him to be there. He went to the race (the 100th Running in 2016). He says he still catches grief about it.

I understand life happens and there do need to be certain priorities. The reader that e-mailed me has made the right choice to be present when his grandbaby is due. He would have probably preferred it happen at another time of year, but I don’t think he thought twice about it. Illnesses and pregnancies cannot be scheduled. You work around them. Weddings? That’s something else.

The reader had no choice, but be present to give his daughter away at her Memorial Day wedding. Apparently, she had little choice in picking the date because facilities had filled up and that was the only available date. There’s a reason that date was available.

Every year I see someone complaining on one of the IndyCar Facebook pages I belong to, complaining that they will miss the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in over thirty years, because a family member is getting married that weekend. If you’re not a race fan, missing the Indianapolis 500 once seems to be no big deal.

If you’re reading this, the Indianapolis 500 is probably a big deal to you. Some family members will understand that, but others won’t care at all. Even if you don’t go every year, you probably like to block that whole day out to catch it on television. Do yourself a favor and let everyone in your family know that if there are wedding plans in anyone’s future, one weekend is off-limits – Memorial Day weekend.

George Phillips

15 Responses to “Keep Memorial Day Weekend Open”

  1. Only reason to miss the 500 is if you must attend a funeral…….your own.

    Racing is life ,the rest is just waiting

  2. Great writing…I couldn’t agree more with you!

  3. When my daughter was planning her wedding she told her husband to be that it couldn’t be on Memorial Day weekend because if twas dad wouldn’t be there. May be the fact that our family (including her) have been going to Indy on that weekend since 1946 but now the grand kids are following the schedule of avoid planning anything on that weekend because they are true members of the clan and have their own reserved seats.

  4. Talon De Brea Says:

    Good point about the selfishness of couples planning a wedding (if only as much effort went into maintaining the relationship as into planning the reception). For many a bridezilla, the wedding weekend is her own personal 100th running of the Indy 500, so how could someone else’s interest in “cars going around and around a track” compare?

  5. The only qualifying weekend I ever remember missing, let alone the race itself, is when my son graduated from high School.

    He didn’t want to be at the graduation either.

    I sat miserably, in a folding chair, with a translistor radio by the side of the chair listening while diplomas were being passed out.

    My family knows, that not only Race Day, but the month of May belongs to self-centered me.

    I will be at 16th & Georgetown each day the track is open in May. Being retired definitely has its rewards.

    P.S. I only found your site within the past year. When it pops up in my email, it is the first item I read.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    It is good for people planning any event/wedding/party to be aware of what else their expected guests may have going on when it comes to picking both dates and locations. Unfortunately, sometimes conflicts are unavoidable and dates must be chosen outside of ideal circumstances (as is pointed out in today’s post). I got married on the weekend of the NCAA Final Four as well as when a race weekend I wanted to attend was happening because that is when the church and the venues in our budget were available, it was not the weekend either of us preferred. That said, we got up at 5 AM the morning after the Saturday night wedding and drove 4 hours to that Sunday afternoon race.

    Now I very much agree that non-race fans really struggle to understand how important the 500 is to us, and why asking us to miss going or even watching it live is a very big thing to ask (even telling someone who wouldn’t dream of ever missing the Super Bowl that the 500 is your Super Bowl doesn’t usually register). This past May my mother-in-law scheduled a (pre-)Memorial Day party which started during the second half of the 500, though she was very accommodating after it was explained how important watching the 500 was to me. We arranged to arrive at her house well before the party and I was able to watch the whole thing essentially uninterrupted there, though as other family members arrived late in the race they audibly wondered why the TV wasn’t tuned to regular season baseball…

  7. Best column ever! You outlined my shared position exactly, along with several thousand other Indy 500 fans. I’ve been to almost every 500 since 1962 and the few that I missed I saw live on TV. The 500 is like a Holy Day of Obligation. And every race has it’s own unique characteristics that separates it from previous 500’s. Great job George!

  8. Bruce in Mass Says:

    Everyone in my family knows not to graduate, get married, plan an event, get sick, or die during race weekend. And I just made hotel reservations this morning for the race. Al Jr said it best.

  9. George, I don’t go to the 500 often but I always tell me family to buzz off, that day is for me and overwhelmingly, something always ruins it haha! A friend of the wife from the Navy came in one year and wanted to do lunch at 1230, that took hours! It also doesn’t help that I have a sibling with a birthday around that time so often there is some familiar thing going on. It’s VERY hard to lock myself down for the race, I usually get stuck watching on DVR and catching up to the live feed.

    In fact, in 2011 I had to work on Indy500 day! That was awful, so I actually bought a small 5 inch TV to watch the race on, problem was, I had to be at work when the race was ending so the signal went out as I was driving. I turned into the parking lot at work as the white flag was coming down, by the time I got the signal back, all I could see was JR’s car careening off the wall, imagine my initial confusion!

  10. I finally have my extended family trained to not schedule anything on Sunday of Memorial weekend. It took a while, but now they don’t even consider it.

  11. James T Suel Says:

    My whole family know better than to schedule in May period. The Indianapolis 500 Trumps all in my world. It’s been that way since I was 9 in May of 1960 and seen it live for the first time !!

  12. Hey George, I’m the guy who got married to the readers daughter. Best decision of my life. You’ve got a stupid haircut.

  13. Well said George – and while not always evident to people, Memorial Day weekend is a heavily planned weekend. Our school district, to my dismay, moved graduation from June to the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. That caused me to miss the Carb Night Burger Bash a number of times and arrive in Indianapolis Saturday evening. My quest to get it moved in advance of my children reaching HS was fruitless. The reverse is also true – I have had friends interested in attending the ‘500’ either as a bucket list item or to check out what all the excitement was about – but when they find out that it is Memorial Day weekend, they have annual family obligations they cannot miss. I get it – my annual family obligation is attending the ‘500’.

  14. i agree with northeastvista.
    best column ever.

    also agree with the comments.

    nailed it.

  15. Great column, my son and I are at IMS every weekend in May. I have been going to the “500” for 40 plus years and my son approaching 17 years. Family and friends know don’t schedule anything in May if you want either of to us to attend. Nothing can compare to race day!

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