My First 500

anotherindycarblog will be slowing down until January as I have a soul crushing schedule ahead of me at work the next month and a half. The usual two posts per week coming on Tuesday and Fridays will be supplanted with a single Wednesday post, if all goes well. I have grown a small readership and I absolutely don’t want to leave you guys hanging. Hopefully there will be a few weeks where I can throw up two, but no promises. This site will most likely eclipse 5000 views today because of you guys. THANK YOU!!! The indycar community is the most awesomest community there is. I love sharing with you guys and have no intentions of stopping.

I have written pieces and parts of this story on a few of my previous posts, but I have never told the whole thing in its entirety. Nevertheless I figured I would blow the cobwebs off of my first 500 memories and share them with the world. So now, without further adieu…

The year was 1997 and my family was taking advantage of the double rain out to actually attend the race in person for the first time. My family was a huge Indy 500 family, not necessarily and indycar family. We were never able to attend the race live so each year we would go camping and watch it in a non-blackout area. Some years we would venture out to my aunt and uncles house, but we would always find a way to watch the race live on TV. This year was a bit different; we took our camping trip, a very wet trip that year, but didn’t complete our tradition of watching the race.

Imagine my surprise when my mom called me in sick to school the following Tuesday, and my uncle (a different one) came to our house to pick us up and take the family out to IMS. By this time we were losing interest in the race. The split had fractured the series and it was getting increasingly harder for us to make that awesome camping trip each year, but we jumped at the chance to see it in the flesh, for free!

Uncle Chris parked us in the north 40, but took some crazy back road route to get there. To this day I am not sure he even knows what he was doing, but after driving through neighborhoods for what seemed like hours we popped out on 30th street not too far from the north entrance. Unsurprisingly, traffic was very light given the Tuesday rain date and being a freebie day we were able to drive right in. Parked and with coolers in hand, we started the trek into the facility itself. Our chosen seats were high up, in the fourth turn. We literally chose the highest row that we could, it’s not like there was a crush of people to work through. There was no one near us and the stands were ours for the afternoon.

We settled in for the remaining 184 laps on top of those aluminum bleachers. I remember it being very windy that day. A memory that I think was saved wrong, because it is always windy on the top of the grand stands, a lesson I would learn a few years later on a very chilly pole day. Our man was always Scott Goodyear. If memory serves, Scott ran an Ecolab sponsorship; the same company that both of my uncles worked for. We were absolutely pulling for Goodyear as we watched the new engines and chassis click off laps.

Now I had no actual skin in the game. I was a punk teenager and had become slightly disinterested in the sport. Split or not, I was starting high school and was a bit too cool for this kind of stuff. It was still very invigorating to see the cars up close and in person, finally after so many years. I didn’t know about the politicking going on behind the scenes, nor did I care. I was finally there. My years of apathy about racing were, at least for a few hours that Tuesday afternoon, put on hold as I took it all in.

We all know the story of the 1997 500, a story that does not include a win by Scott Goodyear, but I was secretly OK with that. My man was Arie Luyendyk because he had such a cool name. I didn’t know about his racing past, only that he had won the 500 before, and had a killer name. At the end of the race, it was my man who won. So few times, if ever, had my guy won up to that point, or since! It was awesome, but sadly that would be the last date I would have for a while with indycar.

I had no idea what was going on in American open wheel racing during those years. The split, lawsuits, USAC, CART, IRL; none of those terms detracted from the race for me. We were an Indy family. I only knew the drivers from the 500. It amazed me when I found out years later that there was an actual series built around that one, momentous race. But none of it mattered; we were race fans for one day a year. Sure my dad would take me to IRP, but it never seemed to match the excitement of watching the 500, even on TV.

Life just happened to get in between racing and me. I had no idea how much I loved her until I finally came back for qualifying in 2003, on a whim to get away from college that weekend. It’s funny looking back; I was not that kid who loved all things fast. I had my racecar toys and tons of 500 memorabilia, but I just never seemed to “get it” until I was older. Now, as I read about the 80’s and 90’s in racing, I am sometimes upset that I did not take more advantage of what was so close to me; that I wasn’t a “true” racing fan my whole life. Maybe it was lack of exposure, save for that one Sunday in May, but the seed was planted at an early age. It would take years for me to fully realize how much of an impact the month of May had on my childhood and adult life.

It was 2006 before I would attend the big dance and actually make it back to raceday, and I have proudly not missed one since. I am not sure if my current thoughts on indycar racing would have been augmented any if I had not gotten to go to the ’97 500. But I am sure this: no matter how that year’s race is looked at from a historical perspective with the split, 35 cars, the poor finish; 1997 will always be my favorite running of the Memorial Day Classic.

Eric Hall

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2 Responses to My First 500

  1. DZ says:

    I think if you polled 10,000 Indy 500 fans, at least 50% (likely more) would say their first was the favorite or at least most memorable. Even for me, a native Hoosier who had seen a few on TV as a kid, and have attended many, the first moments of my first attended race (described here; http://groundedeffects.blogspot.com/2009/10/synopsis-part-deux-end-of-beginning.html ) were what sealed the addiction for me.

    Love hearing the ‘first time’ stories. They always bring a smile to my face and I can picture the days events as if I were also there.

  2. Great story, Eric. On a personal note, 1997 was a slightly bittersweet year for me. I attended for the first time in 1996, and was back at the track again on Race Day in 1997. Um, make that Sunday Race Day. And then Monday Race Day. Tuesday, unfortunately, I was one of those poor saps who couldn’t be there, since I had a final exam to take back in Terre Haute. Luckily, the test wasn’t until after the race, so I and about 3-4 friends packed into my dorm room to watch Arie hold off Goodyear on that weird one lap restart. Good times. I’m glad to be able to say that I’ve only missed the race one time since. And with a little dose of luck, I hopefully won’t miss another for a really long time.

    Here’s to seeing you at the track for next year’s 500.

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