On The Ground: Grand-Am at IMS

Programming Note: I am awash with guilt because NASCAR and Grand-Am are receiving features on a website specifically devoted to indycar racing. However, this weekend’s events took place at our open wheel home so we were all paying a bit more attention to what was happening. DON’T WORRY, indycar insanity will return later in the week.

I was there not the stock car events, but for the Grand-Am series and it was awesome. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I pulled into the north 40 and drove through gate ten underneath the north chute. I arrived at a surprisingly full turn three parking lot; it didn’t look like there was much room left and I assume the infield was nearing capacity. The always friendly yellow shirts directed me to a parking spot, and with my raceday backpack in hand I ventured into the weird and wonderful world of sports car racing at The Brickyard.

Of course, the first thing I did was get as close to the fence as I could at the exit of turn seven and take in the awesomeness that was GT qualifying. Mustangs, Camaros, RX-8s, BMWs, Porsches and a lone Audi all flew by me at an amazing speed. I was shocked by the road holding and real life speed these race machines could muster on the notoriously slippery infield section. I stood there for the final 15 minutes of qualifying in total awe. These were street cars going entirely too fast for their own good and it was amazing.

After I wiped the drool from my chin, I popped over the viewing mound for an easier walk to the pedestrian bridge at the end of the back straight. Almost immediately I passed the “super duper special car corral” (my words). There were areas for specific makes and models from all over the world and had attendees spanning the last 60 years of automobiling. This was one of the most complete car corrals I have ever seen and could have spent the entire afternoon just staring at these beautiful machines.

Impressive, but I had bigger fish to fry. My arrival was slightly later than I had expected so I was on a bit of a time crunch to get to pitlane. Grand-Am allows anyone with a raceday ticket to enter the grid where all four of the classes had their machines lined up and ready to go. Drivers and mechanics manned the cars, shook hands and signed autographs for the massive amount of people that were gathered. It was literally shoulder to shoulder; the place was packed. In the 10 or so minutes I was able to hang out there I was as close to racecars and closer to drivers than I had ever been. No fence, no wall, no handler; just the drivers, mechanics and cars there for every fans enjoyment. That is customer service.

I ran into @SteveWittitch on my way out and we decided to head under the track to catch the start of the Continental Tire Sports Car Series race. A seat high up in J stand would be our vista of choice to witness 70 GS and ST cars funnel into the tight turn one. During the F1 years, there was curbing lining the entrance to turn one; now there was no curb, only a few sorry looking orange cones that got smashed as the drivers took a tighter and tighter line every lap. This caused the entrance to turn one to become very quick and any pass attempt usually ended in contact, a lockup or a run-off.

I was there to see the Street Tuners or ST cars. I drive a Jetta, there was a GTI racing and I was enthralled beyond belief while watching racing variants of the kind of car I drive take hot laps around the world famous Brickyard. Civics, Mazda 3s, Boxters, Miatas; all tiny little cars with small displacement engines ripping it around The Speedway. It was a very cool sight to see.

Then came the rain…

Everyone in the stands rushed for cover underneath, and not a moment too soon. As soon the crowd started really hustling for cover, the clouds burst and we witnessed the first raindrops to fall on the bricks since mid-April. What better way to welcome sports car racing than with a little rain? Well, a little rain turned into a lot of rain and the ST/GS race was red flagged. The details of the race get sketchy after that as we decided it was a prime chance to head to the infield and do a little poking around.

Our first stop was a visit to the Social Media Garage… where they were having a private interview session. It was closed… very social. At that same moment, @GroundedEffects (visit his blog, it’s fantastically wonderful) moseyed on over with the promise of refreshing and ice cold Fuzzy’s Vodka! Right then, we saw a tweet from Doug Boles, IMS VP of communications extraordinaire, asking for a bit of help for the Rolex pre-race.

Fuzzy’s could wait and we bid adieu to DZ; Steve and I met Boles at the base of the media center and were whisked away for about half an hour of behind the scene fun. Once we were inside, we found ourselves sharing a room with the North American Endurance Championship trophies! Rolex series official corralled us upstairs into a little more quiet area to explain that we were going to be holding the numbered row marking signs on pit lane during the pre-race. I was half listening to the questions being asked the other people, and half too busy being mesmerized by the twelve trophies and bottles of campaign that awaited the winners of each class. Beautiful and silver, they were a sight to behold; what a predicament I had stumbled my way into.

Back down to the green room and we were escorted outside and handed our wonderful signs we were tasked with holding… in the middle of a thunderstorm… in the middle of a racetrack. A quick sigh of relief followed when I realized we were holding PVC pipes with plastic numbers velcroed to the top, and not a piece of metal to be seen. We were filed right to the concrete wall in pit lane that was one side of the trench separating us from the racing surface.

It was so cool. The cars would leave their pits and drive feet from us on their way to the grid. They were ear shattering and the exhaust note would shake me to the core each time a DP rolled by. There was enough standing water in pitlane that we would get a good splash each time a car stormed by, but not that it mattered because it had started to heavily rain again while we were standing out there. Remember those puddles? The cars would absolutely rip out of the pit boxes and squirm for grip, sliding and loose as they went by. At one point the adrenaline was really flowing. I had no helmet and no fire suit; this was real and it was wet and it was only then that I understood: never turn your head away from traffic.

As quick as it started, we once again found ourselves outside the media center back with the common folk. One final try at the Social Media Garage revealed that @NewTrackRecord (Visit his blog, it’s wonderfully fantastic)has finished his tour of duty for the day and was free to come out and play. We headed to the spectator mound overlooking the 8/9/10 complex to make home for the rest of the afternoon. We weathered more rain, wind and the typical Grand-Am shenanigans that usually come included with an afternoon in the rain. New friends and old acquaintances followed a carefree afternoon in the rain enjoying some quality driving at the world’s greatest race course.

A win from Sebastien Bourdais capped off a flawless day at the track. Rain, red flags and wrecks couldn’t sully what had been one of the more enjoyable days at IMS I have experienced. As I made my way back to the car I realized: this is right. There was nothing wrong with what I witnessed today. And I want to see as many series at this place as I can. It was a sort of epiphany amid a week of negativity and naysaying; a moment of clarity. All felt right at IMS that day. The granddaddy of all tracks has every right to invite whoever they want and I was more than happy to oblige.

Eric Hall

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