On The Grounds: Grand Prix of Indianapolis Edition

Saturday was the day that changed it all for one mid-twenties place fan. I had convinced my younger brother to attend the inaugural GP of Indianapolis with me and I was determined to show him the intricate nuances of road racing and hopefully making a more well-rounded racing fan out of him.

We arrived around 2pm, (yea yea yea, I don’t want to hear anything about missing the development series races. I had already seen them run and I didn’t want to push my brothers patience with a long, possibly boring for him, day at the track) and made our way into a pretty close spot in Lot 7. This would be our biggest rookie mistake of the afternoon, but more on that later.

We purchased walk-up GA tickets, because why would we buy GA tickets early? The ticket ladies had no idea where any GA seating was aside from the viewing mounds, and they got very snippy when asked if there were any grandstands open to GA ticket holders. Luckily I had seen on twitter a few minutes later that the Tower Terrace stands were open to view the standing start in.

The Indy Lights race was a handful of laps in so we dutifully made our way to the chicane fence and walked the entire length of Hulman Boulevard and  well into the 7/8/9 complex.

Tire smoke, wiggling cars, lost traction, exhaust pipes belching fire… he was immediately hooked on the sights and sounds of road racing. He is a diehard Indy 500 fan of about the last 6 years, but had never been much of an IndyCar fan or really a racing fan. 15 minutes was all it took to open his eyes, but I digress.

After taking in the last half of the race, we made our way into the Pagoda Plaza. My brother wanted a koozie, some type of Verizon gear (he was hoping for a 2014 TK jersey as he felt a little dated rocking his TK Sunoco jersey) and a bite to eat. We parted ways and I headed for the pre-race grid walk open to all bronze badge holders.

I got in line about 50 yards from the victory circle gate and the line finally started moving about 5 minutes after the posted start of the walk. I made it into pit lane and made a b-line for the trench walk over. I was quickly stopped by three yellow shirts and two state troopers and told “you need more than just a bronze badge, the rules changed in the last hour”.

Hmm… I was not a happy camper to say the least. Sure, I blog… Sure, I run an indycar twitter account… But I am just a lowly regular ‘ol fan that likes to write about indycar. No press credentials, no special treatment, no free perks; I pay my way for every indycar event I wish to experience. That grid walk was very important to me.

The calm on the grid is magical. I have stood on the Indy 500 grid twice, as well as the Mid-Ohio grid. It’s an experience that I cannot miss if I have the chance to participate. Dejected and deflated I polled a few other whipped fans I saw. I met a group of four out of town Indy 500 fans. They’ve been going for 15 years, but had never had the chance to stand on the grid. They purchased bronze badges specifically for this grid walk. “It may not be The 500, but it’s still indycars on the yard of bricks” they quipped before agreeing that they would “never spend 125 bucks to be taken by IMS again”.

Pointed words for sure, I wonder if they renew their 500 tickets?

The bronze badge has increased in price this year by 25 bucks from 2013, and they have also taken away preferred parking for holders. Not having close infield parking when no one is in attendance at a practice day will really decrease the chances of me heading out for an hour after work when I’d spend the hour just getting to the garages. I know this isn’t connected to the GPofI specifically, but this fits in well with the ‘overpriced and underserved’ feeling I’m getting from my 2014 bronze badge.

Anyway, I met my brother in said Tower Terrace seats, but he didn’t have a koozie or a new shirt! He said the merchandise shops sucked and he didn’t want to throw his money away on something he wasn’t sold on. Fair enough. He did get some chicken fingers from the new café thing and likened them to restaurant style chicken. High praise indeed from this kid; IMS gets a huge atta boy from him on the new grub.

We all know what happened once the green fell, and of course my brother was worried about the bystanders, but he described what he saw as “spectacular”. That’s a word that goes exceedingly well with indycar. I asked “what if the crash didn’t happen?” he responded: “still spectacular, we saw the MotoGP standing start and that was awesome, but these are indycar at Indy”. I don’t know If I could have said it any better myself.

Once the race got underway, we circulated the inside of the track, first stopping at the T1 mound and took in the view. “spectacular” he muttered again; I simply could not disagree. The speed, the sounds… it was almost overwhelming.

The Chicane mound was next and this is where he really liked the view. He could see the cars squirming under the downforce while still being caught by the sticky tires. Honestly, he was more than content here, but we moved down into the 7/8/9 mounds and met the real race fans in attendance. Laughs, high fives, hell yesses and oh no’s were shared among good friends, and the real aura of road racing appeared to him. He understood the difference of sitting in the grandstands for The 500 and hanging out in the grass for road racing.

“Are you in for Mid-Ohio?” I asked. “Hell Yes!” he responded. This oval fan even went as far as saying he think he likes road racing more than oval racing and told me to keep him abreast of the broadcast schedule so he could catch a few more races. Well my goodness, Grand Prix of Indianapolis, it looks like you did your job for one ‘place’ fan. And that was really the whole point, to expose oval fans to the awesomeness of road racing. I know his fandom isn’t as important to the arm chair reporters because he lives in Indianapolis, but indycar still made a new fan. I call that a huge win.

We made our way back to our car in the North 40 and proceeded to watch yellow shirts physically block the exit so infield parking could clear out. We sat for nearly 90 minutes, about half an hour more than I have ever waited to exit the Coke Lot after The 500. There were angry drivers, drunken fights and a real volatile feeling in the lot without a cop or yellow shirt to be seen… except to block the exit gates remember.

It was my fault for parking in the North 40 and a total rookie move. I should have parked in Lot 1B, where I have never had an issue leaving after a race whether it is NASCAR, Sports Cars, F1 or MotoGP. But waiting 90 minutes to exit a race that had at most 30k people? Totally unacceptable. Mid-Ohio and Milwaukee welcome more people each year, and I have never waited more than 30 minutes to leave either facility.

The GPoI was definitely a tale of two experiences. The casual fan had a blast, and the diehard was frustrated. The actual race experience was amazing, but the IMS experience was infuriating.

I did run into the always awesome Mr. Douglas J. Boles on Sunday and had an excellent chat with him. He commiserated with the bronze badge holder complaints. He said “You are our core fans at this facility and we do not want to underserve you guys. We know we had a bad day and we will try to make it up to you guys.” He also said the State Police called and apologized for the traffic snafu. Nice, but I’ll believe it when we go again next year.

My brother had a rockin’ day, and I had a frustrating day. It happens to everyone, but it wont keep me away from indycar or IMS.

Eric Hall

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One Response to On The Grounds: Grand Prix of Indianapolis Edition

  1. WingSideUp says:

    I was really hoping for a homerun on all accounts and your account mirrors what other bloggers have said as well as a friend that came from NH to see the show. I couldn’t make it in person but watched the TV broadcast and listened to the IMS radio broadcast.
    I have to say both mediums painted a better picture than what I was watching. There were moments of spirited racing, (and those only seemed to come after a restart), but for the most part, from my viewpoint, it seemed a little boring.
    Either way I hoped they learned from their mistakes and the 500 goes off without a hitch. You wrote a nice perspective. Keep up the great work!

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