As usual, we arrived at the infamous Coke Lot 1C on Thursday afternoon to stake our claim in the sorry, Treeless excuse for a campground. The temperature was right around 90 degrees that afternoon and the heat had a noticeable effect on the early arrivers. Last year we had chilly temperatures and spitting rain for our Thursday setup, but the crowd was not terribly smaller or larger than last year but still down from where it usually is for the Thursday before the race. We use this day to basically insure we aren’t too far away from the corner of 25th and Georgetown; that walk after the race can be brutal.
We roped off our weekend utopia with the prerequisite police caution tape and planned our route of attack. The core of our site is the lifesaving 200 square feet of shade created by two easy up canopies; this would be the only refuge from the skin blistering sun all weekend long. We threw the skeletons up with ease but did not install the actual fabric because it was quite windy and we didn’t want to return on Friday morning to two missing canopies. The three tents were next and the basics of our home were completed.
With camp all buttoned up for the evening, we made friends with our three neighbors. There was a group of first timers to one side, an empty but setup campsite on the other and a group of yearly warriors behind us. All the neighbors were incredibly nice and agreed to watch our skeleton homestead for the evening. There really is no reason to stay on Thursday when you have an in-town home base for the weekend.
After an afternoon of airport pickups and a night of remembering old times and the usual fun filled catch up session we awoke on Friday morning ready for some Carb Day action and headed back to the “campground”. Our veteran crew had no problem putting the finishing touches on our site as we finished building the canopies, unloaded more than a few coolers, placed our massive camping box loaded with anything and everything that would be needed for the weekend and sat in our plethora of camping chairs for a few minutes before heading in.
It wasn’t too long before 11am by the time we finally found some shaded seats near start/finish to watch the final hour of practice. This is without a doubt the single most exciting hour of practice around. The teams and drivers haven’t seen the track for a week and they only have 60 short minutes to make final set up decisions for the big race on Sunday.
An exciting, but drama free hour passed and before we knew it, the Indy Lights race was upon us. We hustled to turn one so we could have a primo view of the insanity that would undoubtedly follow shortly after the waving of the green flag. From a pure action standpoint, the Freedom 100 is a race that is unmatched anywhere in the world. In all honesty, every year without a car into the catch fence or an injured driver is a win. This race is the definition of crazy and after sitting low in turn one, I’m not so sure they need all of that downforce which allowed drivers to go three to four wide into the corner every lap it seemed.
We moseyed near the Skynyrd concert but didn’t stay for too long; yea I “saw” them, that was good enough for me. With that, a return to the campsite for the evening was in order. Once home for the evening, we found a single tent paired with a Mustang shoehorned in a really odd position right on top of our property. It turned out to be a British guy in the middle of a cross country sight-seeing journey. He had been in the states for 25 years and called California home. He had always wanted to see the rest of the country so this was the summer to do it. On a whim he stopped into Indianapolis for the weekend to take in the world’s greatest race. Nick the Brit was quite the awesome guy; super knowledgeable and spent his younger years as a motorsports writer. He was here alone so we welcomed Nick into out rag tag family for the weekend. This is why I love camping at Indy; where else would something like this happen?
A grilled feast and an evening of debauchery was on tap for the evening. Of course we had heard about the safety issues suffered throughout the weekend, but experienced nothing of the sort. It was a night of fellowship and bench racing with the best race fans in the world. Sleep came easy and before we knew it, breakfast was cooked and devoured. Saturday is a slow day at the track so we use the opportunity to head back to home base for showers and some air condition assisted naps.
Dinner on Saturday is always a special moment every year for us. I had met my race weekend partner in crime Will Coffey in college. He was from North Carolina and had been to the race for every year of his existence save for a few of his earliest years. I was a race fan when we met, but he reminded me how awesome indycar racing was. The first few years that I came back to the track with him we camped with his family. Within a few years, our group had grown too large to share a spot so we splintered off into the crew we have now. Over the years our sites have moved farther and farther away so every year we all head over to the Coffey compound for an amazing Saturday evening meal. The usual fun followed that evening and we retired at a reasonable hour to rest up for the big day ahead.
Our usual raceday routine consists of a kings breakfast followed by a stop by the Coffey homestead for the yearly hat draw lottery. This year was a bit different for me, I had to high tail it into the track for a morning appearance at the Social Media Garage for a tweet up and a few surprise raceday interviews. When I arrived the place was hopping. The Social Media Garage turned out really well for its inaugural year. I got to meet a bunch of awesome people and unlike last year, I was able to pump out some enhanced coverage for you guys.
We all said out goodbyes for the year; it’s amazing what kind of bond can form by sitting in a sweaty nasty room and talking indycar for two weeks; these guys were my new homies. The myth who is Mark Wilkinson, also known as New Track Record, and I took advantage of our final race weekend perk; we had the honor of actually being allowed to walk the pre-race grid. Lie, cheat and steal your way to greatness I was always told; this was the definition of a day of greatness.
The grid was an almost peaceful place. We started at the head of the field and weaved our way through the three wide pre-race grid filled with teams taking a last minute meal and making a few changes on the cars in preparation for the grueling say ahead. I wanted only one thing in those few moments we were able to rub shoulders with the stars: to stand on the actual yard of bricks, the ones that were imbedded into the racing surface itself. I made a dash for them and accomplished my only mission for the day. That was a truly special moment. Mark and I were not compelled to take any pictures that morning; we just took it in for what it was worth.
As quickly as it started, we were ushered off the track. Mark and I said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I hustled up to my C stand seats and made the final rendezvous with my party. I sat down just in time to catch the most important parts of the pre race ceremonies. We chose seats a bit lower in the stand than usual which turned out to be just high enough. We were literally in the first row of shaded seats. What a win!
With that, we then spent the next three and a half hours watching possibly the best Indy 500 in history. The perfect finish for an amazing month. Of course I wasn’t ecstatic when Franchitti won, but the 2012 edition was one for the ages. I am still in awe of my experience during the month. From wandering through the garages and pit lane, to having the ability to keep this very blog up and running for the month and most importantly, all the new fanatical fans I was able to put a face and a handshake to the twitter name. As soon as it was all said and done there was only one though running through my mind: Is it May yet??
PS: I would like to thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Cassie Conklin and Mark Dill for the amazing opportunity to be included in the Social Media Garage. This was truly one of the best experiences of my life. And of course, thank you to all of you. None of this matters if no one is reading and in the 16 months or so I have been doing this I have been humbled beyond words by the responses received. From a guy who failed every language related class I have ever taken, it has been an honor to write for you all. Thank you again, the party is just starting.