Every Memorial Day a flood of memories comes back to me.
I grew up on the west side of Indianapolis. In high school we would skip school and go to Carb Day and have a blast. We really didn’t watch much of the track action to be honest. There was too much to watch in the infield!
I remember walking through the infield and seeing Mario Andretti’s transporter and watching them load it. We started talking towards the guy standing by the transporter and realized it was Michael Andretti himself! This was before he raced at Indy and he was working for his dad. He was a very nice guy, he answered all our questions. You would have never guessed he was racing royalty. It was just like talking to my neighbor. This was back when the Coca Cola field was filled to capacity days before the race. In the mid to late 80′s.
A few years after high school I met my girlfriend, her grandfather was a car owner. Most of her family was involved with the team. Her brother and dad were members of the pit crew. It was also interesting to hear the gossip going on behind the scenes. They would always chat about what they were struggling with to get the car setup and ready to compete. The guys basically lived at the track the whole month, sometimes working around the clock. It was pretty intense. A few times when I was at the shop I was asked to help them load the transporter before they headed out to a race. I remember bracing myself to pick up a rear wheel as if I was picking up something heavy and the wheel practically flew up in the air. I was amazed something that big could be so light.
The whole month of May was special. Lots of energy in the city, tons of nightlife, race parties etc. Nonstop fun. It wasn’t uncommon to see celebrities out on the town during the month of May.
Years later I was forced to move from Indianapolis after being laid-off from my job. Since then I have traveled all over the country as a computer consultant for the last 12 years. I try to make it back to the 500 every chance I get. It always reminds me of all the great times I had when I was younger. When the balloons fly and the fighters fly over – there is no way you can resist being proud to be American. To this day, the spectacle of the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most electric things I have ever witnessed.
I’ve been to the 500 several times since I left Indy. I always park in the same complex that I lived in back in the day and walk the same path I did back then. I love taking in the sights and sounds of the race. Of course I have to pick up some White Castles and some King Ribs to make my trip complete. I can’t explain it, but my eyes always tear up during the invocation. I will always miss it. Sitting in the stands, getting burnt to a crisp. And having not a care in the world.
When I am unable to make it back to Indy for the 500, Memorial Day is filled with mixed emotions. It’s just not the same watching it from 1000 miles away. I remember when I was a little kid we would sit out in the back yard listening to the cars engines roar in the distance (probably 10 miles away) and listening to the race on the radio.
It was a great time to grow up in Indianapolis. Thank you for the memories and giving me one more thing to be proud to be a Hoosier and most of all, an American.