With NASCAR visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week for the Crown Royal Presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard, we asked a few members of the motorsports media to share Brickyard stories. Today, Brant James of USA Today looks back on Indy moments that have stayed with him.
More Guest Blogs: Dustin Long
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the backdrop of memories for me from the beginning.
In 2003, it was the site of my first race covered alone after taking over the motorsports beat for a metropolitan newspaper in Florida. NASCAR was booming, the beat was high-profile, and I was a bit intimidated. Kevin Harvick won, reminisced about being a kid growing up in Bakersfield idolizing four-time Indianapolis 500-winner Rick Mears, and gave us a story to tell.
In 2004, it was the site of the first and only race from which I had to call an editor and inform them I was coming home because my wife believed she was going into labor. I was at the airport before the green flag and watched Jeff Gordon win his fourth of five Brickyard 400s from my couch with my wife, who wouldn’t actually give birth to our son for eight days. We waved off that caution.
In 2005, there was the day spent in Columbus, Indiana, reporting – with many of my colleagues – the story of the Indiana native named Tony Stewart who had apparently found peace and contentment in moving back home, then finally won at the Speedway with his father, Nelson, still coaching him from behind a catch fence in Turn 2.
The apprehension on Bump Day 2011 was intense when Danica Patrick, making her final run at the Indianapolis 500 before transitioning full-time to NASCAR, navigated a failed inspection and recurrent rains to qualify her way into the Indianapolis 500.
The most poignant moment, though, came later that May, when J.R. Hildebrand’s last-stretch crash allowed Dan Wheldon, then driving a part-time schedule as he sought another full-time ride, to pass for his second Indianapolis 500 win. Standing in victory lane beaming, as wife Susie joined him with their young sons, Wheldon, who like me lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, raised a thumb and mouthed, “St. Pete, mate.” Wheldon would perish that November in a race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with his favorite race his last victory.
I’ll undoubtedly be reminded of each of these moments this week as I walk Gasoline Alley, look out at Turn 2, pit road or pass victory lane.
So the old place has a way of producing memories, little mental snapshots that become fresh again with every corner turned. And in that way, it’s no different for journalists as fans.