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, Nate Ryan of NBC Sports expresses his love for Indy, inside and outside IMS.
Indianapolis is my favorite place in auto racing.
This isn’t a particularly extraordinary statement given that the world’s most famous racetrack rests within the town limits.
Yet the reasons behind my love affair with the Circle City have little to do with racing – though they share much in common with the wide range of emotions and indelible memories that I’ve witnessed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway engender over the past two decades.
There have been many special moments at the fabled 2.5-mile oval since my first assignment as a curious cub reporter who shelled out his own cash to cover the 1996 Indianapolis 500 four months after taking over the racing beat at the San Bernardino (California) Sun.
Among the many remarkable happenings I’ve seen at the Brickyard: Tony Stewart’s triumphant fence-climbing breakthrough in 2005 after a litany of agonizing disappointments; Tony Kanaan’s crowd-pleasing underdog win capping a breathtaking 68 lead changes in 2013; Juan Pablo Montoya’s return to glory in May, a record 15 years removed from his last sip of milk.
The roster of winners I’ve watched overcome by jubilation in the winner’s circle reads akin to a championship primer: Schumacher. Gordon. Elliott. Johnson. Harvick. Franchitti. Dixon.
But for me, Indy always has meant much more than just its hallowed ground.
My favorite recollections there mostly have happened away from the corner of 16th and Georgetown, plunging into the vibrant charm, cuisine and culture of the city’s distinctive and eclectic neighborhoods.
Indianapolis is where I fell into a serious relationship, had my heart broken and later reignited a true love that had been dormant for 16 years (until a fateful night in funky Fountain Square, my latest delightful find).
It’s where I formed the strongest of bonds with best friends on the NASCAR beat through deep conversations and hearty laughter filling gorgeous midsummer evenings on the second-floor patio of the Bourbon Street Distillery.
It’s where I enjoyed a magical double bill of Wilco and Bon Iver on the lawn at White River State Park, sweated through a game of pickup hoops at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse and strolled countless times along the Canal Walk.
It’s Mass Ave., museums and Monument Circle.
It’s where I’ve been fortunate as an adult to spend more time than any city except those I’ve called home.
It’s a jewel of the Midwest, and that it also plays host to a few of the most prestigious races in North America just happens to be a wonderful bonus – or in my case, a much-appreciated perk in this line of work.
That was driven home Wednesday morning in exchanging pleasantries with a high-ranking NASCAR executive while waiting to board a flight.
“I’m going to Indy,” he said, “so how bad can it be?”