My Top 10 (or 18) Moments – in no particular order – from the 2013 Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Big Machine Records.com:
1. Austin Dillon & Eldora – I missed the heat races leading up to the final 150 laps of Tony Stewart’s inaugural Mudsummer NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora while my wife and I attended Ganassi Racing’s St. Jude fundraising event (which should be on everyone’s calendar in 2014 – great event hosted by Chip Ganassi and Ashley Judd, and attended by Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray, Tony Kanaan, Scott Pruett and Scott Dixon), but I enjoyed immensely the feature race and wished I had traveled to the event on the media bus we sent from IMS to the race that evening. The following day, I sat at a lunch table with Eldora winner Austin Dillon and chatted about the race during the Chevrolet Camaro LR1 Pace Car unveiling event at IMS. Impressive young man who will represent the sport well.
2. Gates – While the crowd size wasn’t the same as the Indianapolis 500, it was nice to see two months of work and rethinking our gates procedure deliver positive outcomes after failing many of our fans in May. We’ll tweak it even further to be prepared for the 2014 season. I can’t thank Lyndsay Callahan and the rest of the staff of IMS enough for the hard work. And thanks to the fans of our facility for their input and patience as we addressed what was a terrible inconvenience during May.
3. Tony Kanaan, Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet & Herff Jones – I suggested to the Herff Jones folks (the company that provides the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s winner’s rings) that we have Tony Kanaan present the 2012 Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com winner’s ring to Jimmie Johnson on Friday, and Chevrolet agreed to let us use the Chevy Stage as the venue (if you haven’t stopped by the stage during your IMS visits, put it on your schedule next year as it provides lots of entertainment and autograph opportunities). Both drivers wowed the crowd with their humor (Kanaan rubbed Jimmie’s ring hoping some of its luck would rub off on him prior to giving it to Jimmie), and both talked about the respect they have for each other. They talked about winning with Chevrolet, and both opened the door for a driver ride swap in the future. We’ll be following up on that one … would love to see Jimmie take laps at IMS in Tony’s car and Tony use his muscles to wheel a Cup car around the 2.5-mile oval.
4. Nicky Hayden – It is always fun when the “Kentucky Kid” shows up at IMS. The 2006 MotoGP World Champion spent Sunday at IMS promoting the upcoming Red Bull Indianapolis GP. He was introduced at the Cup drivers’ meeting and was quickly cornered by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and others after the meeting to talk two-wheeled racing. Earlier in the day, I questioned him in the Social Media Garage about IMS, motorcycles and whether he might try four-wheel racing in the future. And the two of us posed for pictures with fake mustaches as part of the IMS Super ‘Stache promotion. He was a good sport!
5. Social Media – Brian Simpson and the Digital Media team at IMS continue to tell our story through non-traditional outreach. The Social Media Garage that is open to fans throughout the weekend continues to be a huge hit. And the Super ‘Stache campaign not only proved to be entertaining, but garnered itself some traditional media coverage. And I got to meet famous Twitter handle @Nascarcasm!
6. Dr. Billows and Indiana University Health Medical Center Staff – Without these fine folks – who treat hundreds of fans as well as the occasional driver and crew member on our event weekends – I am not sure I would have been at the track Sunday. In my effort to be everywhere on Friday and Saturday, I dehydrated myself to the point that I spent Saturday afternoon in the infield care center with an IV dripping bags of fluid and nausea medicine in my arm. I watched the end of the Indiana 250 from a hospital bed, and afterward Dr. Billows wouldn’t let me drive. Not even a golf cart. So, because my wife was out of town, I had to call my mom and dad to come take me home. Just like being a non-driving teenager again!
7. Chevrolet – What a year Chevrolet has had at IMS! Winning the “500” and then winning the Crown Royal Presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com. It is always fun to celebrate in Victory Lane with the team from Chevrolet! Chevrolet has roots at IMS that go back to the track’s founding. It is very impressive that more than 100 years later, Chevrolet still is adding pages to its IMS history book.
8. Sports Car Club of America – When I thought (erroneously) that I was talented enough to compete in the Indianapolis 500, I decided to race some SCCA and vintage classes in the 90s. I happened to have engines built for my Formula Vee by Noble Engines. Because the ACCUS meeting was in Indianapolis on Friday, many of the top racing executives in the U.S. were in town to attend that meeting, including SCCA representatives. Much to my delight, one of them was Lisa Noble (as in Noble Engines and an outstanding race car driver herself) who is now serving as chairman of the SCCA. I was thrilled to give her a tour of IMS, catch up on old times, and learn what the SCCA has in store for the organization that is the heart of converting people from fans to active participants in the sport we all love.
9. Ryan Newman – In 2011, Ryan Newman spent quite a bit of time with the IMS staff promoting the 2011 Brickyard 400. We flew him around in a Huey helicopter and landed him in the infield of the track (I actually got to take the helicopter from the north side of Indianapolis into work that morning – flying in over and landing at IMS was one of the best memories I have from working here so far). I got to meet Newman in the late 90s when I was at Panther Racing and we tested him in the Panther Indy car, and I know how important it was for him to compete at IMS. So to see Ryan make his way to Victory Lane at Indianapolis was exciting and emotional.
10. Track Changeover – Ten years ago, IMS leadership said it would take more than 10 days to convert the track from oval to road course. Last year, the team did it during the night in about five hours. This year, the IMS Facilities team, led by Paul Riley and Kevin Forbes, did it in less than an hour. Watching the crews go to work at several major places around the track and get it completed so quickly was an event worthy of spectators and applause by itself.
11. Carter – We continued our post-event tradition that was started in 2011 after my first race at IMS as an employee. After every race, my 11-year-old son and I take a walk down pit lane and look for a specific pit stall (Jeff Gordon’s after this race), talk about the day, his views on the race and what he saw that he liked at the event. It’s really the simple stuff – Jeff Gordon leading a few laps and how Carter wishes Jeff would win; how the pit stall burn out marks are some INDYCAR and some NASCAR and how they’ll be on the ground for a while; the race he is going to have with the handful of new Gen-6 Cup 1/64 scale cars he purchased at the merchandise trailers and how he was going to pretend the Nationwide Sam Hornish Jr. car he purchased was also a Cup car; how fun it is to mix the juices or get ginger ale out of the Media Center soda machine; and how cool it is that we spend this time together after every race at the Speedway. Then we walk down the track to the Yard of Bricks and marvel at the Speedway’s massiveness and speculate what Ray Harroun thought about the place 100-plus years ago. We take a picture and vow to do it again the next race. Next walk with Carter – Aug. 18 after MotoGP. I can’t wait!
12. Justin Moore and Big Machine Records.com – Scott Borchetta from Big Machine Label Group loves racing and he loves IMS, and he has brought some outstanding talent to Kroger Super Weekend at the Brickyard over the last three years – and a staple each year has been Justin Moore. Justin genuinely cares about helping Crown and our fans honor American heroes, and his song “Heroes” was written just for this event and to help raise money to benefit those who have sacrificed for all our benefits. I talked to Justin in Victory Lane Sunday, and he said he wants to continue to make being part of this IMS weekend a part of his annual tradition. Looking forward to welcoming him back in 2014.
13. Lights – Lights on the track at IMS look pretty awesome! And I’m not talking about putting lights up around the facility. I’m talking about seeing some of the Daytona Prototype cars running the last portion of the Brickyard Grand Prix on Friday with the headlights on. It makes me want to explore having the race end even closer to dark so we could enjoy this beautiful sight that never has really been experienced at IMS in its 104 year history.
14. Brick Walk – If you missed it, you missed something really cool. For both the Nationwide and Cup races, the drivers in each starting field walked to the track along the Yard of Bricks that stretches behind the Pagoda Plaza lined by thousands of fans. Every driver – Gordon, Earnhardt, Stewart, Patrick, Johnson, all of them – walked to the starting grid surrounded by fans. We loved it, the fans really loved it, and we’ll do it again. Maybe even in May. Don’t miss it next year.
15. Drivers Meetings – The drivers meetings for Nationwide and Cup were to-the-point – here is how we start, here is the restart, here is the pit speed limit, here is where the fire stations are located, here is green-white-checkered procedure. Any questions? None. Not one. Hundreds of drivers, crew chiefs and others and not one question. And both meetings ended with everyone standing to their feet and removing their hats as a prayer was given.
16. Sam Hornish Jr. – With the exception of Conor Daly and A.J. Foyt, I am not sure I will ever care more about a race driver than Sam. I still remember the day we decided he was the driver that Panther Racing needed to have in its Indy car and the steps we took to secure him. After I left the Nationwide meeting, I got halfway through Pagoda Plaza, and it hit me that I hadn’t tried to find Sam. I quickly turned around and headed back. Fortunately, I found him still sitting and was able to speak with him for a bit. I also got to see Crystal and Sam’s two girls (I had seen Sam Sr. the day before and had a great time catching up). Sam’s a great driver and an even better person.
17. Lemonade out of Lemons – When Morgen and Tristen Morris were asked to close down their lemonade stand in May at IMS, I didn’t know about it until a member of the media called me two days later. Upon investigation, it was true – we had asked a 10-year-old girl to shut down her efforts to raise money on National Lemonade Day. In an effort to make amends (and not lose a potential fan of our facility), we offered to make a donation of $500 (for the 500 miles at Indy) to her charity of choice – the American Heart Association. I spoke with the mother of the girls and said I wanted to go one step further but needed to find the right opportunity. Well, that opportunity presented itself, and we made a check presentation prior to the Nationwide race to the American Heart Association and we asked Morgen and Tristen to give the command for drivers to start engines – on national television! If you saw it, you know that it couldn’t have been more perfect as the girls belted out their lines in unison on top of IMS victory podium. The girls stayed in that spot for several laps, jumping up and down each time the drivers roared past the Yard of Bricks. As we were heading back to where they were going to watch the race, Morgen asked me with the innocence of a 10 year old, “Can I have my lemonade stand up here next May?”
18. Samuel Deeds and Crown Royal – For the second year in a row, Crown Royal brought American heroes to IMS. Being able to honor and thank Samuel Deeds and the other Crown Royal hero program finalists for the sacrifices they have made to make our country a better and safer place puts everything else in perspective. It made me proud to be an American, a Hoosier and a race fan, to see the respect and thankfulness that everyone at IMS offered to Samuel and the Crown heroes throughout the weekend. Thanks Crown Royal, for making this more than just a race, but a celebration of the American spirit.