Time and again, the Indianapolis 500 brings hundreds of thousands of people together. Those people may never have come across each other if it wasn’t for the very event that gives our city its flare. Kids fall in love, adults connect back to the moments that made them first adore 16th and Georgetown.
That uniqueness brings the people back. You saw that whether you watched the race on television, listened to the roar of the crowd on the radio, or if you were physically here today. There’s also the unpredictability that we have seen the last few years.
Going from winners like two-time champ Takuma Sato, four-timer Helio Castroneves, and now Marcus Ericsson, who drank the milk and kissed the bricks for the first time.
A driver like Ericsson, who grinded away in Formula 1 for years with little success, can make himself a star and a legend of a city in a little less than 24 hours of actual track time from Qualifying Weekend until Race Day Sunday. That’s exactly what he has done. For as long as Ericsson decides to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he’ll get the echoing and white noise cheers anytime his name is even mentioned.
That’s what we’ve seen with guys Castroneves and Sato, and especially Tony Kanaan.
What a race though on Sunday, right? Dramatic, entertaining, intense, and fun. When the red flag came, and eventually Pato O’Ward challenged Ericsson for the Turn 1 lead, you could hear the combined gasp and awes of the crowd of 300,000-plus. All at one moment, everybody inhaled, and then eventually cheered or sighed.
Again, there’s the beauty of this place. Fans have their favorite drivers, but even if they don’t win, everyone goes home happy. Name another sporting event in the world where literally every single person in attendance goes home with a smile. That just doesn’t happen; Not even in NASCAR.
IndyCar doesn’t have the types of guys who are in the game for selfish reasons. It all comes back to the family and the betterment of us all. I made sure to do something different this year. It was Indy 500 number-four for me.
In 2016 at the 100th running, I was going into my senior year at Butler. I stood in the Snakepit for the whole time. Yes, fun as a 21-year-old, but I left the track that day still not appreciating everything it had offered me that day.
The next race I came to was in 2020.
Yes, the 500 where the people in attendance were me, the media folks, drivers, crews, and IMS staff. That’s it. Even though it was empty, I felt something that day that I would never forget. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a place that gives you the chills when it’s empty, and when it’s sold out. There’s only a few places like that.
For me, it felt like my first trip to Wrigley Field. I grew up in the Sammy Sosa era and at the end of Ryne Sandberg’s career where the Cubs were pretty good. But in my early days of going to Cubs games, I didn’t appreciate Wrigley for its true-self. When I went back, the Cubs were horrible. But Wrigley Field still stood as a place that I love with all of my heart.
Those are now my emotions about the Speedway. In 2016, I didn’t fully embrace it. In 2020, I committed to always soaking up every ounce of fun that the track offers us. That’s what I did in 2021, but we still could not all come together to celebrate.
Today, I watched the entirety of the pre-race ceremonies and traditions in Pit Lane. God Bless America, the Star Spangled Banner, Back Home Again In Indiana, everything. The playing of Taps gave me chills down my spine as I gazed out to the sold out front straightaway crowd.
Everyone standing and silent reminded me of what we can do when we come together. So many positive aspects of life come when we work as a team, enjoy things together, and respect each other no matter our personal differences.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway will offer us that forever. We can’t wait to be Back Home Again when 2023 rolls around.