Missing Out on the 101st Indianapolis 500

I should be in Indianapolis right now, but I'm not.

I should just be sitting down to an early lunch, on the 3rd floor of the IMS Media Center, but I'm not.

I'm not in Indianapolis this year, for the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. I'm in Orlando, Florida, where I moved in 2015. And this year, my road to Indianapolis was filled with too many obstacles to even make it there.

And so, for the first time in eight years, I missed my sunrise shot of the IMS Pagoda. I missed my early breakfast. I missed seeing people already drunk — or maybe still drunk from the night before — in the infield. I'll miss hearing the traditional songs. I'll miss Mari Hulman George giving the all important command. And I'll miss seeing the most exciting motorsports event of the year.

My first year at the 500, back in 2009, was so eye opening. I had never watched the race, only listened to it on the radio. Growing up in Central Indiana, you couldn't see the race on TV, so I had no idea what it looked like. And finally seeing everything live shattered the images I had built in my mind about what it all looked like.

That first year, I was nervous walking around Gasoline Alley, getting interviews with the different drivers and crew members, taking photos. There are certain rules journalists must follow, and I didn't want to run afoul of them and get blacklisted. But I was also a little awestruck by being at the one place that my family recognized and revered for so many years.

My first ever interview was with Justin Wilson, who was racing for Dale Coyne Racing. He was a true gentleman and he answered all my questions. I think he could tell I was nervous, and he was very gracious and understanding, and he put up with my rookie nonsense. He became my favorite driver that day, and I always hoped he would win the 500. I was devastated the day he died. My dream had been to help write his autobiography when he retired.

The Race on the Radio

It was a Memorial Day tradition when I was growing up that we would work outside in the yard on race day. We'd listen to the race — it took three and four hours back then — and work out in the yard, burning our skin to a nice, stinging pink, and imagine what the race track looked like. My mom and stepdad would cheer for Rick Mears, but hope for the best for AJ Foyt and Mario Andretti.

I finally got to meet Rick Mears a few years ago, and told him what he meant to my stepdad, Tom. He thanked me and said he appreciated it.

I also got to meet Howdy Bell several years ago, at a networking event. I heard him before I saw him, and thought, "I recognize that voice!" We always heard him, in Turn Number 3, hollering about one pass or another. Then I saw him every year at the race, and even gave him some advice on running his website. (Howdy is also a wedding officiant, and is available to perform at your special day.)

When I lived in northern Indiana, I could have watched the race on TV, but I didn't. I saw a few minutes of it one time, realized it looked nothing like what I had imagined, and so I shut it off. I went back to doing what I had always done. I sent my family off to church and lunch at my in-laws', and I sat and listened to the race on my radio. Although, I did it indoors, where it's nice and air conditioned.

But this year, I'm going to do something I've never done. I'm going to sit and watch the Indianapolis 500 live on my television.

It won't be the same, and so I'm already making plans to get back there next year.

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