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Monday, November 30, 2020

My longing for the Indy 500 still isn’t over

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Even a dummy like me knows the true meaning of Memorial Day weekend. It’s a time to pause and offer respect to all the military personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice for my freedom, which allows me the opportunity to live and type these words today.

Nothing we did this past weekend is as important as paying tribute to those brave individuals who lost their lives while serving this country.

Traditionally in this region, the weekend also plays host to the greatest motor sports event in the world, the Indianapolis 500. 

For over 100 years, the famed oval at 16th Street and Georgetown Road has showcased the best that open wheel racing has to offer, and yours truly has worshipped the hallowed grounds since 1969, taking in 50 consecutive races while developing a love for the sport.

However, this year is different, and with the United States firmly in the clutches of a viral pandemic, the race has been rescheduled until Aug. 23, at which time the green flag will hopefully wave again.

Yes, l’ve done everything possible to get my 500-month-of-May fix but have fallen woefully short. I still miss the sound of souvenir vendors offering up theirs wares on the grounds as I pull into the track and don’t mind admitting I’m still suffering withdrawals from not being able to partake in the legendary fried chicken that racing matriarch Ginny Byrd offers her guests in the Jonathon Byrd Motor Sports hospitality area on race day. Combine that with the comfort of a world class, climate controlled media center equipped with large flat screens and a superb operations staff, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a successful racing experience. Throw in a final stroll through the garage area in search of some last minute news and you’re ready for the traditional walking along the grid just before the command to start engines, one which despite the sea of humanity you must navigate, still sends me to a place like no other in sports.

By now it’s pretty obvious that I’m a racing diehard who would probably go out to IMS and watch them race rickshaws, but my point here is the delay in experiencing these traditions has been painstaking for me, and while the promise of a race in August sounds wonderful, I’m still not certain the aforementioned aura of it all can be duplicated three months later. While I have no doubt Roger Penske and his IMS staff will put on a fabulous show, can the majestic aspect of the month of May be duplicated in an entirely different setting? I’m not so sure. Is it possible that when they release the colorful balloons as part of the traditional pre-race ceremonies that I can simply close my eyes like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and dream there’s no place like May again? Can we simply change the calendar and go back 90 days? No, we cannot. In a perfect world a time machine would be set up and I’d simply sit in it and be jettisoned back to the original date and format that I’m so accustomed to, but I’m going to have to come to terms with simply another adjustment needed in these challenging times we live in.

Before concluding this rant about the changes that have impacted the running of the 2020 Indianapolis 500, let me say I realize there are many things far more important that 200 laps around a 2.5-mile sacred oval. Many lives have been lost to this pandemic, and the economic impact is still impacting virtually every person in this country. That clearly puts racing in perspective and actually completely voids the need to run the event at all, let alone in what I have come to know over 50 years as the month of May.

Hopefully, the public health crisis will subside enough to have the race with fans in attendance, and the August weather will not stifle us with oppressive humidity. I also hope the local blackout is lifted to allow all who cannot attend to enjoy the race on television, providing both excellent entertainment and a diversion from the trying times this pandemic has placed upon us all for several months now.

I will no doubt come to terms with the delayed display of tradition this year and hope for a great race, one that just may provide us with a historic moment on the track. So please forgive me for not suppressing my frustrations for the necessary rescheduled date, as I’m clearly a creature of habit who, along with millions of other folks, was raised on the tradition and festivities associated with May.

August will have to do, and if you should bump into me on race day and at the risk of redundancy, I attempt to engage you in a conversation that states it’s just not the same as the month of May, feel free to ignore me and please refrain from slapping me hard. After all, l’m an old dog set in his ways and can’t afford an injury that might prohibit me from attending the 2021 Indy 500 next May.

Danny Bridges, who was raised on the Indy 500 and just can’t help himself, can be reached at 317-370-8447 or at bridgeshd@aol.com.

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