It’s Memorial Day Weekend for our neighbours to the south, and for me, that means the return of one of my own favourite traditions – the Indianapolis 500!!!
I’ve been an IndyCar fan since I was a kid, and remember first watching the 500 in 1986, as an eight-year-old kid, in the basement of my friend Tim Phillips’ house. He was cheering for Michael Andretti, I was cheering for Michael’s dad, the legendary Mario Andretti. Neither won, as Bobby Rahal claimed his one and only Indy 500 victory. From then on, I was hooked.
For years, I’ve watched and cheered for some of my favourite drivers, such as Al Unser Jr. in 1992, when he beat Canadian Scott Goodyear, by 0.043 seconds, in the closest Indy finish ever! I watched with anger, when the “Thrill From West Hill,” Paul Tracy, was denied the Borg-Warner Trophy in 2002, on a technicality (though, many believe to this day, he was the rightful winner!) And I watched as rookie J.R. Hildebrand led on the last lap in 2011, when he crashed in the final corner, and could only watch helplessly, as the late Dan Wheldon coasted by him, to win the 500 for the second time.
This year marks the 100th running of the “Greatest Spectacle In Racing,” and as much as the race itself, the traditions that go along with it make it such a thrill, that I hope to experience in person someday.
Being Memorial Day weekend in the States, there is always time taken to honour the men and women who serve the nation’s military, past and present, with this invocation:
“On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause in a moment of silence, to pay homage to those individuals who have given their lives–unselfishly, and unafraid–so that we may witness as free men and women, the world’s greatest sporting event. We also pay homage to those individuals, who have given their lives–unselfishly, and without fear–to make racing, the world’s most spectacular spectator sport.”
Those solemn words are followed by “Taps,” and a military flyover, often with the planes flying in the “Missing Man” formation, to honour those lost.
That’s followed by something that never fails to get me kinda choked up, the singing of “Back Home Again In Indiana.” Last year, it was performed by vocal group Straight No Chaser, but no one has ever done it like Gomer Pyle USMC himself, Jim Nabors.
Then the command is given for the drivers to start their engines, and they line up their machines in the classic 11 rows of 3…
Then, it’s 500 miles of action, to determine the champion. This year, there are two Canadians in the running: James Hinchcliffe, who was nearly killed in a crash for last year’s 500, and came back to claim pole position for this year’s race, and Alex Tagliani, who will be starting at the back of the grid, in 33rd position.
The winner will get to roll into Victory Lane, and enjoy the spoils of victory. And, in case you were wondering, yes, a Canadian has won the race once – in 1995, when Jacques Villeneuve claimed victory, and had his face immortalized on the Borg-Warner Trophy!
The Victory Lane celebrations feature the donning of a wreath by the winner, and the traditional drink of milk – which dates back to 1936, when winner Louis Meyer enjoyed a glass of buttermilk on the advice of his mom, in order to cool off. The American dairy Association knew a good marketing opportunity when they saw it, and ever since, the race winner has been chugging moo juice in Victory Lane!
In case you were wondering, here’s the milk preference of each of the 33 drivers in this year’s race:
And of course, the victor also gets his image immortalized in the beautiful Borg-Warner Trophy!
From start to finish, the pomp, pageantry and excitement of the Indianapolis 500 is hard to beat, and my dream is to experience it live, in person some day. And, of course, I’ll enjoy one of these bad boys, while I’m there…
Enjoy the race! Just don’t bother trying to contact me while it’s on – I won’t answer! haha!