He's On It!!!!
Aaron and I are both a bit overwhelmed by all the good wishes we've received over the last week. I can't figure out how to respond to comments individually, so I'll do it here - thanks so much, everybody! You're helping convince me that this is really real.
We've even received a card already, and this one's pretty exciting. Just in case you can't read the handwriting, it's from Helio Castroneves. No, we don't know him personally, but my mother went to an autograph session and had him sign this for us, and had it waiting when we visited Indy this weekend. We're pretty moved by that, because I'm sure my mother was so overwhelmed by meeting Helio face-to-face that it's really touching she thought of us, too. "Almost as cute as Helio" is her highest praise for describing someone's good looks. Personally, I think "almost as cute as Aaron" is a pretty flattering thing to say about Helio.
While the official purpose of our trip was to check out wedding sites, we also wanted to visit the Speedway, since it's been a few years since we've been free to spend any time there. We went out for Saturday's qualifying, and the weather couldn't have been better.
The fun thing about qualifying days is that there's a lot more freedom to wander the track, so you can see everything. Tony Hulman always placed a high priority on fan access, and his legacy still holds strong.
This means you can get pretty up close and personal with everything. For example, the Borg-Warner Trophy, 153 pounds of sterling silver which sit in the pit to inspire the drivers, each hoping to add his or her likeness to the trophy. Even the Detonator Sock was allowed to get close enough for a picture - and since it's the Speedway, no one thought this was weird.
There was a lot going on in the infield, so even those who don't share my obsession with fast cars could've found something fun to do. The Army and Navy brought out a mess of equipment, and let people climb over and through it. My deadly sock is working on its intimidating look by hanging out with an Apache helicopter. Are you scared, bleusheep?
But the real action was on the track. They were just open for practice when we got there, so we settled in with an awesome view of the start/finish line and the flag stand.
At some point, they've changed the colors of one of the flags from blue and orange to blue and yellow. And they were waving the blue/yellow flag a lot today, which isn't something I've ever seen before. I'll have to find a racing expert who knows what was going on. Amanda, can you save me a call to Donald Davidson?
We also had a nice view of some of the pit activity from our seats.
And I Karen & I both tried to take pictures of the cars. This is a lot harder than one might think - it's hard to imagine 220 miles an hour, even when it's going on right in front of you. I don't know how many times I took this picture without a car in it, but here's Thomas Scheckter, in his spiffy black & yellow car, going very, very fast.
Wandering around along the pit area offers all sorts of adventures for race fans and socks. We stood on the Yard of Bricks (as it extends to the Pagoda, not on the track). That's Karen waiting patiently behind me. She understands a sock's need for pictures.
And we met the Firestone Firehawk. I'm so glad I don't work as a costumed character anymore.
When we were settled in our seats, I kept hearing the announcer talk about the windy conditions and the importance of tower sock. "Wow," I said to my sock, "a sock is an important part of what's happening here. You've gotta see this!" So we found this Very Important Sock -
- on top of the scoring pylon. Aren't socks great?
When it looked like there might be some qualifying runs, we moved to seats right alongside the lane back to Gasoline Alley. This is another Hulman legacy - it means that all the cars and all the drivers move through an area where it's pretty easy for the public to see them.
So we saw A.J. Foyt IV's car being pushed out to the line. He didn't actually make a qualifying run - they said he couldn't get his car out of 2nd gear on the warm-up lap. But the last driver of the day - Marty Roth - made a successful run, so Aaron got to see a driver take the checkered flag and qualify for the 500, something he'd never seen before.
Marty Roth drives for Marty Roth Racing, so his car is pretty plain right now. I don't know if he'll line up any sponsors before the race or not. A few years ago the guy who won the race only had one small sponsor - but now that the purple Rachel's Potato Chips car is in the Hall of Fame, everyone's heard of them.
We hit the driver-photo jackpot in our new spot. First Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon were signing autographs. I didn't go see them, because I've Chip Ganassi went slinking off to CART when the IRL was formed, but the sock still thought a picture was fun. And we're all supposed to be friends again, and it's really amazing that the leading participants in the greatest sporting event anywhere, ever, (Dixon and Wheldon are qualified 1st and 2nd).
We also saw Milka Duno - who qualified 27th, making this the third consecutive year of having three women in the field.
And Ryan Briscoe, who is so cute that I really can't hold driving for Penske against him. I guess I've become reconciled to the Penske empire, since I bought my new car from them, and they saw the light and returned to the IRL long ago.
Then there's the driver everyone wanted to see. Here's her car....
And here's Danica. Every driver gets mobbed on the way back to the garages, but Danica drew a bigger mob than most. When Karen was trying to get pictures of one of her friends on Danica's crew, she had a hard time working around the crowds even when Danica wasn't in the pit.
She really is as small as she looks. But that's not unusual - a lot of the male drivers look like jockeys.
As the qualifying shut down, I wanted to go look for one really big driver - A.J. Foyt. I'd seen him speeding by in a golf cart earlier, but I hoped his grandson's last-minute qualifying attempt would bring him out into the pits. Seeing the little Foyt would've been cool, too.
And while we didn't get to see any Foyts, it's a good thing we lingered, because look who turned up for an interview after most people had left the track!
Yep, it's Helio, two-time Indy winner and "Dancing With the Stars" champion. We were standing with a bunch of Brazilians who were calling out to him in Portuguese, so they told us he'd be coming by to shake hands and sign autographs.
Speaking of Brazilians, we had a funny encounter. We were surprised by the number of Brazilians there, but then started trying to think of how many drivers were from Brazil. One of the first I mentioned was Emerson Fittipaldi, which prompted a man standing nearby to pipe up "you mean that orange-juice drinking son of a...." I think Aaron may have thought I exaggerated the response to Fittipaldi's failure to respect the milk, but here we have a spontaneous display of how important tradition is at Indianapolis. Helio respects the milk.
And the sock. I didn't ask him to take the time for a posed picture, since there were a whole bunch of people there, but the sock had a chance to hang out while he was giving me an autograph - which will probably go along with the sock.
On the way out, we stopped for one last picture on the MotoGP track, just in case anyone wonders if I'm taking this car racing thing too far. I think that's impossible, when you're standing in the Racing Capital of the World!