When the qualifying format for the 2019 Indy 500 was announced I realized that the new “bump day” would be Saturday as teams will work their butts off to get locked into the field and not have it come down to Sunday’s LCQ run, making Saturday meaningful. While discussing this with my racing buddy he suggested the crazy idea that we head down for a day trip and bring along my son and his eldest daughter. We both had been talking about when to start bringing our mini persons with us to the 500, which will still be a few years off, but this would be a great opportunity to introduce a 5 and 6 year old to the Speedway for the first time without a massive crowd; you only get one shot at a first experience and we wanted to make sure it would be a great one.
As my buddy usually hauls a camper down for the race it was my turn to take over driving duties. We packed my Grand Marquis, and set out taking mostly back roads through the country towards the track. That morning it started out as a beautiful day but once in Central Indiana the humidity and sun would start reminding us that summer was just around the corner.
We arrived at the north lot and once we parked we had to load up the old trusty and rusty radio flyer wagon for the trek into the Speedway. Everyone around us had a modern-day vision of a dust bowl era jalopy piled precariously high with coolers, chairs, blankets, and everything else you could need for a day inside the track with kids. Cautiously navigating the ruts and mud puddles one thing became apparent: even the best prepared racing fans are only as strong as their weakest bladder, and so it was time for a pit stop at the porta-pottys. As the little ones finished up a yellow shirt at the controls of a handicap accessible golf cart rolled up and took stock of sight in front of him. He must have shook his head pretty hard before feeling bad for us as he offered to give us a ride, wagon and all, into the track. As he lowered the ramp I thought to myself “there is no way this wagon is going to fit.” Oh, but fit it did…like a glove! I think he may have done this once or twice before.
The driver, whose name we sadly never picked up brought us to the ticket trailer and then straight into the track. He asked where we wanted to watch from and I had already figured the spectator mounds at the north short chute would be the best bet and he brought us directly to them. Now when I say he brought us to the mound, what I mean to say is that he brought us to the exact spot I had wanted to watch from (I Google Mapped the track the night before), asked if liked the spot, and made us feel like VIPs instead of a couple of guys and their kids. He single handedly turned what should have been a near mile long trek in high humidity under very sunny skies with two little kids into an effortless endeavor that saved much energy and I am sure a lot of whining from the young ones. He wasn’t just polite but was enthusiastic to see that we were at the track that day. If you want to talk about positive fan experiences I don’t think there’s much that could beat what that yellow shirt did; he is a rock-star and made the experience fun for the kids (who doesn’t like a ride in a golf cart) and a huge relief for the adults.
Watching from the mounds was a lot of fun. Our race day seats have been in the Southwest Vista for over a decade so seeing the speed from an entirely new vantage point was sweet. The kids enjoyed seeing the cars but also enjoyed the snacks and playing on the hill just as much. My kiddo got a real kick out of standing against the fence and seeing the cars streak by and instantly disappear. Sure it was hot, muggy, and fairly windy, but it was a really enjoyable time as the adults got a serious IndyCar fix and kids got to be kids at the Racing Capital of the World.
After watching the final run of the day with Graham Rahal nearly stuffing it into the turn 4 wall hanging it out to improve his qualifying spot it was time to pack-up and head back to the car. I knew we had used up all of our luck with the free ride into the track so I was fully prepared to play the beast of burden and haul the wagon back when my buddy’s daughter suddenly took the handle out of my hand and start to pull. Simultaneously, my son began pushing from behind and I thought I had to be dreaming when it happened as both did this completely unprompted and appeared to actually be enjoying it! They worked as a team as the ground was loose gravel and they labored for about the distance of a city block before they got bored and I took over. Of course like the good fathers that we are we took pictures and videos of this happening because we thought it must be a sign that the apocalypse was nigh. Leaving the track the kids got high-fives from a few yellow shirts that made sure that the kids felt welcomed and appreciated for being there. For months afterwards, MONTHS, my son would ask me “Daddy, do you remember that time we went to the Speedway? It was fun, we should do that again and bring more of those peanut butter pretzels.” Nobody can deny that 5 year olds and adults alike are drawn towards delicious snacks, but his referring to the track as the Speedway gave me all of the daddy-feels.
The ride home was relaxing as the kids napped and my buddy and I talked about the action of the day. Dinner was at Don’s Drive-In for some tenderloin sandwich baskets and we then proceeded to murder every single bug between Kentland and Joliet. The crazy part is that we made the whole trip on a single tank of gas, although we were on fumes and sheer willpower by time we pulled into my driveway.
So call me a weirdo, a sick puppy, or crazy (just not late for dinner, please) but I don’t want to see the qualifying format changed. Saturday is where the action is and Sunday’s pole shootout and LCQ are literally made for television. As much as I like Fernando “Alfredo sauce” Alonso, I was jumping up and down screaming for joy when Kaiser “rolls” Kyle put Juncos in the show. When we go back for Saturday this year we will be a little better prepared and maybe not pack as if a Marine Expeditionary force were attending instead of a couple adults and their kids. Speaking of that, my buddy may even bring his youngest daughter as well for this year. I’ll bring my son again and build more memories with him…and share more of those peanut butter pretzels.