What I Learned at My First Indianapolis 500

There’s something called a beer belt?

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Photo by Darryl Smith

After 40 years as a native Hoosier adverse to heat, noise, nasty bathrooms, and swarms of drunk rednecks (I get to use this term because I’m from rural Indiana), I finally braved the Greatest Spectacle in Star-Spangled Outfits for the first time. Now I know why people say that first shower after the race is the best of your life. Here, other stuff I should have learned ages ago:

D’oh nut. Long’s is closed on Race Day?! That’s why I took 16th Street!

Traffic report. Speaking of the avenue of the damned, it took 90 minutes to reach my parking spot just west of the track after leaving downtown at 7:30 a.m.  (That’s not awful.) I’d always imagined pre-race traffic was the worst of the 500’s levels of hell. But it shouldn’t keep anyone at home.

Chopportunity. Still, Ubercopters could make a fortune at the 500.

Lump, throat.  After two hours of parachuters, military salutes, laps by former winners, flyovers, marching bands, “America the Beautiful,” and on and on, by the time Mari Hulman George says, “Ladies and gentleman, start your engines,” you’re so in. Every Hoosier should witness the crescendo of 33 powerful toys ripping to life after all that build-up. It gives you chills.

Smiles per hour. GoPro cameras: this year’s hot driver accessory during introductions.

Hi noon. Oh, yeah, there are driver introductions. They walk out on a platform in trios, by starting row. It’s cute. But IndyCar could do a lot more with this:

Bleacher’s pet. Everyone thinks their seats are the best. The people on the finish line and across from the pits, or those in turn one, are probably right.

“Pit flops.” Fun to say, but dangerous.

Dress code. There are really two race crowds: the VIPs in suites and the Pagoda, and everyone else. The former still wear black-and-white. The masses go American-flag casual.

Unsee-ming. Rumor has it there was at least one tailgate stripper pole.

Indy 500 Snakepit Beer Belt`

Photo by Darryl Smith

That guy. Evidently visitors are allowed to bring a personal bullhorn. It comes in handy if you’re obnoxious enough to call out photo-bombers by the “ndy” sculpture.

Can-do. There’s something called a beer belt. It holds a bunch of cans around one’s waist. Hey, the Indianapolis 500 is all about innovation.

There’s a lap for that. Using the oval as a watch (as in, “Let’s meet at the plaza’s beer stand at Lap 100”) is old-school and cooler than texting.

Road rules. On straightaways, drivers can’t block others trying to pass. They have to stay in their lane if another car attempts to blow by. But can they flip the bird? That’s the question.

Fast fact. 225 mph looks exactly like 210 mph. Passes are the fun part.

Gone in 60 seconds. A driver’s race can end before it starts. Noblesville’s young Conor Daly lost his engine to a fire on the pace lap. Another kid, 20-year-old Sage Karam, crashed in the first turn under a green flag. Karam skipped his prom last year to make his Indy 500 debut. I’m already rooting for him in 2016.

Exit strategy. Everyone arrives really early but few people stay late, although plenty tailgate at their cars and wait for traffic to thin.

Coming clean. The axiom about the shower is true. The insurance bath is a close second.

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