Soon, it will be time for the 2008 running of the "greatest spectacle in racing". Which means it's time for the annual PYY Indy 500 report.
Every year at this time, there is a streaming influx of racing fans to the Indianapolis area. Blimps fly around town. There isn't a hotel room to be found anywhere within a 100-mile radius, restaurants are packed, and traffic is heavy.
Walking down the street in the downtown area, you might just run into a celebrity or two with a ball cap or sunglasses. Some try real hard not to be recognized, except when they are hobnobbing around the Conrad Hilton or the Hyatt, looking for attention.
Merchants are making money and local tax revenues are up. Those that visit Indy, will help us pay for the nice new stadium that most of us (who live here) pay everyday. Restaurant and hotel taxes (that are paid in Indianapolis and surrounding counties) fund the new Lucas Oil Stadium and Conseco Fieldhouse. (I call it the Colts and Pacers tax.) For that, we say thanks and come again.
If you listen closely enough to the people around you while out mingling about the town, you might hear several languages during the course of the day. It is the largest single one-day sporting event, in the entire world. This is why it only stands to reason, why so many people come from everywhere to be a part of this event. Today, it draws close to 270,000 annually. But that's only a fraction of what it once was. Years ago when the infield was open, it attracted nearly half a million.
This year, it is the first 500 since the reunification of open wheel racing. Tony George has finally won the lengthy battle of sanctioning bodies, between his Indy Racing League and the remnants of CART (Champ Car). And it's about time. CART (without the 500 as it's signature race) has been in trouble for years, but has resisted all of George's previous efforts to facilitate a reunion. But humans, being the stubborn life-forms they are, allowed pride and envy to keep them apart.
CART wanted to drive the train after the old guard at the speedway had died off and left the operation to Tony, who is grandson of the late Anton "Tony" Hulman Jr. - the man who made it such a huge sporting attraction. They saw their chance to push back against some changes the young new chief executive has made, but found out quickly that he had nerves of steel that could not be bent. They took their ball and went home, leaving Tony no choice but to build his own league.
The competition was fierce, CART even tried to siphon off some audience on the same day as the 500. But after awhile, it became apparent that they rebels were not going to be able to overtake the long-term tradition and romance of the most famous race in the world. It wasn't long before the big names that departed as a result of the spat, were forced to kiss the ring of Pope Anton II and repent for their errant ways.
Roger Penske, one of the challengers to the Hulman dynasty, was chiefest of all sinners and one of the first to come back to the flock. Others were soon to follow. So much so that at the end, many of the names in the Champ series were anything but household. No name recognition, no drawing power. This formula will only draw nothing.
This year (again), three women will be starting the race, with one of them having a realistic chance of winning it. Everyone knows Danica Patrick. She has the car, the team, the skills, and the tradition and experience of the Andretti family behind her . She has every much of a chance as Helio and pole-sitter, Scott Dixon. Helio is another contender, along with Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan.
Good ol' lucky LA has chosen to participate in his yearly pool at work. He took two picks and drew rookies that probably have little chance of winning. Both have come over from Champ. I suppose they have some minute chance, as do all 33 drivers. But both must adjust to running on an oval at higher speeds, much higher than they are used to driving. This isn't likely, in anyone's first year at this track.
All-in-all, it looks to be a good day for racing. The weather looks to be perfect, the field is set. The drivers are all psyched. All team preparations are complete. The only thing left now is the race itself, and the hope that all 33 drivers finish safely.