It’s been a long weekend of food, drink, merriment and auto racing, the highlight being the Indy 500, an event I attend every year. Though not technically a race fan, I love the spectacle of the thing. This year wasn’t as thrilling as years past, though there was plenty of drama with all the various little mishaps, culminating in the young and fiery Danica Patrick marching down pit row to give Ryan Briscoe a piece of her mind. Quite a pistol that one is.
But while the racing is always good, I have to say the event itself isn’t nearly as entertaining as it once was. Back when I was a lad, before the rise of NASCAR, Indy was the world’s most powerful redneck magnet. Just the mile walk from where my father parked the car to the track gave me enough material for a month of after-school stories. Then, race fans (the kind without anywhere better to be) flocked to the track up to a week early, camped in parking lots and highway medians, and drank, drank, drank. Come race day, many would be so drunk they couldn’t even make it into the track (then again for a lot of them the race wasn’t really the point). We all but stepped over these folks getting to our seats. Two things I remember wondering at as a kid: how deep brown-red skin gets when someone passes out in the full sun (I swear some of these guys’ bones were sunburned), and how astonishingly unappealing nakedness is in the harsh light of day.
Now it’s 25 years later and open-wheel racing is considered an effete Northern affair. The naked, drunk and sunburned have mostly cleared out for Daytona and Telladega, to deposit their empty beer cans, half-eaten turkey legs and White Castle hamburger boxes on other peoples’ lawns. But oh, how I mourn their passing.