Sunday - May 5, 2002
I awoke early and got my grass cut. Although the gates at the speedway opened at 9am, I showed up about 11:30. This meant that I missed some autograph sessions, but I was on time for opening ceremonies and practice.
I was dismayed that I was not allowed to park in the infield. The speedway is no longer allowing you to park inside without a parking pass (At least for Opening Day.) They would let you park in the 'North 40' for free still. I ended up parking across Georgetown Rd for $5 and carrying my cooler in. I also brought my camera, binoculars and tape recorder, so that I could make more notes on the stands and seating.
I headed into the infield and into the tower plaza. There were a lot of people there waiting in long lines for autographs. It was about noon and the session was about over.
It was a perfectly beautiful day for going to the track. It was sunny and warm and there was a breeze.
The opening day ceremonies began at 12:30.
Here is a picture of the area infront of the tower where all the opening day festivities took place. That group of young men at the bottom of the photo are the Speedway high school basketball team which won their division this year. They were treated to a ride around the track in those Camaro convertibles you see in the back ground, sitting on the back seat, parade style. The girls behind them, in white shirts and black slacks were the "500" Princesses. I think princesses are 19-21 y/o girls who are enrolled in Indiana colleges. They also got to ride around the track in the Camaros after the queen was crowned.
I sat to the south of the tower unfortunately, and the whole show was directed to the north, so everyone on my side basically looked at the back of everyone's head for all the ceremonies! This should be corrected, as the stands I was in was full. They should either face the middle, or direct people to notice this side of the place instead of ingoring everyone on the southside of the tower. I had actually approached from the north, but was turned away and informed that the seating there was for the people who had attended the "Mayors Breakfast". I believe that breakfast costs $100 and is at the Fairgrounds. Anyway, here is one princess who's face I got to see:
And here is the queen that was crowned, making her way for a ride in a Camaro.
They also had the 1911 Indy 500 winner, the Marmon Wasp, out and on display near a modern-day Indy car, as well as the Borg-Warner trophy. There was a new Firestone tire that was revealed later incase you are wondering what was under that checkered cloth.
In the background of the above photo, you can see some Indy cars being positioned out on the track. This was for a special photo shoot and parade lap by the six men who have won the Indy 500 and who are back this year.
Eddie Cheever, Jr. and Kenny Brack
Their cars were positioned pyramid style on the track. The six men stood in the seats of their cockpits, surrounded by their crewmen in their matching uniforms and photos were taken. Eventually the men got into their cars and drove a lap around the speedway.
Here are four of the drivers: Eddie Cheever, Arie Luyendyk, Al Unser Jr., and Helio Castroneves. They were later joined by Kenny Brack and Buddy Lazier.
Here is the man who is back defending his title as the Indy 500 Champion - Helio Castroneves:
After the ceremonies were over, I ventured over toward Gasoline Alley, where the drivers, teams and cars cross over from their garages to the track. I snapped some picture of a few drivers as they went by me.
Here is Felipe Giaffone surrounded by his crew.
Then along came Eddie Cheever and his young South African protoge', the quick Tomas Scheckter. He wasn't wearing a drivers suit because he is still recovering from some injuries at the last race in Nazareth (concussion/back pain). When he does get well enough to return, he is going to be suspended for a few days by the IRL for driving dangerously at some prior races.
And Bruno is back from CART for his second try at winning Tony's trophy.
As usual, they had numerous doors open in the F1 garages so that people could get back and forth from the track. In some of the garages, they had setup souvenir booths. In one garage, they had set up a 4-lane 1:32nd scale slot car track in an oval configuration and were letting kids run a race. I have always wanted to "experience" slot-cars, so like a big goof, I waited in line and got my chance to compete against 3 kids including a 4 y/o. First I jumped the gun and got put back to the "back of the field". When the race started, I got dusted. This was a 6-lap race and by lap 3, I had been lapped by two of the cars! However, I may be slow, but at least I'm steady. As the youngsters were burning rubber, they all ended up flying off the track and I sputtered on around, getting my lap back and winning the race. So there.
In the next F1 garage, they had this double-seater Indy car on display. They will sell you a ride in it at various tracks around the country.
I climbed up top of the F1 garages and captured this image of Castroneves zipping by at 200 mph!
I had to gather information for my seating guide, so I headed on around to Turn One. There, I ran into my friend Greg and his family. They were sitting on the grassy hill enjoying some fried chicken and watching the cars. They shared their chicken with me.
There is a creek in the south chute that runs underneath the track. Here is a picture of it.
I wandered on over to the viewing hill in Turn 2 where a yellow shirt came over and told me I was not allowed there today. Rather silly, as I was just walking along, but she was just doing her job. A lot of these yellow shirts are really really old and it makes me mad when I see some ignorant (usually drunk) hillbilly give them a hard time because they are enforcing the rules. The yellow shirts are usually polite and they are just doing their job, a job that makes them stand in the elements and doesn't pay very much.
I went over to the SE parking lot of the museum where they had some tents set up. The Bridgestone tent had a Ferrari F1 car on display and they were giving away high quality posters. There were several other large tents in the area that will be opening up soon. The IRL Crew had a small tent where they were taking votes for their IRL Favorite Driver award.
Next to them was a small track set up for the kiddies, so that they could race these slow battery powered Jeeps and ATV's around.
After making all the notes I could for the day, I went back and to the First Turn Terrace, tore off my shirt opened a ice-cold coke and layed back and enjoyed the sunshine and the cars zipping by. Scott Sharp had fastest speed of the year today, at 227 mph. There were a whole lot of drivers out today (30), probably because its looking like rain in the week ahead.
I noticed for the first time, the new soft-wall system. It was long and white with not a mark on it. About 40 feet up from where it ended, were the black smudges of tire contact! Ha ha. None the less, only one person smacked the wall today, Robby McGehee crashed hard in Turn 3, and he did hit the barrier, so I'm sure that helped prevent him from getting seriously injured.
I discovered that the food court area at the far south end of the garage area had some unique food and icecream items that are different than the food found at the rest of the refreshment stands.
I stopped by a gift shop and got a Robbie Buhl hat and t-shirt and a red polo IMS shirt. I found a mothers day present too, a gold checkered flag pin that has little diamonds and onyx on it. I really like
the Speedway Gift shops. I always spend too much money in them. I've got so much stuff from there, I could probably open my own gift shop now.
I started to make my way back toward the front straight. As I made the bend in turn one, I heard this weird noise. I figured it must be some kind of bird.
I stopped and looked around and didn't see it. Then I looked down.
This bird was all puffed up with his wings spread, squacking at my ankle. Wow, I'd never seen a bird like this before! I took some pictures of it. Then I noticed it was protecting 4 eggs. Boy, this bird is going to be wore out squacking at people this month with a location like that!
I later looked it up in a bird book. This is a Killdeer, the largest "ringed" plover and is a noisy shorebird named because the noise is makes sounds like "kill-dee"
Speaking of birds...