500 LAPS TO GLORY

Hot from In­di­anapo­lis, Sara Wax­man gives us the inside track on race day

DINE and Destinations - - SARA SAYS: WHERE TO DINE NOW -

“The mood of ca­ma­raderie, sports­man­ship and ex­cite­ment is con­ta­gious”

THREE HUN­DRED MIL­LION TV SETS around the globe are tuned in to watch the largest sport­ing event in the world, the 101st run­ning of the Indy 500. But will it hap­pen? On this once-a-year-day, the fore­cast calls for 80 per­cent chance of rain. At dawn, In­di­anapo­lis casts a col­lec­tive eye to the heav­ens and holds its breath as the sun breaks through the clouds and hangs in there. The good lord loves ya’, Indy.

At the JW Mar­riott, the Indy Break­fast is in full swing. Old-timers and first-timers swap Indy lore over ba­con, sausages, steak and eggs and the hearti­est of Amer­i­can foods. Hoosier hos­pi­tal­ity. The drink du jour is an ex­trav­a­gant Bloody Mary gar­nished with shrimp and ba­con. The mood of ca­ma­raderie, sports­man­ship and ex­cite­ment is con­ta­gious.

Who will win the $2.46 mil­lion purse to­day? I’m root­ing for our man, Cana­dian James Hinch­cliff, as he’s a hero in th­ese parts and they’ve named a lo­cal beer af­ter him: Hinch­town Ham­mer­down. They say the “bad boy” is Marco An­dretti, handsome and priv­i­leged, whose fa­ther is renowned Mario An­dretti. And there’s a lot of in­ter­est in Bri­tain’s Pippa Mann, the only fe­male driver—and in a pink car— whose spon­sor is the Susan J. Ko­man Foun­da­tion. It could be He­lio Cas­tran­eves who, with a fourth win, could claim an elite place in the Indy Leg­ends his­tory. Last year, rookie Alexan­der Rossi won, so we do not dis­count the rook­ies. A favourite is home­town boy Ed Car­pen­ter, who is a driver and team owner. Ed’s fa­ther is IMS Chair­man, Tony Ge­orge.

Car­pen­ter be­gan rac­ing at eight years of age and this is his 14th Indy. The pre-race phys­i­cal and emo­tional train­ing is rigourous, he tells us. There is no power steer­ing so the wheel can only turn 20 de­grees, and no air con­di­tion­ing. The driv­ers wear a heavy fire-re­tar­dant suit, a sock on their heads, a hel­met, heavy gloves, a six-point har­ness, pad­ding around the neck, and then they drive sit­ting mo­tion­less for three and one half hours. “It get’s very hot,” he says, “and I usu­ally lose six to eight lbs. of weight dur­ing a race.” He ex­plains how the weather af­fects the race. “Sun, cloud cover, winds and tem­per­a­ture all have a bear­ing on the as­phalt and how the car sticks to the track.” He adds, “of course it is stress­ful, and I try to get as much sleep as pos­si­ble, but that’s dif­fi­cult. I try to down a shake, maybe force down a sand­wich, eat some pret­zels for the salt, and drink lots of wa­ter.” “Why do you do this, Ed? What are the re­deem­ing fea­tures of putting your­self through such stress, dis­com­fort and per­sonal risk?” With­out hes­i­ta­tion, he an­swers, “It’s the com­pet­i­tive thrill.” We’ve walked the track, ap­pre­ci­ated the smell of the as­phalt and the crowds and, now, it’s time to get to our van­tage point in a Tower ter­race suite. Vice Pres­i­dent Pence ar­rives by he­li­copter and pro­ceeds to be part of a pro­ces­sion around the track. Our plan is to sit out­side, earplugs in­tact, un­til af­ter the cars have done three laps. But first, we wit­ness a beau­ti­ful and emo­tional dis­play of love of coun­try. The songs: Amer­ica the Beau­ti­ful, Back Home Again in In­di­ana, and The Star Span­gled Ban­ner. An im­pas­sioned speech from Gen­eral Robert B. Adams prais­ing the mil­i­tary and fallen sol­diers. There is a three-gun salute and Taps is played. You could hear a pin drop in this gi­ant sta­dium. The orches­tra plays Hail to the Chief. Fa­ther Mike Welch de­liv­ers the in­vo­ca­tion. Even as a Cana­dian, to be among 300,000 peo­ple stand­ing with hands on heart and singing the na­tional an­them, brings emo­tional tears to my eyes. Pa­tri­o­tism is above pol­i­tics in In­di­ana. The man in the crow’s nest whips the green flag out and 33 cars roar out of the start­ing gate. Ed Car­pen­ter from #1 po­si­tion waves as he promised. “It takes a mere 40 sec­onds to go around the track at about 200 mph,” he says. With 200 laps to go, the car gets 4 miles to a gal­lon of ethanol. The heart rate can go to 140 and,” says Ed, “some­times there is so much air mov­ing, it feels as if the throt­tle has stopped.” Inside the glass-walled suite, we’re en­joy­ing south­ern-fried chicken, and watch­ing the mon­i­tor with fas­ci­na­tion, as the cars vroom vroom around the track. And then, the in­evitable: A crash. A car som­er­saults and hits a wall, break­ing in half and burst­ing into flames. And the driver? Scott Dixon, a New Zealan­der, calmly gets up and walks out. Min­utes later, there’s a five-car pile-up and, amaz­ingly, all driv­ers walk away un-in­jured. We step out­side to the ter­race for the last three laps. Ja­pan’s Takuma Sato roars across the fin­ish line as the check­ered flag comes down. What a thrilling end­ing. Sato drinks the tra­di­tional vic­tory bot­tle of milk from Kelsey Farms Dairy, and hoists the Borg Warner 5’ 4.75”-tall sil­ver tro­phy over his head. Vic­to­ri­ous – his team is lit­er­ally jump­ing for joy. We’ve seen Indy his­tory and be­gin the ride home. And only now, with im­pec­ca­ble tim­ing, soft rain be­gins to fall.

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