This year marked my 10th Indy 500, and the best of them all. Memorial Day weekend is incredibly special to me for many reasons. Beyond the Indy 500 itself, I love the preparation that goes into the weekend, being able relax and spend time with my family, and usually celebrating my birthday with our Cincinnati relatives. In many ways, this year was very different for us as a family, but was perhaps my favorite Indy 500 experience nonetheless.
Being a brand new Indianapolis local (and I mean really brand new—as of Saturday!) meant that our wake up call came at 5 am rather than 3 am. My family and I made our way to the track with minimal traffic, and enjoyed a cup of coffee by the hall of fame museum during the early morning sprinkles. By 9 I made my way over to the pagoda plaza, where I had a blast hanging out with some wonderful friends, new and old, from the Twitter community. The connections I’ve made with other IndyCar fans in the last few years have made my experience as a fan truly much more special.
The pre-race ceremonies were as magical as ever. This last hour before the start of the race has given me some of my most cherished memories, but still seems to be the longest hour of the day as anticipation builds to its fullest. The race itself took awhile to get on its feet, with a late start by Tagliani, an engine failure for Daly, the early incident involving Sato and Karam, and damage to the rear wing of the No. 2 car of Juan Montoya. To my relief, this did not set a precedent for the remainder of the race.
The last 40 laps of the race produced some of the hardest fought racing I’ve seen in my life. I kept remembering Karam’s comment early in the month about how passing here is an art. The late battle among Power, Dixon, and Montoya was the perfect illustration to this thought. I watched agape as each driver take his turn executing a brilliant pass, as the leader tried as he might in every which way to defend his position. Though I found myself rooting for Montoya, my consensus towards the final few laps was that whoever won this race completely deserved the title of Indianapolis 500 champion.
The vibe of these late stages of the race were reminiscent of 2014. The leader opting for the defensive racing line produced a feeling of intensity. The crowds were surprisingly quiet as a driver got a run on the leader, reacted to an aggressive pass, and exploded in cheers as a new leader emerged. I found myself shaking with excitement, and completely bewildered with the spectacle before my eyes. It was as if everything were just as new and exciting as my very first race 10 years ago.
Montoya’s victory came as no surprise to me. When faced with rear wing damage early in the race, I thought about Sam Hornish Jr.’s mid-race incidents which caused spectators to nearly rule him out of contention. If anyone in this year’s field had the capability of overcoming adversity such as this, I believed it was Montoya. He proved this ability to everyone in the grandstands with one of the most hard-fought victories I have seen in my life. I would be lying if I did not consider myself one of those who were worried about the outcome of this year’s race with the horrible incidents throughout the month. Though, we did not escape injury-free, I left undoubtedly knowing that I had just finished seeing yet another page in history be written.