A tradition when you go to Indianapolis for the 500 is to attend all the other races that are held around it.
For instance, on the Friday night of Indy 500 weekend, the U.S. Auto Club sanctions races on the mile dirt track at the Indiana State Fairgrounds up on 38th Street. Years ago, the sprint cars ruled. Now, the cars and stars of the USAC Silver Crown Division (dirt champ cars) race there.
Once, back in the 1970s, I was late to meet friends at the Fairgrounds. Racing had started and there wasn’t a place to park for miles. Right beside the main ticket booth was an empty spot. But there was a sign: "Reserved for Governor," it said.
"Hell," I said to myself, "if he’s not here by now, he’s not coming," so I pulled in.
I was barely out of the car before a State Trooper drove up. "You can’t park there," he said.
"He’s not coming – the governor’s not coming," I said.
"You still can’t park there," he said.
Another time, I’d been sitting in the stands and one driver in particular caught my eye during warmups. Larry "Boom-Boom" Cannon of Danville, Ill., had a particular way of sliding his sprint car between turns three and four, so I decided to walk down there for a closer look.
Of course, there was police tape strung from the fence marking off a no-man’s land, which is exactly where I wanted to stand and watch. So I just stepped over it and walked right on up to the fence and waited for Boom-Boom Cannon to come flying by.
"Hey, you!" said a voice.
I looked over and saw this cop, who was standing there with the biggest police dog you ever saw.
"Get outta there," he said.
Okay, I said.
Once, I was standing underneath the grandstands, waiting out a rain delay, and there was this kid standing there with his parents. He had this canvas bag slung around his neck and he kept looking down into it.
I edged a little closer to see what was in the bag and realized that it was a small TV set.
I pointed this out to a friend of mine, Al Listiak, and he couldn’t believe it either. Why in the world would someone bring a TV set to a car race? How nuts is that?
That was in the 1970s and the kid was just ahead of his time. Now you go to a car race and half the people in the grandstand are looking at their BlackBerries and Ipods.
Anyway, enough of this. Ex-NASCAR driver Shane Hmiel of Mooresville, N.C., won the Hoosier Hundred, which the dirt champ car race on the Friday before the 500 is called, with Bud Kaeding of Campbell, Calif., second and Jerry Coons Jr.of Tucson, Ariz., third.
Bobby East, of Brownsburg, Ind., who has been tutoring Mississauga’s Alison MacLeod on the finer points of Ford Focus midget speedway racing, flipped out of the race, but wasn’t injured.
Saturday evening in the Indianapolis area is awash in racing. Both the "Little 500" sprint car race at Anderson Speedway in Anderson, Ind. (about a half-hour north of Indy on Interstate 69) and the "Night Before the 500" USAC midget race at O’Reilly Raceway Park in Claremont, Ind. (about 15 minutes southwest of the city) are worth attending.
Tanner Swanson of Kingsburg, Calif., won the 50-lap midget show at ORP – and then promptly spun out. Whether he did it on purpose is the question.
The USAC show was augmented this year by two formula car races – the U.S. Formula 2000 Series and the Star Mazda Series, both of which are part of the IRL "Road to Indy" program. Both races could be seen via streaming video on the IZOD IndyCar Series web site.
The F2000 race was won by Irish driver Patrick McKenna, with Toronto’s Mikhail Goikhberg third. Conor Daly, son of F1 and Indy car star Derek Daly and also a resident of Brownsburg, ran away with the Star Mazda race, grabbing the lead right off the green from pole sitter Mikael Grenier of Quebec City, who eventually finished second. David Ostella of Maple, driving for AIM Autosport of Woodbridge, finished off the podium.
The IRL (not to mention the announcers on the live streaming presentation) have been making a big deal of the "Road to Indy" Program. This "road" is supposed to start at the F2000 level and then go to Star Mazda, Indy Lights and then the IndyCar Series.
What nobody likes to talk about is that few drivers get to go beyond Indy Lights. The most recent case in point is Wade Cunningham of New Zealand, who on Friday won the Indy Lights Freedom 100 race for the - get this - third time and yet has never been able to land a ride in the Indy car series.
Until the primary drivers in the Lights series make the big move up to the Indy car ranks, there will never be a true "road" to Indy.
In the Freedom 100, by the way, James Hinchcliffe of Oakville finished third and Philip Major of Ottawa was sixth.
In other weekend racing news to date:
– Kyle Busch won the NASCAR Nationwide Series race on Saturday afternoon (he was happy to talk to everybody about how wonderful the whole thing was, thank you) with Brad Keselowski second and Joey Logano third. Steve Arpin, of Fort Frances, Ont., qualified Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 7 car seventh but spun up into the fence on the second lap and wound up 34th.
– Daniel Morad of Markham finished fifth in the GP3 Series feature race at the Grand Prix of Turkey on Saturday afternoon. Robert Wickens of Guelph and Toronto, who was leading the series going into the weekend, had an engine misfire and finished 11th. He’ll have a fresh motor for Sunday’s second race, so is optimistic about doing better.
To come: "Little 500" results and the rained-out World of Outlaws feature from Charlotte.
On a dark note, USAC sprint car racer Jesse Hockett, 26, has died as the result of an electrical accident in his shop in Warsaw, Mo. It happened on Wednesday night.
He was a charger.