Tuesday was mostly traveling. We drove about seven hours down to Chicago and picked up my brother downtown. It was very cool seeing him again, and I didn't realize how much I missed him until that moment. You see, my brother and I have been best friends since before I was even born. We have had our fights and ruts, as all siblings do, but he is still my best friend. After picking him up we drove to one of my mom's brother's house who lives in a Chicago suburb. They're also letting my brother stay there for the summer so he doesn't have to rent an apartment to work in the city, which is really nice. The rest of the day was peaceful and pretty much just us hanging out at the house. One problem though: they have a cat and a dog. My brother and I both have bad allergies to animals with fur. So I was kind of miserable most of the night trying to get some sleep.
Wednesday was much better. We had set aside this day to visit a town in central Illinois where I was born. We left this town when I was only a few weeks old and we hadn't been back in eighteen years. First we drove to our neighborhood and the house, still standing, where my and my brother's lives had begun...literally. (That was confirmed by my dad...a little awkward, but mostly cool). The rest of the day we visited various people in the town who we had notified earlier that we were coming. All of them remembered me as being a few weeks old and my brother as being two years old. It was still cool to meet them, though. Along the way, we did a little touring around the town at various locations my dad showed to us. The hospital my brother and I were born in had been torn down, but a lot of the other buildings my dad remembered were still there. We stayed the night in a hotel.
Thursday was probably my favorite day of all excluding Race Day. On Thursday, we drove to Indianapolis. Luckily someone related to a church member lives in Indianapolis and she was more than happy to let us stay at her house while we were there. She was a fantastic hostess and made us feel very welcome. But most of our day was spent at the racetrack. You see, the other two times I had been to the race, I had never seen anything about the track other than what I could see from our seats. If you have seen pictures or maps of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you know there is a whole lot to see inside the racetrack. Gasoline Alley, the garages, parks and gift shops and places to eat, and of course the Hall of Fame Museum. I had never been to any of these, but we got to see them all on Thursday.
The Hall of Fame Museum alone was incredible. Inside they had all the winning cars of almost every single Indy 500 race beginning in 1911, plus a lot of photographs, memorabilia, and an artificial Indycar you could sit inside to see what it feels like. Going to the museum with my dad made the racetrack come alive because my dad has scores of stories to share. As we walked along the timeline of races along one wall, my dad had stories for every race he had gone to starting in the early 1970's. After that, we visited the gift shop even though everything was soooo expensive (as you can imagine). Nevertheless, my brother and I (shhh, don't tell) bought a nice Indy 500 polo shirt for my dad for Father's Day. After that, we planned to take a walk around the whole track. However, we were stopped by a worker driving a golf cart who said, "Would you like a ride?" and proceeded to give us a tour across the entire speedway. Since it was a hot day and we were already pretty tired, having a nice relaxing ride around the track and everything inside was the best thing that could have happened to us. We even got to drive under the track which almost no one gets to do, and we got to go through Gasoline Alley.
|This is the car that won the first Indy 500 in 1911, driven by Ray Harroun.|
|This was the car that won the centennial race in 2011. I was at that race! Sadly, the winner of that race, Dan Wheldon, was killed in a crash several months later.|
Friday and Saturday were our chances to explore the city of Indianapolis, which we had never done before. We went to see some of the cool things the city has to offer, such as the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, the Civil War Museum, and the tower from which we could see the whole downtown (it cost two bucks to take the elevator so we climbed four flights of narrow stairs instead...it was a workout). We went to the art museum too for my sister, but we could not stay downtown too long on Saturday because the Memorial parade was going on so there was a lot of traffic. Saturday afternoon we attended a local church because our friend volunteered there. It was actually a really neat place! Then on Saturday evening, we wrapped up the day with our Indy 500 tradition, which is to go to Cracker Barrel either the morning of or the day before the race. (I love Cracker Barrel a lot...the decor and the gift shop make it such a unique restaurant, and I have all good memories associated with that place. Cracker Barrel!!!)
Then came Sunday, Race Day. Here is where we were sitting in the stands. On our left we could see turn four, the start/finish line, and the Bombardier Pagoda. In front of us we could see the pit stops and Gasoline Alley. To our right was the pylon and turn one.
Race Day started for us at 8:00 AM when we left our friend's house to find a place to park. There is a spot my dad has parked at for many years that has an indoor building with restrooms and hot coffee. We spent a few minutes getting our things together and chatting with other race fans parked there; then we began roughly the mile and a half walk to the track. Of course, as you can imagine, there were plenty of empty beer cans and bottles in the ditches from all the partying the previous night. It took us a little while with all the crowds, but we were at the track by 10:00 AM. The events leading up to the race, like the parades, pace car laps, patriotic songs, and the racers getting into start positions began about an hour later. Right about noon, the racers began the first lap.
If you watched the race or heard about it, you know that an American named Ryan Hunter-Reay won this year. That was cool because he had never won before and he was also the first American to win since 2006. Yet I was still a tad bummed that my "guy", Marco Andretti, did not win. Now, a little backstory...I've been cheering for Marco Andretti since 2008 when I went to my first race. His grandfather Mario Andretti is an Indy legend and won his only race in 1969. Marco's father, Michael, raced at Indy for years but never won. Marco has been racing at Indy since 2006 but he has not won yet! People describe this as the infamous "Andretti curse", and everyone wants to see Marco "break" the curse and win the Andretti family's first race since 1969. Plus I might have had a slight crush on him in 2008 but those were my middle school days. Anyway, I was rooting for him throughout the whole race, and he finished third place. Oh well, at least he had a good run. There is always next year. (But I might not go next year...so guess what, he is going to win the year I don't go. I wouldn't be surprised!). But no matter how bummed you are by who wins, that doesn't take away the excitement of the overall experience, and I had a fantastic time. Somebody who reads this blog is going with me someday, and you know who you are!
So on Sunday night we were all sunburnt and tuckered out, but still watched the 7 PM broadcast of the race on television. On Monday, Memorial Day, we had a hearty breakfast before saying goodbye to our friend and driving back to Illinois to stay with our cousins again. Here is one little tidbit I'll quickly bring up...a classic Indy tradition is to sing the song "Back Home Again In Indiana" just before the racers start their engines. I have never even lived in Indiana but hearing that song makes me feel like a "hoosier" at heart, as cheesy as it sounds. Maybe it helps that this was the last year Jim Nabors sang the song, which he had been doing since the early 1970's. Kind of sad for everybody at Indy!
Memorial Day is an emotional day for me because of how much it personally brings up and hits home. I spent my Memorial Day watching the Indiana and Illinois countryside go by, thinking about Indy, and staying at my cousins house that night. A Blackhawks game was one but the Hawks were doing horrible, so my brother and I went upstairs to watch Saving Private Ryan on his laptop. I don't think we finished it, though. And then on the last day of our vacation, Tuesday, we dropped my brother off at his job downtown and drove home.
If you read all that, thanks! I probably wrote too much about my trip, but I thought I might as well share some of it. I am not a sports person but again, Indianapolis 500 means a lot to me because it's one of the only things my dad passed down to me. I will take my kids to it someday and show them the Hall of Fame Museum with their granddad. I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Weekend! And when Marco Andretti wins, can it please PLEASE be one of the years I go? Please? Thank you!!! See you next year, Indy.