It continues to amaze me what fun interactions we have when we are at an IndyCar race. Today we were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for qualifying for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. While I hoped to meet some drivers and perhaps meet up with some Twitter friends, I realize that not every time we meet a driver will be special. Sometimes you just get a quick autograph from a driver who really wants to just eat his lunch and not deal with the fans- that would be Ryan Hunter-Reay. I have to give Ryan credit, he came over and signed Zach’s hat while he had his lunch in his hand but you could tell he wasn’t pleased. I understand that it has to get old signing autographs all the time but the IndyCar drivers more often than not do it with a smile and we have had some really neat interactions. Well that wasn’t the case with RHR but the day was young.
We arrived at the Speedway just before noon. As we entered and saw cars on track, I stopped and asked a couple if it was the Indy Lights practice. They said it was and we enjoyed talking with them for a bit. The boys know how I can get when talking IndyCar and they quickly pulled me from the conversation. They were looking forward to the free garage days and wanted to get some autographs. As we neared the garage area it appeared you could walk right in- no waiver. Hmm?!?! It had said online a waiver needed to be signed and that you must be 9 or older. I asked a yellow shirt and he waved us right in- no waiver needed. We walked in and realized immediately we weren’t truly in the garage. We had closer access but it was still gated to keep you from walking up and down the rows. Not at all what I would call garage access. We saw a couple drivers but most were too far to notice us. Disappointing. We walked to the other entrance to the garages from gasoline alley and saw another sign but it just directed you back to the area we had been before. Next we went to sign up (sign a waiver) for the Ivy Tech Garage Tours. As we walked up the man said, “I have good news and bad news.” The good news was we could see the garages from the area we had been before- not really good news. The bad news was you needed to be 18 and older. What!?!? Online, the IMS website, it said 9 and older. They said I could do the tour while my boys waited. While my boys could be left alone for a short time that doesn’t sound like a fun family day so I passed. I did ask though if once I did the tour I would have access for the rest of the day to the garage. I was told no, only a tour. So much for free garage days.
The boys and I went to find a snack and make a plan. While they were eating I did venture through the portion of the garages that was open. I had really been hoping to see Stefan Wilson. I tweeted Stefan and KVSH racing and both responded letting me know that Stefan was not at the autograph session (which I assumed) and also exactly where their garage was. Of course it was the farthest one from where I was allowed to be. As I stared down the long row wondering how I would convince Stefan to walk all the way down to meet some fans a gentleman noticed me. He walked over and asked if I would like to come into the garage area. He showed me how you could easily sneak past the gate. Well I had already seen how you could and promptly told my boys that we would not be doing that. However, it was just a moment earlier that Stefan had tweeted me back saying where his garage was and it was extremely tempting. As it turns out, Stefan wasn’t at the garage at that time. I will not say how I learned that but perhaps you can imagine. I ran into the gentleman again and had a nice conversation about visits to the Speedway. As I was talking with him I saw another man walk by that I was sure I had met last year. It was. His name is Terry and last year my boys sold him a checkered flag necklace. He liked Zach’s Firestone Racing hat and bought that from him too. Terry remembered me and the boys- Zach especially and we talked for a bit.(Previous time we met Terry) He told his buddy about the hat and then told me a story about it. When Justin Wilson died Terry and his friend wrote a message on the hat and left it at the Speedway gate. I loved hearing that. We hated that we couldn’t visit the Speedway to leave flowers. We actually did our own memorial at a race track turned forest preserve near our house. Hearing that a hat that once belonged to us became part of the memorial left at the speedway made me happy. I showed Terry the selfie Matthew took with Justin and he was visible touched.
I got a couple pictures and went to get the boys. I had left them longer than I intended. As I was heading back who passes by? James Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin. I was so tempted to follow but instead got the boys and headed towards Hinch’s garage. Fortunately Hinch’s garage is right near the edge where the gates were. We could easily see him if he was out. We tweeted him and waited. As we stood there I notice someone else walk up—STEFAN WILSON!!! I said to Matthew I think that is Stefan. He agreed it looked like him and we called to him. He saw us and we asked him to come over. He gave us the one minute sign and entered the garage. A couple minutes later he returned and walked over to us. As he did others noticed him and called out but Stefan came straight to us and spent a couple minutes talking with us. Of course we told him how sorry we were about Justin. Matthew had on his Justin shirt (the first time he has worn it since August) and got some autographs. We said we couldn’t wait to watch him in the 500 and promised he would hear us cheering from Chicago. We also got a picture. It is a great picture of Stefan and not so good of us but it will be a favorite of ours forever.
So even without garage access or a planned tweet up, at a huge facility we met friends and drivers. As I said our experiences always continue to amaze me. I don’t believe fans of other sports have the same experiences we have with the fans or athletes and that is one of the things I love about IndyCar.
As the day went on we watched qualifying, spent some time in the kids zone and wore ourselves out. We had planned to attend the Festival on Main but Zach was overheated and exhausted so we packed up and headed the hotel. After dinner and resting we went to the pool and played cards after that. Another successful day at the Indianapolos Motor Speedway.
Qualifying notes- Simon Pagenaud won the pole but was the only Penske driver to make the fast six. Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, jack Hawksworth also made the fast six. Unfortunately, Rahal and Newgarden were u dear weight and will be starting from the back of the field.
Race day the weather will be cool and windy so it could be a very interesting race.