You'll pardon me while I tell a long story, won't you?
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 is a day I won't forget and I'll get back to it, but first...
To understand what growing up a boy in the 1970s in Indiana meant, you have to imagine a time before all the daily hustle and bustle, before all the distractions, before all internet, satellite, DSL, DVD, VCR, and cable TV (5 channels on the dial), when there were fewer and simpler pleasures. I would consider myself a fairly typical Indiana boy then as we marked the passing of time by the major sporting mileposts which primarily revolved around basketball season and the once-a-year spectacle that is the Indy 500.
The start of basketball season was always exciting (basketball was truly king then around here) as was the end of the season for both high school and college had tournaments which commanded the utmost attention. The movie Hoosiers actually captures much of the spirit of how basketball was appreciated even into the late 70s. Soon after basketball season ended, thoughts turned from the bleak Indiana winters to fleeting hopes of spring. With spring meant one thing - soon school would be out for the summer, the Indy 500 would take place, and summer begins it's full charge.
I grew up following basketball and the Indy 500 as if it was my duty as a Hoosier. The Indy 500 was particularly special since it was the only truly world class event to be held in this state each and every year. I didn't fully realize what that meant until later in life. Annually, my father and I would make time to watch the race on TV together which I thoroughly enjoyed. He also told me stories of his many trips to the races in the mid-60s through his last trip in 1975. I was getting to the age when I would beg him to go every year and felt I was old enough to enjoy it completely. In May of 1979, my father relented and my chance came to see it in person.
In an instant that day, this 12 year-old was forever hooked. The traditional ceremonial build-up heard annually on the radio so many times now gave way to the overwhelming attack on all senses when the cars came by for the first race lap. One moment so powerful that even today I cannot fully describe the experience.
Flash forward to two days ago. Through a series of fortunate incidents, I was able to participate in the Indy Racing Experience single-seater program which meant I was strapped into a genuine Indycar, given the command to start the engine, and allowed to drive as fast as I dare around the famous speedway for 4 laps (albeit following an actual Indycar driver in a lead car who gave the visual driving line and with the car given only fourth gear for running). When the engine fired and I released the clutch, pulling away from the pits under my own command, I was in a place I would've never believed and only dreamed about as a kid.
I am driving an Indycar at the most famous racecourse in the world - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
I'll spare the many details of how it felt, sounded, smelled, and looked. Suffice to say it was simply one of the best days of my life. I was doing something I had imagined as a kid on a bike, in a wagon, in a go-kart, in anything with wheels, but was certain could never happen. To take the wheel that beautiful morning in Indianapolis and drive, was truly this boy's dream come true.
I've attached a picture below which they took immediately after getting out of the seat. If you look at my face, you can almost see that 12 year-old boy inside, gleaming with delight.