Human Interest


If you’ve ever been to the Indy 500, at some point in the pre-race ceremonies you become overwhelmed with emotion. You can’t avoid it. The people who plan the activities leading up to the start of the race know how to get a race fan’s attention and know how to build the level of emotion in each of us making us feel deeply attached to the event. As our attention increases, our hearts speed up, our palms get sweaty, and a lump develops in our throats. And somewhere along the way, tears may fill our eyes. 

You may have been to the Indy 500 fifty times, but you still are emotionally moved by just being there. The traditions practiced by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are repeated every year and are performed by artists who know how to deliver a stirring performance. Who could not be moved by Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” and immediately after hear Mary Hulman George say “Gentlemen, Start Your engines!” I lost it every time. In fact, just thinking about it, my nose burned and my throat welled up!

Each time the public address announcer, Dave Calabro, announces the next event, excitement builds. It starts with moving the 33 cars from the pits into their starting positions on the track, then moves to the driver introductions, followed by the invocation delivered by an Indianapolis clergyman. Immediately thereafter is the presentation of the colors followed by 21 gun salute and the flawless playing of TAPS by a solo bugler. If you don’t have a lump in your throat by now, we need to check you for a pulse!

After a brief pause, a celebrity artist sings “God Bless America!” followed closely by another celebrity artist singing the National Anthem accompanied by the Purdue University marching band. With each event, emotions rise and anticipation builds for the start of “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing!” Then I lose it, again. Calabro says, “Now, race fans, it’s time for Jim Nabors and ‘Back Home Again in Indiana.’” That’s it. I’m done! Emotion wells up inside, my voice quivers, and I can’t speak. Nabors finishes another perfect rendition of Hoosiers’ favorite song, and every one of the 300,000+ people in attendance is standing awaiting the most famous words in racing, “Drivers, start your engines!” Jim Nabors last performed in 2014 and died in 2017, so after a few artists failed to restore the fans’ attraction to the song, the honor was transferred to singer Jim Cornelison. His performance is as close to Jim Nabors’ as one could get.

The race car engines fire up, the crews move their equipment back over the pit wall, and 33 cars pull away for the start of the race. For the next 30 minutes, my heart is beating 120 beats a minute, my hands are shaking, and I can’t sit down. Thirty-three race cars roar by for parade and pace laps, the pace car pulls into the pits, and the green flag drops. Now, a multicolored mass of race cars thunders by at 230 mph, side-by-side, or in single file, fighting to improve their position while trying to avoid crashing into the wall or into each other. 

The start of the Indy 500 is the most breathtaking thing in sports. Nothing compares. A friend said at his first Indy 500, the sights and sounds of the start actually frightened him. The deafening roar, the incredible speed of the cars, the dust stirred by 33 rocket ships, the fear of a major crash, and the sheer danger of the whole situation are feelings everyone experiences! For the next 3-4 hours, fans are treated to a continuous stream of car after car passing by their seats, wondering who’s driving that car, who’s in the lead, and thinking how exciting this whole experience is. Serious fans know the answers and love every minute of the action. 

When it’s over, thoughts immediately focus not only on the incredible event they just saw, but also on the absolute certainty of returning next year. So many fans have a deep emotional attachment to the traditions of the Indy 500 and would miss it only if they were on their death bed. Even then, they would watch it on TV and let their emotions flow!

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    1. Agree. I left that out for some reason. Didn’t forget it. I just chose to leave it out. Maybe most of my memories were before they started the flyover. The most impressive was when the B-1 bomber flew over!

  1. Watching the race this year was exciting. !!! This was one of the most exciting races. I had so many people to cheer for. It came on TV so early here, that I could not see eating the usual race fare of KC fried chicken with the fixins.. Darn.

    1. It was exciting! Heck of a finish. We passed on KFC—had to deal with bones! We did sandwiches, pickles, brownies. Didn’t want to drink too much because it meant having you use the gross rest rooms. You peed into a trough that lined the perimeter of the room. No flush urinals—water dripped into the trough to eliminate urine. In the center of the room were aluminum sinks to wash your hands but there was never any hand towels to dry them, and some guys peed into them. The floor was always very wet with who knows what. The Hulman-George family never upgraded the rest rooms. Penske has!

  2. I still can hear Tom Carnegie calling out the times and speeds of each qualifications . I miss those times. ” he’s on it !” It’s a new track record !!!!!!

    1. The Indy 500 pre-race is a huge piece of Americana. I just wish someone like Cornelison would sing the National Anthem. Jewel was awful.

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