Friday, February 13, 2009

Scott And Carol Present - Racing Toward Spring Indy Style

Sometimes in the middle of winter, you just have to leave the snow shovel alone and think of summer. Looking forward to times when you want to be cooler and you have to mow instead of shovel. In Indiana no one is ever very far from some type of motorsport venue. To help raise every ones spirits, the Indiana State Museum invited both children and adults to the “Gathering Before the Green Flag” celebration the last full weekend in January.

Host Mike King gathered everyone around the staircase where a singing group did a traditional prerace tribute to America and every driver participating waved their green flag . Hearing Mike over the P.A. made many in attendance wish it were May. While the weather outside was frightful, the wheels were so delightful. They were everywhere on all three levels of the museum. Over seventy wheeled vehicles were expected. Trackside, a radio show from ! hosted by Curt Cavin and Kevin Lee recorded a special show at the museum, and they attracted some interested observers during their session.

And there weren’t just wheeled vehicle. Two racing boats, both large and small were there. You needed your coat to examine the Unlimited Hydroplane, Miss Madison, sponsored by Oberto Beef Jerky, but it was worth the chill. The other one was a small racing boat for children to begin their careers. Unlike other parts of the US, going fast is an Indiana tradition, which is why many consider it the motor racing capital of the world. There is even a Hoosier Auto Racing Fans fan club which works with various tracks by hosting special events during the racing season. It is one of the oldest racing fan clubs

The motorsport tradition in Indiana is a family one, and it goes far beyond mom and the kids watching dad play. Many female drivers participate throughout the state and there are special classifications for children as young as five to get started racing against other children.

Using engines barely bigger than ones on a weed whacker, these tiny carts offer opportunities for everyone to be just Sarah or Tony. The “Gathering before the Green Flag” event brought representatives from almost all the racing organizations together by encouraging everyone to talk with drivers, get autographs, and even sit in the cars.

No other state has the variety of motorsport events hosted by the Hoosier state. The fastest boats, the fastest cars, the fastest motorcycles, you can see them all run somewhere in Indiana. During the museum event, you could even sit in lots of them. Sprint cars, dragsters, stock cars, and motorcycles were everywhere.

Some of the old classic roadsters that raced at Indianapolis Motor Speedway before most of the attendees were born graced the displays, but those were purely for looking, but not touching. Many people don’t realize that many of the old roadsters that sped around Indianapolis Motor Speedway also raced on dirt tracks all over the Hoosier state. They were all represented at the museum. IMS is the only venue in the world to have events for IRL/Cart, Formula One, NASCAR, and MOTO GP.

Indiana State University and Indiana-Purdue University at Indianapolis both offer motorsport majors for the college bound. IUPUI is affiliated with Sarah Fisher Racing and ISU has a Top Fuel racing team. They brought their dragster to the event along with racing tree simulation game for attendees to test their reaction times. It was interesting to hear one of the attendees who was discussing his career options with the ISU student being told that due to the economic conditions he was also pursuing getting a CDL to latch on with a team in that way for a starting position. Speaking of dragsters, a junior dragster was also available, to be tried on for size. More than one parent was subjected to the trembling lip of a mute appeal while they sat there. Being able to talk to participants gave parents a less pressured opportunity to gain background information on potential participation.

A full size stock car invited comparisons to some of the smaller classes. Many of the reduced size models also feature reduced size engines for safety’s sake but they feature the same style as their larger brethren. Many of the large tracks also have smaller circuits suitable for these vehicles and run events on the same weekends. It is not unusual for the trailers hauling the cars to have more than one class of participant vehicle inside at these events. A mini Indy speedway track has been built at the Indiana State Fairgrounds to host events.

One of the popular classes doesn’t have an engine at all. The Soapbox Derby or Gravity Drag class features downhill racing with the emphasis on the drivers also participating in building their car. Recently another option has been offered, the Challenger division. Cars with dual steering setups allow more widespread participation. Professional drivers ride behind the participants and have brakes for safety’s sake but they are only there to prevent dangerous situations, they don’t correct the kids driving mistakes. After the races the drivers hang around a little to sign autographs and pose for photos giving all the participants some very precious memories.

Back at the museum, racing fans could interact with some of the insiders, like Donald Davidson and Bob Jenkins. Dan Wheldon’s 2009 pit crew was on hand to answer questions and sign autographs. Ron McQueeney from Indianapolis Motor Speedway gave a presentation about photographing out at the track. He supervises a collection of several million images that date back a hundred years as this is the speedway’s centennial celebration season. Donald Davidson gave a lecture on the history or the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The track has traveled a full circle, with motorcycles returning to the track back in 2008. One of the finer points of Pole Day is seeing what cars the museum chooses to display during the day in the plaza.

The Indy Racing League cutaway car that you see on race broadcasts was there, and the attendees could ask questions of the people in the booth. Whether they had heard the questions seventeen times that morning or not, they patiently explained how things worked and pointed out some of the more interesting things on the car. If you look closely, you could discern subtle differences in the evolution of the chassis.

More racing fans waited patiently to have there motorsport memorabilia appraised. Helmets, fire suits, and assorted other items were examined by professionals is sort of a “antique road show on wheels.” No cameras or stardoms, just a good idea of how much to insure any personal items, if they can be replaced. Just outside the door a beautiful display of unique racing art filled the alcove. Open wheel cars of various eras were pictured in many road settings to stimulate memories of many classic races of year gone by.

So there you have it. Lots of racing excitement with nary a rotating wheel. Cold on the first day and over an inch of snow on the second, nothing can top racing in Indiana. With some of the tracks holding test and tune days in April, exhaust thunder on weekends will return shortly. And the family racing tradition of Indiana will rekindle another generation on those warm summer nights.


Freddy said...

Wow extremely long post but I red it all.

Scott and Carol said...

Thanks for reading.

I think it actually looks longer than it is, there are 31 photos along with the text.