Lady Jaye and I had the great fortune to attend the Richmond Times Dispatch 100 Indy race at the Richmond International Raceway Saturday evening. We’re not big racing fans (I used to watch the World Rally Cup years ago on television), but Lady Jaye waited on the Marlboro-Team Penske team last week and scored some free tickets. Our seats were outstanding — about thirty rows up, directly on the starting line.
After a mediocre rendition of the National Anthem and a nice flyover by two F-18s, The Command™ was given: “Start your engines!” My heartrate accelerated; seventeen open-wheeled Indy cars started up. It was like the inside a hornet’s nest, and the aluminum grandstand started to vibrate. The cars eased out of the pits slowly and circled the pace car for five laps, allowing their tires and engines to warm up. The pace car (a Honda sedan, if you can believe that) ducked back into pit row, and like buckshot from a shotgun the cars flew down the track.
The feeling of the first few race laps was amazing. The crowd cheered, and the racers scrambled for position. I had my eyes and hopes on Danica Patrick, the only lady racer on the Indy circuit. “We’re going to win,” Sam Hornish Jr., the driver of the #6 Marlboro-Team Penske told Lady Jaye before they left her restaurant last week. Sure enough, the one-two punch of the teammate Helio Castroneves (#3) and Hornish Jr. dominated the entire race. Hornish Jr. lapped Danica five times, and was not really challenged the entire race. I felt badly for Castroneves, who was doing well until he lost the majority of his back right tire with less than three laps to go. Instead of making a pit stop and losing his place, he bravely skated onward. This forced a yellow flag and the race ended with a slow-speed escort by the pace car. It was a yawner of a finish, but Hornish so utterly bitch-slapped the other racers the outcome wasn’t in question anyway.
We had a great time, although to be honest, the crowd bothered us. Indy fans are considered more “technical” and nerdy than NASCAR fans. If this is the case, NASCAR fans are just one bone’s throw away from living in caves and dragging their women around by the hair. The guy sitting next to me drank six beers and took at least one shot of liquor during the one hour, twenty-eight minute race. Then he and his wife got up and drove home, along with all the other fans who were allowed to bring their own coolers into the raceway. At least in professional baseball they shut the beer stands down during the seventh inning. Aside from the drinking, there were some mullets unlike I’ve seen in the wild since the late 80s. Lady Jaye leaned over and asked, “why aren’t the women wearing any bras?” I replied, “why aren’t the guys wearing any shirts??”
Would I go again? Probably not. Like attending a football game, the real value of live attendance is in the roar of the crowd, the buzzing of the engines, and other things that can’t be transmitted through a television. Many attendees had radio headsets, which was a great idea. The lack of commentary, particularly for racing newcomers like us, would have made the 250 laps a little more interesting, especially after we knew that Hornish Jr. was going to win. The 7-11 car pulled off unexpectedly, and we weren’t given an explanation over the PA system. I’m sure that if we had access to the radio broadcast we would have known what happened.
At any rate, it was a wonderful experience to have at least once in my life. Thanks for the tickets, Sam, and congratulations on your record-setting victory tonight in Richmond.