Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Indy cars. The real deal

Not that I would recommend it, but have you ever gone 110-115 MPH on an interstate? If so, that was pretty fast, right?

Not really.

How about twice as fast? Think you could handle it? Just for grins, let's assume there's another car a foot away on your left, and a third a foot away on your right doing the same speed -- say 230 MPH. Did I forget to mention you might have to ridiculously tailgate another car in front of you -- like a foot off the bumper -- while yet another one is also a foot off YOUR rear bumper, and a turn is coming up?  By the way, you're not allowed to make the slightest contact with any of these cars. If you do, you'll likely crash into the wall. That's another little thing they don't have on the shoulder of the interstate. You might even get airborne. A lot of bad things can happen when you're airborne at over 200 MPH in a car. A decent analogy might be a butterfly in a tornado. It might survive, but who knows where it's going to end up? Even if you somehow managed to navigate your way through all that, I'm thinking a pit stop might be in order. No, not for new tires or more fuel, but to change your underwear, which I'm fairly certain would be, ahem, soiled. 

Can't imagine? Me neither, but that's what Indy car drivers do -- over and over again, for 500 miles.

In years past, I've been to the Indy 500 a few times, but nobody knows more about this than Robbie. He's been there 26 times. I dare say Robbie would tell you TV does absolutely no justice for how fast those cars really are. The average couch tater watching it on the boob tube can't begin to appreciate what's really going on. Even when I was there, you could always pick out the "rookies", or first time spectators. After the parade and pace laps, when the cars finally got up to full speed and came around on the first "green" lap, their jaws would drop open, while their necks whipped back and forth trying to keep up with the action. It's as if their eyes were sending data to their brains that their internal processor was having a hard time computing. I honestly don't remember and perhaps Robbie doesn't either but, chances are, we did the same thing our first times there, as well. The speed is INSANE, and that's just WATCHING them. Actually being a driver in one of those cars is beyond my comprehension. Probably Robbie's too.

Dan Wheldon's recent death driving such a car has brought attention, though likely short-lived, to what these drivers do, yet he was not the first. Others have preceded him to the grave and still others have suffered horrendous injuries. Consider Alex Zanardi, a former Indy car driver. An on-track incident during the course of a race left Zanardi's car in the unenviable position of being sideways on the raceway. Another car coming up from behind at over 200 MPH "T-boned" him and basically sawed his car in half in the the blink of an eye. Problem was, Zanardi's torso wound up in one half, and his legs in the other. Somehow, miraculously, he survived that, and has since been fitted with prosthetic legs.

Why do these drivers do what they do? Fame? Fortune? The "rush"? All of the above? I don't know, but whatever it is, I stand in awe of them.

I'm not the only one. Jimmy Johnson, the 5-time reigning NASCAR champ, was recently asked about it in light of Wheldon's death. You'd probably agree JJ knows a little something about going fast in a race car.
Johnson said, "Those cars are averaging 225? I've never been 225 MPH in my LIFE, and they're AVERAGING it around an oval? There are some very brave men and women who drive those things".

So next year, on the last Sunday in May, think about checking it out. No, not on the tube. Go to Indianapolis and watch it live and up close. Tickets aren't as hard to come by as they used to be, and you'll get a whole new perspective on the real deal.

But be cool about it. Don't let your jaw drop open on the first green lap.

Robbie might be watching.

1 comment: