Back in the day, yours truly made the annual pilgrimage to the Indy 500. An infield rat. I, and my equally crazed buddies would arrive on Thursday -- Friday latest. In a van. We didn't have enough money to afford motel rooms, even if they were available -- which they weren't.
So it was find a place in a parking lot somewhere, and camp out. Squatter's rights, like legions of others. It was always a good idea to pick a lot close to a party store. Lots of trips carrying coolers for ice, more beer, and whatever munchies looked good, which was just about everything.
Thing was, when you got down there 2-3 days before the actual race on Sunday -- in a van -- personal hygiene eventually had to take a big hit. The only cleaning up we could do was in a restroom somewhere. And they had long lines. Once in, you had maybe 5 minutes to do your thing before the waiting masses outside would start to get restless, to say the least. And you had to walk back through the other animals on your way out. They wanted it just as bad as you did, so don't dilly-dally, or things might get ugly after you exited.
Needless to say, a sponge was a must. In the obvious absence of a shower, a quicky sponge bath was the best you were going to get. Think that's easy? Try going into a fast-food joint someday, head into the rest room with a sponge, and try to strip down, rinse yourself off with water only -- cold only -- and get redressed -- all within 5 minutes. Forget shampooing your hair or shaving, No time. Brushing your teeth wasn't much of a problem -- it could be done without water anywhere. Just spit it out when you're done. Same with urinating. Pretty much anyplace would do. But if one had to defecate, that seriously cut into sponge bath time. Let's just say this was not for the faint of heart or clean freaks. By the time Sunday came around and we went under the track into the infield (at 6 AM, several hours before the race), things had already had a way of, shall we say, ripening up some.
But we did what we had to do. Anything to be at Indy. I actually took my wife once, and it would be an understatement to say she wasn't the least bit interested in ever going back. Women can party too, but deprive them of the usual "facilities" for a couple days, and they tend to get a bit cranky. Go figure.
I myself finally burned out on it and now watch the "greatest spectacle in racing" at home on the big flat screen in HD. But I still wouldn't miss it.
So I checked out the qualifying a few days ago. First up was a young lady named Pippa Mann. She turned a 4 lap average of 219 MPH.
I'd be the first to admit I've never gone anywhere near that fast in a car. In my younger hot-rodding days, I probably topped out somewhere around 130 -- 140 max. That's cruising right along. If something goes wrong at those speeds, you have a problem, which might be fatal. But as a young man, I had more guts than brains. Nevertheless, I couldn't then, much less now, imagine going almost 100 MPH faster. 219 MPH in an overgrown go-kart is beyond my comprehension. I would likely soil my britches or faint from fright if I was put in such a vehicle, at such speeds today.
But there's the rub. Pippa's 219 wasn't going to be anywhere near fast enough to qualify for the 500. Get that slow stuff outta here.
Idle thought. Pippa? Didn't she get married to a prince in England on the same day? I mean, how many Pippas can there be in the world? It's kind of like Tiger, Shaq, Kobe, and Lebron. Have you heard of more than one? This girl moves fast indeed.
Regardless, many of the top racers were qualifying at over 230 MPH. If you and your car can't do at least 225, you might as well not even show up at the brickyard. Indy cars make NASCAR look like slow motion in comparison. On top of that, it's polite racing by necessity. There will be none of the bumping, side-swiping, and other tactics the NASCAR drivers employ so often. Get into another car at those speeds, and you're going into the wall too.
What's truly amazing is most of the Indy drivers were running their qualifying laps in 4th gear. Indy cars have 6 speed transmissions. So if a car can go upwards of 230 MPH in 4th, what might their top-end be in 6th? It all boils down to how fast they can go through the turns, ground effects (downward suction to the track) and all.
True, when the race itself goes off and they're fully up to speed, the drivers will surely shift into 5th and 6th, if only to conserve fuel. They need horsepower when qualifying for 4 laps, but strategy changes when it's going to be 500 miles. Lower RPMs over that time can make a big difference in fuel consumption, and those windows are, by design, close.
What's also mind-boggling is a qualifier lost control of his car and slammed into the wall -- head on -- at well over 200 MPH. Yes, he suffered a broken pelvis and hip, but will be OK. A head-on collision at only a mere third of that speed, say, 70 MPH, would almost certainly be fatal in an every day passenger car or truck, even with air bags -- which Indy cars don't have.
It is truly a testimony to the wondrous safety engineering that has gone into Indy cars over the years. The car itself is designed to absorb all the impact, disintegrate accordingly, and keep the driver relatively unscathed. In days of yore, that driver likely wouldn't have survived such a crash.
At any rate, maybe I'm getting old and wimpy, but I think I much prefer watching the 500 on TV these days. Memories of the rowdy, nasty, and don't give a damn days are one thing. I'll always have those.
But it's nice to have a bathroom close by where I can take my time if I want -- with hot water and a shower for later. Not to mention semi-decent food. A pizza with the works is only a phone call away if need be.
Those little things so many take for granted are more important than you think.
If you don't believe that -- try going three days without them.
Or better yet guys, trying to get your "significant other" to do the same.
Good luck with THAT....