Monday, May 31, 2010

Indy 500

An important feature of Memorial Day weekend is, of course, rain. We have it today, alternately misting, then sprinkling. Not much pouring to report, but the day is young. Over the weekend Sally and I attended a family camp north of Spokane, and it rained all day. To tell you the truth, it just seemed natural. I've spent so many Memorial Day weekends sitting in the rain that I scarcely notice anymore.

Once again this year I did not travel back to Indianapolis for the 500. That's also become a tradition, much like my brother Dick missing the family Thanksgiving gathering because of the opening of goose season. I actually thought about attending the race this year. I have two tickets reserved and paid for. Evan and I thought about a trip. However, that was before my precipitous decision to drive back to Indiana for Butler's appearance in the Final Four.

So, I watched the race from the comfort of a dry chair in Spokane. It was entertaining enough. There was intrigue at the beginning ("Florence Henderson is still alive? Jim Nabors is still alive? Tom Carnegie is still alive?") and drama at the end: The dominant car in the race was driven by a Scotsman named Dario Franchitti. No, the drama was NOT figuring out how a guy named Dario Franchitti ended up with a Scottish accent. The drama was Franchitti's figuring out just how slowly he could drive without being passed.

"What?" you may ask. "The drama was seeing how slowly he could win?"

I know, it sounds more like Sally and I trying to maximize gas mileage in Sheldon the SmartCar than it does the Indy 500. In truth it was a similar scenario ("scenario" is a Scottish word that means "libretto"). Franchitti didn't have enough fuel to finish the race at racing speed, so he kept driving slower and slower while carefully looking in his rearview mirror for his pursuers. The rearview mirror, as you may know, was first installed on an Indianapolis racer in 1911, featured on Ray Harroun's victorious Marmon Wasp. Harroun used his rearview mirror in the effort to go fast, safely, whereas Franchitti employed it in the attempt to win the race as slowly as possible.

In all humility, I anticipated this surprising outcome in a parody of Bob Dylan's The Times They Are a Changin' I wrote for a pre-race party years ago:

Pop-off valves on the cars keep them from going fast
Override it and you're liable to run out of gas
So the last shall be first and the first shall be last
It's a wonder that they call it racin'
Are the great days of Indianapolis past?
Oh the times they are a changin'

Times have changed. Like Soviet octogenarians propped up on the Kremlin wall to oversee the May Day parade, the ancient figures featured at the beginning of the telecast are still wheeled out to perform their familiar tasks ("Mary Hulman George is still alive?"). But the race has changed. They actually installed a limited use "pass button" on the cars this year to try to make the race exciting. (Imagine that... they tried to make an automobile race exciting.) But as Dario Franchitti's car rounded each turn yet more slowly, we knew that the Indy 500 had lost its luster. We employed our own "pass button" - the one on the TV remote. Thankfully there was a poker tournament on ESPN2.

1 comment:

  1. so why the heck did they do this pass valve business? And then why have the override, if they put the valve in to keep the cars from going too fast? It just seems like they are hobbling the cars--was it for safety reasons? seems pretty silly. I like your song =)