In honour of Indy 500 weekend in the States, I’m sharing a little essay I did back in May 2007. I know this may not seem very “Irish” because it’s about Indianapolis mainly, but I just felt it was appropriate and timely. Besides, Ireland is a huge place for horse and greyhound racing, so I’m not too far off!?!
Although, a thought just popped into my head… I was imagining what it would look like if Americans dressed up the way Irish do for the races??? Or vice versa?? Oh dear! 😉
It’s a bit long, but I hope you’ll indulge me and enjoy.
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What is it about a race that gets humans so excited? Even those who don’t pay attention to racing still can’t help but notice the energy of a track and field match, the anticipation of horses at the starting gate, or the undeniable thrill of “gentlemen” starting their deafening engines.
Racing for the sake of racing seems a uniquely human trait. Sure, animals race, but it’s usually for their lives, and often on very skewed playing fields.
Obviously, racing has been a sport since perhaps the beginning of time – from the first Olympics where men ran nude to defend the honor of the gods, to country horse races recorded in classic historic novels.
It goes without saying that Indiana is a big center for racing. As a college student at Anderson University, we’d take regular trips to see the horses at Hoosier Park. Boys often took their dates to the park on those warm spring evenings, walking right up to the railing to watch the gleaming horses and jockeys fly by, kicking up dust and sweat in the twilight. Sometimes we placed bets, laughing together over the funny names and checking the odds. Being students, our cash was limited, but we always rejoiced when someone would win a 12 to 1 odds $2 bet on a fancy chestnut, maybe joining him in cheering on “Blue Light Special”… In a town with as little to do as Anderson and with Indianapolis downtown over 45 minutes away, the excitement of Hoosier Park was a convenient and affordable option to tempt us.
When I moved to Indianapolis after graduation, however, racing took on a whole new meaning. As I neared my first year anniversary of working for Heartland, in May 2005, one of our sponsors who happened to own “The” Racetrack offered us pit passes and tickets into the Pagoda Suites on Qualification Weekend. I invited my friend Matt, and together we walked around the track, the pits and the suites in awe. As he kept saying to me, “I almost feel bad about having these VIP passes, like they should go to someone who would know what they’re looking at and appreciate it more!”
So we watched and took pictures and called our friends so they could hear the roar of the cars through our cell phones.
Even though I’ve never been much of a fan for ANY kind of racing, the experience of watching and hearing those cars was nothing short of thrilling. It’s something I’ll always think back to when I recall Indianapolis; and now, I finally understand what all that race passion was about, and I feel like I was a part of something a little guttural, a little primitive, and yet very specialized, celebrated and cool. So even though I don’t faithfully follow The Race from start to finish, I am now and forever a fan of it and the unquenchable spirit it instills in the city.
Of course, part of that spirit is also the one that brings the celebrities, but in larger numbers are the less-than-upstanding citizens… maybe uncouth is a better description, or even trashy. But honestly, the colorful characters, too, add to the fun of the event.
That same year, friends of mine drove over from Ohio to see The Race. We took a drive down 16th Street the night before to see the track and had no idea that we would be in traffic for nearly two hours. It seemed everyone in the city and more were just driving around the area, shouting and cheering with the energy, surrounded by newfound brothers. Every available patch of lawn or parking lot or street median was occupied with tents, campers, coolers stocked with cheap beer, and lawn chairs. At first, we wondered what everyone was watching as they sat in the streets and barbecued – then we realized it was us. It was everyone.
There were carnival-esque carts and stands, selling memorabilia and funnel cakes. There were old folks with signs, charging $20 a pop to park in their front yards. There were men screaming in the cars next to us for me to show my breasts! Everyone who wasn’t driving had probably been drinking since dawn, and would continue into the next day. It was a crazy, crowded, noisy, enormous party, but even so, it was a funny sort of camaraderie that I can only imagine to resemble Mardi Gras in New Orleans or New Year’s in Times Square. It was crazy. But it was so much fun…
Somehow, though, I still think there’s something unique, something that feels as dramatic and delicately threaded as life and death itself, about a race. There’s only one winner – and everyone feels that narrow cord, that unpredictability and surprise, somewhere tensely waiting in their hearts. It’s waiting for that final moment when you spring up out of your seat, clutch your hat to your head and just yell. No other sport has that kind of single moment… when adrenaline catches fire.