Ground(ed) Effects

Indycar and general autosport opinion

The line “wake up the echoes”, as almost everyone from the northern part of Indiana would recall, is a lyric from the Notre Dame Victory March. The line is set within a stanza implores one to recall and revive the glories past;

Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame, 

Wake up the echoes cheering her name, 

Send a volley cheer on high, 
Shake down the thunder from the sky.

Growing up where I did, Notre Dame football and the Indianapolis 500 once held an unparalleled significance in both long-standing tradition and celebration on an annual basis. I still see similarities with this sentiment and the opening day at IMS.

Opening day of 500 practice reminds us of a few things that acknowledge time and place; another year has ticked by, we have indeed survived another winter (which for Northern Indiana tends to be a bleak and oppressive 4 months), the optimism of spring is well and truly beset around us, the greening of the landscape signals the onset of more comfortable climes, and the quickening of pace to all things Indiana, especially the cars at Indy. My recent visit to the Indycar Grand Prix followed by this opening day also has awoken my restful desire to write here again. 


After being at IMS this past weekend, I appreciate how I find something special each visit there. Whether recalling specific visits or events past, or how the physical grounds and surroundings change over the years, or a mixture of people, time, and place, each visit seems unique and never repetitive. This past weekend I was not only engrossed with the racing, but also noticing what’s new around the track and in the museum.

Of special note to me was the A.J. Foyt exhibit in the museum and the demolished Lola tub on display that had been saved from his horrific crash at Road America in 1990. It takes very little imagination to see what damage was done to his body in that crash.

While presented as a testament to his incredible toughness and desire to return to racing following that crash, I am also reminded of how incredibly dangerous this endeavor is, despite the ongoing improvements to safety. Maybe it’s my steadily advancing age, or the fact that I’ll be attending my 30th Indy 500 this year, or that I’ve been following the sport for around 40 of my 49 years, but the fragility of life in the profession of Indycar racing seems all the more apparent now. In light of the length of my Speedway history, Hinchcliffe’s crash still seems like yesterday to me.

There is that dark and rarely officially discussed thread of mayhem and death woven into the history of the Speedway and while there is no need to glorify it, I also feel it quite important and well overdue to more suitably, publicly, and solemnly honor, via a permanent museum place or exterior monument, all those (fans included) who have given their lives from the events within the confines of the Speedway.

There really needs to be no shame in doing so, I feel. The drivers all eagerly acknowledge this risk in trade for thrills, riches, and glory. To publicly exhibit some condolence to those who were far less fortunate seems a fitting and necessary counter-balance to the weight of glory.

Many acknowledge a ‘spirit of the Speedway’ that they experience when visiting. While difficult to substantiate in a logical way, I’ve felt it as well nearly every visit. I don’t think it a stretch to consider that something well beyond our understanding may be ‘touching’ our psyche in those moments and to me, it feels as if it is from those who are gone.

Hokey-sounding perhaps, but I can assure you something I’ve experienced, and not imagined. 

So before I succumb to the annual rites of celebration and ‘shaking down of the thunder’ that arrive with my annual trip to the Speedway for the Indy 500 weekend, I’m feeling the need to take a moment today, this opening day at IMS, in solemn reflection of those whose lives were forever altered or mortally concluded at the Speedway. 

If nothing else, I’ll take those moments when they come (much like today) to consider the lives lost at the speedway and extend into the sky/universe a solemn acknowledgement of their sacrifice.

 

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