The phrase, “unlike any other” is often used by promoters, public relations managers, and, yes, sometimes even journalists in the aggrandizement of something which seeks to establish a unique or perhaps elevated identity. The phrase has become a particularly wearisome trope when reading about most anything, but especially sporting events. Yes, the Superfantastico Sportsing Event Presented By MegaCorp(tm) of 2020 WAS in fact unlike any other, because time as we experience it is linear and EVERYTHING is a unique event along that timeline for which we’ve not yet been able to travel between.
But I digress.
In the cases of a select few famous sporting events whose histories span many generations and decades, the global pandemic of 2020 did manage to be a significant milepost that likely will stand out for many years to come. The Indianapolis 500 was one such event whose location on the calendar effectively marked significant and traditional times of the year for many people. In 2020, May in Indianapolis was eerily void of the near-daily raucous noise from 700 hp racing engines at 16th Street and Georgetown. Residents of Speedway, Indiana must have thought April was interminable as there was no automotive commotion to be found to mark the beginning of summer in central Indiana. For most fans, May took a very unassuming appearance compared with all prior iterations as the famous race was moved to August in hopes the fans could be present. For me however, it was anything but unassuming.
- The First Responder 175 presented by GMR was Round 6 of a virtual racing series that featured Indycar and NBCSN providing a visually stunningly virtual race held online via iRacing and broadcast to TV viewers. As it was a virtual race, a number of Indycar regular drivers participated but also allowed drivers from other series and disciplines who could had made strides up the learning curve of online racing. Scott McLaughlin of Australian Supercars, Lando Norris of Formula 1, and Scott Speed of American Rally Cross took the top three qualifying positions for the digital race run at the simulated Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A total of 33 drivers qualified for the final event with a crash-filled closing two laps seeing the dominant Arrow McLaren cars of Lando Norris, Pato O’Ward, and Oliver Askew all lose places in virtual collisions with Simon Pagenaud, Marcus Ericcson, and Santino Ferrucci respectively.
- The final actions of Ferrucci into Askew saw Scott McLaughlin finish first with Conor Daly avoiding the crashing, coming second. Pato O’Ward survived his brush with Ericsson to end up third. Until the final few laps, the race seemed to be treated fairly professionally by the drivers, however many viewers online found Ferrucci’s movement on the final straightaway to be an intentional wrecking of Askew who appeared to have the race all but won with a few hundred virtual feet to go before crossing the finish line.
- What was something that the sport, the networks, sponsors, and fans could embrace as some semblance of replacement entertainment during the depth of the pandemic, was reduced to disgusting novelty and childish behavior. Santino’s disingenuous and pathetic attempt to explain away his actions as a racing miscalculation did little to assuage the many people who put in time and expense to give devoted race fans a morsel of something to enjoy. His immaturity was again a slap in the face to all who work hard to bring Indycar to the fore.
- Most of the remainder of the Month of May was a daily scramble of schedule and event shuffling, and cobbling together a replacement event for the massive hole left by the postponement of the actual Indy 500 to August. Indycar did it’s best to keep fans engaged with many stories of Indy 500s past and highlighting existing teams work toward ‘May in August’, but the loss of daily speed reports, garage patrols, and general crescendo of racing excitement was palpable. The final recognition that nothing was going to be as it typically was became painfully apparent. A revised schedule on May 21 showed that Texas Motor Speedway would host the first actual race of the 2020 season on June 6th, with more racing to follow on July 4th weekend.
May of 2020 all seems hazy to me. Notably, I didn’t have the annual life-bringing rhythm of racing in May in Indiana to savor, and cruelly, quite the opposite rhythm actually.
By mid-May, my father laid ill in the hospital with the ongoing effects of congestive heart failure and the lack of any real procedure or medicine to stave off the inevitable remaining. The man whose annual devotion to the Indy 500, and whose introduction of me to this amazing event in-person in 1979, who last joined me in Indy in 2003, now would likely never see another Indy 500. The devotion I feel to this event is related to his desire to take me and likewise my desire to have had my son and daughter also see it in-person. My son shares my love of the race and continues to go with me annually, but the prospect of attempting to feel any sort of celebratory mood for the 500, had it been run in May 2020, would certainly have been lacking.
My father spent the last 9 days of his life in hospice, unable to have in-person contact with loved ones due to Covid-19 restrictions. We spoke every day by phone and saw each other through an exterior window to his room. In the early morning of June 19th, he died, aged 86. He was laid to rest on Monday, June 22, 2020, one day after Father’s Day.
The void left feels very much like a wound that, despite proper treatment, can do nothing but heal slowly, leaving only scar tissue behind. Being unable to see the Indy 500 in person in 2020, was certainly disappointing, but nothing will have risen to the level of sadness I had during those final few weeks of his life. Everything seemed amiss. The world seemed to show us daily an aggrieving lack of compassion and purpose and love. Joy seemed unattainable.
Certainly any enthusiasm for blogging about my favorite sport had evaporated in the middle quarter of 2020. In looking at my life after his passing, and in the days and weeks where actual Indycars would race on actual tracks again, I wondered if I would enjoy Indycar racing and the Indy 500 as much as I had before. Would the bitterness finally overtake the sweetness I had been blessed to experience for so long?
I suppose I’ll only know if and when I next set foot at the great speedway for the Indianapolis 500. As I grow ever-weary of waiting to experience it again, I can only hope to have my answer in May 2021.
One thought on “A May Unlike Any Other”
Many of us were introduced to the Indianapolis 500 by our father’s love of the place. Like you, we all feel a terrible sense of loss when we experience the first 500 without they will never see. I got my father into Gasoline Alley on Race Morning of the 1993 Indianapolis 500. He stood in tears saying “I never thought I would ever stand in Gasoline Alley”. The following year, he watched the 1994 race from bed and died six months later. When I returned in 1995, it felt very strange. Overtime, the feeling of loss has been replaced with a rush of good feelings every time I walk by the spot where he stood that day in 1993. You’ll get there. Give it time.
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