I haven’t been racing that long (no comments please) as compared to some who have been to U.S. Nationals since what appears to be eons. This is the 65th anniversary of what is probably the must-attend race of the year. I know, there are a lot of other events happening on this weekend; big bracket races, the Yellow Bullet Nationals in Maryland, along with several other local events. However, there aren’t too many people whose dream isn’t to go to Indy to either spectate or even race.
As I mentioned, I’m a “newbie,” in that my first Indy was either in ’80 or ’81. Oh crap, that was a long time ago, so long that I can’t remember my first year. But I know a lot of things have changed since then in so many different ways. But as for Indy, it’s just a changed facility which is nothing like what it was, except for maybe the racing, maybe even though not exactly the racing.
When I was first here, we still had the D-A Tower, or at least that’s what it was called in the early days when that company sponsored it, but in truth when I was there it might have already changed sponsorship to Mr. Gasket. But it was right there on the starting line and the Hurst bridge was in a different spot. The “hot spot” was the Drive-In Theater across from what now is the front gate. It was the campground to be in and provided its own show. Today it’s a ballfield but the campgrounds across from the sportsman pits is now the hot spot.
It wasn’t until ’83 I believe when the Parks Tower was dedicated. Actually I won Indy the following year. For two years, the SPORTSnationals was contested at Indy. It was 1984 SPORTSnats when I got to stand in front of that iconic tower while the late Bernie Partridge handed me my first Wally. Still got that picture hanging in my office. I won Indy! Wo-hoo! Actually with it being my first Wally, it was pretty exciting. It was too bad my wife and 10-month old son wasn’t there to enjoy it with me. The Wally is great but the money helped as no sooner did I get home to find out we needed a new refrigerator in our house due to someone (not pointing any fingers, wink, wink, nod, nod, sticking a screwdriver through the unit’s refrigerant lines. Oh that’s another story.)
But the racing was a little different. I don’t remember there being any “sessions,” rather you just got in the staging lanes and ran whenever. In my pre-motorhome and Comp Eliminator days, I remember getting to the gate an hour so before they opened for the day. You’d wait in the line with others and as soon as they let you through the gate, you’d speed over to your trailer, unload the car and tow it as fast as you can to the staging lanes. Making that first run in the cool morning air usually rewarded you with a quick E.T. Me? Not quick enough because I don’t remember qualifying.
And it would always piss us off that even if you were first through the gate, there was always one or two teams in the lanes before we got there. Either they jumped over the fence or slept in their trailers. Sneaky bastards. And a class win in the Stock and Super Stock classes got you into the show regardless of how far under the index you were. That’s changed and I’m not sure a class win means as much anymore.
Came back the next year or so with the Super Gas car in which you had to qualify to get in the show. Didn’t like that at all. If you worked hard and qualified in Comp, you at least were guaranteed first round money. Qualify in Super Gas and you got nothing until the later rounds. I don’t mind working to qualify, but there should at least be some reward other than getting the “chance” to race. Thankfully, the super classes have dropped the qualifying procedures. And this year we have the Top Dragster and Top Sportsman classes to showcase.
I know I missed a couple of years since that time, one of which that always stands out in my mind when I stayed home to care for my Dad who was suffering from brain cancer.
While there are most who are still excited to come to the biggest race of the year, for me and I’m sure others who have been to so many national events over the years, sometimes it just becomes a little blasé. Am I excited to be here? Uhhhh, yeah. Kind of. It is after all our biggest event of the year and anyone who is anyone in our sport is usually here. It gives me the ability to meet and greet, which helps our bottom line.
Is racing at the Big Go any different for me? For the pros, it means points and a half and it is the last chance to qualify for the Countdown. In that regard, it’s a pretty intense time for some teams. As for a sportsman racer, about the only thing which is really different is the increased payout; not huge but certainly a difference.
Does that mean you should attack the event any different than any other race? No. Not in my opinion. Yeah, it’s different and everybody wants to win the big ones, but changing up your program from what you normally do because it’s a big race is a big mistake in my mind. I’m willing to bet anyone who has won the big ones will tell you the same thing. Then again, I’m really not a betting man.
What was your first time?
Welcome to Indy! -JOHN DiBARTOLOMEO