“Lady and Gentlemen Start Your Engines!” The announcement echoed through the stadium sending a shiver down my spine despite the sun’s heat. Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the stands at the 2016 Indy 500 was definitely worth our five-day, 2,000+ mile RV trip (See our travelogue below).
The 100th-running of the Indianapolis 500 felt like an epic celebration of time-honored traditions. The speedway bulged with an estimated 350,000 people, a sellout event. Teams readied cars in Gasoline Alley. Spectators stood with hats in hand as our “National Anthem” rang through the stadium. Red, white, and blue balloons soared skyward with the final notes of “Back Home in Indiana”.
A prayer for drivers’ and spectators’ safety called to mind the risks of the sport. We paused and remembered our military. A Memorial Day tribute honored those who gave their lives serving our country. WWII Veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor bombing were applauded. Military personnel representing all service branches circled the track to chants of “USA! USA!”
To commemorate decades of racing, former Indy 500 champions took a lap down memory lane driving winning cars from the first running to the present. Although the 1911 Indy 500 winning car, the Marmon Wasp, struggled to keep pace and left an oil trail near Turn 4, it showed how far racing technology has evolved!
In keeping with this historical theme, the military featured a flyover with two World War II airships before F-18E Superhornets thundered over the speedway in a four-plane formation piloted by the U.S. Navy.
Each pre-race event kicked up the adrenaline in the stadium. Gates opened at 6AM and when we arrived at 7AM the pre-race festivities were in full swing.
Pit Row seemed eerily quiet.
As race fans flocked to Gasoline Alley, stormy skies threatened a rain delay.
Our travel companions enjoyed all the pre-race gala with us before walking a mile to our seats.
On command, engines turned over and roared. The green flag waved and the race was on. There’s nothing like the sound of these mighty machines and the sensation of speed as they blur past you! Huge screens provided race coverage.
“Hey, how’s it going in the Snake Pit?”, the announcer asked the throng of people at the infield party-fest. “They don’t even know the race is going on!” he answered himself.
The checkered flag waved as the race winner rolled slowly across the finish line, conserving every drop of fuel. A finish that will go down in history as a marvel in fuel consumption strategy. It seemed fitting that a rookie in a field of experienced drivers and former Indy 500 champions won the 100th-running of this historic race. It speaks to another American tradition: the freedom and opportunity to succeed. Yes, it took mountains of work, skill and strategy, but American-born, Alexander Rossi, demonstrated that it can be done!
Caravanning with my sister, Sharon, and brother-in-law, Mike, makes for great company. We departed Sparks, NV on a 5-day RV journey to Indianapolis, IN for the 2016 Indy 500, a great kickoff to our cross country trip.
DAY 2 – West Wendover, NV to Cheyenne, WY
“We must be tired this morning!”, I commented as we prepared for our second travel day. We managed to brew coffee into hot water by leaving the freshly ground coffee beans in the grinder. Sharon later confessed that she did the same. The drive out of Salt Lake City, UT on I-80 refreshed us with lush green hills, scenic views and towering mountains. Grumpy, gray skies chased us but we outran them. After an eleven-hour day on the road we reached our Day 2 stopover in Cheyenne, WY.
DAY 3 – Cheyenne, WY to Greenwood, NE
Road Construction plagued us for miles. I-80 squeezed down from four lanes to two lanes for tens of miles at a stretch. Orange cones marked the center line as trucks and cars raced towards each other at 65 mph. We arrived at Pine Grove RV Park in Greenwood, NE just east of Lincoln, NE. After checking in, the clerk glanced out the window and said, “It doesn’t look like it’ll storm but if you’re uncomfortable, go to the men’s restroom. It’s a brick building and it’s safe.” Blue skies belied the warning. At 1AM a bright light flashed through the windows despite the dark-out shades. Betty rocked in the wind. Thunder rumbled, the sky cracked and lightening flashed like a strobe. Sleep came eventually.
DAY 4 – Greenwood, NE to Knoxville, IL
We woke to bright, sunny skies as if last night’s storm was a dream. Nightmare? Raptor One led the way through Iowa in one day. This state wins the “best rest stop award”! Like a park carpeted in green grass with covered picnic tables, shade trees, a paved walking path, and pristine restrooms, the stops offered pleasant breaks for us road warriors. The Iowa “tour” ended when we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois. In a quest to find a lunch spot near the river we ignored a sign reading: “No Semis Over 40 feet”. Raptor One and Betty stretch about 65 feet when towing and need ample room to turn around. The next sign read “Last chance to Turnaround”. We pulled off the road to confer as a semi rolled past and returned successfully a short time later. Following Mike’s wisdom of “If he can do it, we can too”, we found the perfect lunch spot. Our stopover in Galesburg East Campground, Illinois provided a relaxed evening under the trees with no satellite TV.
DAY 5 – Knoxville IL to Greenfield, IN (just east of Indianapolis)
Where’s your pit crew when you need them? A slow leak in our tow car tire delayed our race to Indianapolis on the last lap of this long journey. Fortunately, Greg noticed it before we got on the I-74 track. A pit stop at Walmart (the nearest tire center) delayed our departure about two hours creating a rush hour arrival in Indianapolis. Greg and Natalie (our treasured GPS) navigated the highway networks and traffic brilliantly! We arrived at Heartland RV Resort right on course ready for a “jammie” morning before race day!
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