What a day. What an amazing day.
I picked Jeff up at his hotel around 7am, and we headed to the track. The sun was just beginning to rise on Speedway, and the clouds made for a beautiful view of the new day upon this city of speed.
We pulled in to the registration area, and picked up our participant packets. It was obvious from what we saw inside that the cap of 20,000 folks on the Lap with Lance was not exactly needed — it didn’t appear that there were anywhere near 20,000 packets there.
We continued to the parking area and were greeted by a parking attendant who asked if we were racers, lappers or “just” spectators. With some pride, we said we were lappers — participants in the Lap with Lance — and were shown to our very nice, close, parking slots. 🙂
After walking to the entrance to the raceway seating, we entered into the bowl that makes up the very heart of racing. We walked up into the stands, and watched the first heat, already in progress for those 50 and older.
What was fun to see was that every racer that went by received a cheer from the hundreds in the stands. That was inspiring, I’m sure, to the cyclists on the track.
We watched the heats, one by one. We didn’t realize it, but we saw the eventual winner of the Race2Replace (or Race To Replace — not sure which was the official name!) event win the 25-34 age group, taking the 10 laps (25mi) at just under 53 minutes. The guy that won that race came from out of nowhere, and passed the guys that had been leading the whole race. That was an exciting finish, and certainly worthy of an Indy race.
When the 18-24 group was on the track, I started talking with a family behind me whose son was in the race. I came to find out that he’d just turned 18 in time to make his bid in the race, and that they’d offered him a Mini Cooper if he won his age bracket. I believe he did lead a lap or two, but faded a bit in the end, and finished about tenth. I gave them one of my cards, and asked them to send me an email with their son’s race number and their address, and I would see about getting my shots of their son to them. They were incredibly thankful for that, and I felt good for helping someone enjoy their dreams. That’s one of the things photography is all about, after all.
One of the really impressive things I noticed about the races was that no matter how slow someone was, the crowd cheered, and they were allowed to finish their race. Some of the folks were 30-45 minutes behind the winner, but every last one of them was allowed to finish. That’s an amazing statement of sportsmanship coming from a group of hard core racers.
We watched the beginning of the 35-49 age group — the largest group — and were expecting some kind of wreck as there were over 150 of them on the track. There was no calamity in this race or any other, and that was good news. It was getting close to our staging time, so we packed up, and started making our way out of the stands.
We walked over to the parking lot, got our bikes, and headed to the staging area for the lappers, and waited, and waited and waited. We met a guy by the name of Pat from Atlanta, and talked with him at length during the long hot wait. His daughter works for The Discovery Channel (who was sponsoring this event) and got him hooked into this event. He was a baseball fan, and we talked for a long time about the Braves, Cards, Bonds and the state of the game. Wonderful, wonderful conversation.
During our wait, the race assistants told us over and over again that this was going to be a leisurely ride, taking about fifteen to twenty minutes to make the lap — the race laps were around 5-6 minutes. They reminded us that there were kids in the pack, and that we all needed to be careful, with no speeding or jockeying for position.
We heard the Get Ready! charge and mounted up. Slowly the throng of bikes began to take the track — probably only a thousand or two of us, but still a sizable group nonetheless. We got to the track’s edge, and started to grind the pedals and gears, coming up to speed on the track.
This was the track of Andretti, Earnhardt, Gordon, Unser, Foyt, and so many others, and I was churning along at less than 10% of any of their speeds. I might as well have been moving along at 500mph — it was so amazing. The history started to hit me, and with every pedal stroke, I was more and more overwhelmed with the enormity of what I was being allowed to do.
We pedalled around the track, slowed by a group of pace trucks whose job it was to keep us at a reasonable speed around the track. And then we hit the front stretch, and I was taken with the cavernous beauty of the track. To my right, there were enormous grandstands, and to the left, a smaller set. And in front of me was the scoring pylon, the giant pagoda and several hundred screaming fans in the stands, cheering as we went by. And it was then that we crossed the stripe of bricks, triumphant heroes of our slow lap around the track.
We rounded the corner at turn one, back to our mid-turn entry point where a Speedway police car waited to angle us back to the infield. Our throng of cyclists began chanting Two! Two! Two! and I saw the police car move off the track, and we began a second lap!
This time, I revelled in the track, taking on the headwind through the second turn, and just watched the people enjoying the track and this terrific experience. I took The Bandit high up on the bank, and zoomed down to the lowest line — what a rush that was! I saw recumbents, tandems, even a guy with his kid in a seat on his bike. There was even a guy riding along, drinking a Miller Lite on the track. That’s something I wouldn’t expect to see during a race! And once again, we were saluted by the crowd as we crossed the bricks, welcomed like heroes. I’ve never felt that kind of sensation before, and I’m so incredibly happy to have experienced it just this once.
We finished our second lap, and stopped. So many of us were still on the track, high fiving, flying so high from the experience we’d just had. And then there was a flurry of commotion — Lance! There’s Lance! And indeed he was there, pulling a Kulwicki at the track’s edge. The line he was taking was only about five feet from me, so I pedalled up the track, and shook his hand as he went by, thanking him for having us all out for this event.
The funniest thing about that encounter was a group of four 20-something girls, one of whom had shaken Lance’s hand. The whole group of them were jumping up and down, and screaming like little girls. A little too much hero-worship, I’m afraid!
Once we got to the infield, I heard a little kid say to his folks I shook Lance’s hand! That was the good kind of hero-worship, and I’m sure that’ll leave a big impression on that child for some time to come.
After a little shopping, Jeff and I loaded up, and pointed Smokey back toward St. Louis. After I got home, I realized I’d really gotten sunburned at the track. I headed to the next door neighbors, jumped in their pool to get some of the heat out of my skin, and revelled in what I’d just done at Indy.
Yeah, this was a silly thing. I drove 530 miles across two days, just so I could ride 5.5mi on an asphalt surface — certainly not the longest ride of the summer.
It was absolutely the best ride of the summer though, and one I’ll never forget.