Part Three of Mark Wilikinson's three-part assessment of the Indianapolis 500.
Let me preface this by saying the good of race day 2014 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway far outweighed the bad. It was no contest. In fact, I was nit-picking to come up with ideas. Don’t get me wrong, the bad existed, but we tend to gloss over the minor financial and culinary inconveniences.
My hat is off to IMS for another world class event attended by an estimated 230,000 fans (still ticked about the purchased parking pass issue, though). Huey Lewis and the News sang “Bad is Bad” and that pretty much sums it up. Bad exists. But, as the old saying goes, ugly is to the bone. And IMS has some ugliness on its hands, too.
1.) Let’s take a look at the cosmetically ugly first. I cannot imagine the man hours it takes to keep a facility like IMS functioning. It’s basically a small city with small city problems. Pipes break. Weeds grow. Paint peels. Concrete buckles. Metal rusts. Employees come and go. Accepted without qualification. But like a small city, when issues that crop up daily are neglected, they grow, sometimes exponentially. The issue I notice the most is graffiti in the restrooms. Small potatoes right? Of all the social and economic ills in the world, I pick this one? Go ahead and purse you lips and shake your head. I get it. Graffiti is ubiquitous in urban areas. It can’t be stopped. Plus, it can be extremely entertaining and enlightening. A black address book of phone numbers can be gleaned from the restroom walls of IMS. The years and hometowns of guests are always interesting to read. Out in the hinterlands of the the NE Vista, it may be difficult to prevent, but it’s not difficult to conceal after the fact. Paint and rollers will do the trick.
The very well maintained men’s restroom in Pagoda Plaza is a case in point. The walls are white which makes it bright and welcoming, but some of the graffiti, if the writers are to be believed, comes from four or five years ago. While it certainly contains joking references to Danica Patrick (she’s a popular topic), it also has a much darker side. The offers of sex with phone numbers may be clichéd, but some have been in there for years. The giant anatomical renditions of both male and female naughty bits seem a bit over the top, too. How can these last year after year? And I know Latin Kings gang symbols when I see them. Can Gangster Disciples tags be far behind? I realize there is a cost in manpower and paint to fix this, but if IMS is going to host multiple world-class races and concerts, it’s time to do so. Hire some college kids to paint. They have signs posted on telephone poles all over town.
2.) IMS, under the direction of Tony George, made the concerted effort to rid the facility of the riff-raff that inhabited the old Snake Pit in Turn 1. In fact, the infield denizens have all been herded to Turn 3 and seem content to bask in the sun, quaff ale, and enjoy the day. The Coke Lot, though, is another story. Once a parking lot with a few hardy campers, it has become an all-night Bacchanalia replete with knives, guns, and death. IMS is at a crossroads for the reputation of the Indianapolis 500. Do they gamble on the future by standing pat with the cards they have now or draw to a new hand? The Coke Lot is a massive, rarely mowed piece of property bordered by 30th St. to the north, Georgetown Rd. to the east, Moller Rd. to the west and the Coca-Cola plant to the south. It’s gigantic. With a few gravel drives and some field paint it becomes a parking lot on race day. Without lights, roads, or close supervision, it becomes the Badlands at night.
Speedway has changed. Urban crime is finding its way into the little pocket of small houses and well-maintained yards. The thousands of campers, many coming for years, have now become targets of opportunity for theft, robbery, and homicide. Something needs to change. I’m not a prude. I enjoy a good time as much as anyone, and regular readers know my stories of the night before the race on 16th St. The threat of violence has always been there, but the threat of death is new. In the Coke Lot this year, one man was shot to death in an argument and another was shot in a robbery. It will not get better, only worse.
The Coke Lot needs to be lighted with many more graveled roads running through it. Camping areas need to be clearly marked. Security needs to be prevalent throughout the night. Glamping it’s not, but the hoi polloi should be just as safe outside the track in the Coke Lot as the elite are inside the facility. IMS could do what they did with food service: contract it out. Let someone else run it. The cost would go up for the consumer, but the experience should improve. In any case, robbery, murder, and drug overdoses on IMS property are probably not the stories the boys in corporate on the corner of 16th and Georgetown want told. Will IMS try to spin it or fix it? Their reaction will tell us who they are and what they value. Will the Coke Lot be Super Bad or Lord of the Flies? The choice is comedy or tragedy.
No one really wants to talk about the ugliness, but sometimes it can’t be ignored. One issue is purely cosmetic and the other is a choice about values. It will be interesting to see what happens.