A Week at the Indy 500 Lasts a Lifetime

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Welcome to Indiana-ville - Bump Day came and left. It was also the day that Jay Alley watched a hawk and ended up in a conversation with college students.

What a week this has been. Nine days of preparation for the 97th Indianapolis 500 are now over and I feel it in my bones. Bump Day wrapped up qualifying today with zero drama after Saturday's rain delayed Pole Day shootout. Other than Ed Carpenter, Katherine Legge is probably the happiest driver in the 500 as she jumped in a car this morning, got it up to speed, qualified on the bubble as 33rd fastest and never had to deal with a serious challenge from the only other car/driver combination, Michel Jourdain, Jr. I felt bad for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team which thrashed all day to find speed for Jourdain but he just kept going slower and slower the later it got today. And that was even after teammate Graham Rahal took the car out for a few laps in the middle of the afternoon to try and help sort it out. Neither driver looked comfortable in the 17 car at all. I hate that there was no bumping today once the field got filled around 1:00 p.m., but most of the qualified teams took advantage of the track time, spending most of the day running race trim in traffic and emerging with their equipment intact. Carburetion Day this Friday will likely be just a quick shakedown for most teams.

Pole Winner Ed Carpenter leads a pack into Turn 1

I wish I knew how many miles I walked this week at the Speedway as I was able to be there eight out of the nine days the track was open. Every year I talk about wearing a pedometer but it never seems to come to mind when I'm getting my stuff together for the track and this year was no different. With the warmer weather the last few days, it's a challenge to stay hydrated while lugging a few extra pounds of camera gear around. Today I had a special treat as I borrowed a 400 mm lens from Canon and went to shoot in Turn 1 while all the top teams were in race preparation mode. The down side of schlepping that 400 around was it was damn heavy but the opportunity was too good to pass up. Traipsing up and down the pit lane to get driver shots is one of the most enjoyable parts of working Indy but also one of the most tiring. Hot, loud, smelly - wait a minute; it's perfect! All the sensory stimulation anyone could want for people who love that sort of thing. And I do.

Indy's Infield Hawk

Another aspect of walking so much at Indy that may not occur to casual fans is the nuances of the track. Yesterday as I was going back to my car to swap out some gear, I noticed something in one of the last remaining large trees in the infield. From prior experience I knew that was a large redtail hawk nests in that tree so I got my longest lens and took a break from the race cars to shoot some wildlife - and I don't mean in the snakepit. The hawk waited there for me to get close and kept a keen watch on me as I circled the tree and took pictures. Race fans walking by probably wondered what the heck I was doing, but I did hear someone say "Look, there's a bald eagle". I cut them some slack for not knowing their birds and went about getting shots of this beautiful creature. I've seen this bird, or a family member, numerous times on race day circling the crowd high above the track so it was a real blessing to be able to take its picture while it was guarding its nest. I have a special affinity for hawks - and I believe they do for me as well. I see them all the time while traveling, there's a pair that lives at the cemetery in Muncie, Indiana where my sister Carol is buried that I see almost every time I go pay my respects, and whenever I see one I know everything is going to work out the way it's supposed to. I use one of my hawk photo on my website and business cards, and have a hawk based on that photo tattooed on my left shoulder. Lo and behold, at the end of Bump Day today as I stood on the 2nd floor balcony of the media center, there he was, circling high overhead in the middle of the track, white belly exposed as it lorded over its territory. Seeing it today was no accident.

The Pagoda
The Pagoda

Photo by: Jay Alley

And I suppose it was no accident either that a group of total newcomers from Manassas, Virginia struck up a conversation with me about 5:00 this afternoon as I shot from the rooftop platform seating area above the formula one garages. They were college students and teachers in Indy for a robotics competition at IUPUI, and they literally knew nothing about the track or the 500. One young man asked why they were called Indycars; another asked how qualifying worked and what the teams were doing running so many laps at that hour. I got the chance to explain the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway again, just as I had on Friday to my middle schools students, and explained how the video displays showed current lap times for cars on track and what the numbers on the main scoring pylon meant. It was a fitting way to end another memorable week at IMS, and now I have a few thousand more digital images to add to my archives, and more memories which will last a lifetime.

The best is yet to come. Next Sunday at this time I will be recapping the 500 itself, carving more indelible scenes into my brain and contributing photos to the great story which is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You have to come see for yourself; I promise it will be worth it.

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Commentary
Tags indy500, indycar