Community Day gives Indy fans ultimate access

Community Day gives Indy fans ultimate access

Sunday's Bump Day session had all the drama packed into the final hour, and then the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fell silent after all the runs were completed. Fans. Photo by Indy Racing League. But IMS doesn't stay closed forever.

Sunday's Bump Day session had all the drama packed into the final hour, and then the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fell silent after all the runs were completed.

Fans.
Photo by Indy Racing League.

But IMS doesn't stay closed forever. Wednesday saw the track reopen to the public for one of the annual traditions, Community Day, with unparalleled access to both track facilities and the drivers of the 94th Indianapolis 500.

Indy newcomers and veterans alike were out in force to enjoy the warm sunshine and party atmosphere on the Pagoda Plaza.

There are the usual fan festivities, with fans able to take their cars on track, legendary cars gracing pit road, the local media pit stop competition, Timing & Scoring and luxury suite tours and driver autograph sessions.

Giving the Timing & Scoring tour on this occasion was Jim Nickell, a 48-year Speedway veteran and Indianapolis 500 Festival volunteer. He explained how many individuals are responsible for watching the cars -- he said six on each side of the one room in the Pagoda -- to account for any mishaps.

He described the transponders installed in the cars that are the lifeblood of this race. Malfunctions happen, he said, but rarely and are simply "part of the game."

One fan along for the timing & scoring tour was Wade Harrington of Lafayette. Harrington made his presence felt with personally created T-shirts and buttons. His T-shirt is a light blue with black numbers and the messages "Tomas 19" and "Scheckter 19," supporting his favorite driver Tomas Scheckter, who drove for Dale Coyne Racing in last year's '500.

Besides three Scheckter buttons on his hat, Harrington had another button. This had the No. 7 rear wing of Danica Patrick and the words "It's not my fault," in reference to Patrick's post-qualifying interview series last week that didn't exactly endear her to the paying customers.

While Harrington joked about Danica's temperament, Ross Dillman from Drexel Hill, PA waited in line for driver autographs for the first time, enjoying the Hoosier hospitality from a shady spot under a tree. "It's terrific," he said of his maiden Speedway experience. "We did the drive around the track. I couldn't see as well as I wanted, so I had to pop up through the sunroof to get pictures."

Indianapolis resident Emily Rigeon stood alongside a full-color, life size cut-out of 2005 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon with friends, wearing a big smile that suggested she was having as much fun as any time this year.

"I've been coming out here for six years," she said. "I was here the year Wheldon won, and have been here every year since then." As for others, a fortnight isn't long enough for her to enjoy the speed and excitement of Indy. She does approve of the new qualifying format though: "I liked Pole Day. It was neat to see the drivers and owners sweating it out down there."

Husband and wife Mike and Maura Sudic of Langhorne, PA have been regulars at the Indy 500 since 1969. "Indianapolis is special because it always has a real hometown feeling," said Mike of the friendly atmosphere. "They really make you feel at home." He reminisced back to the heady days of the 1960's, when new lap records were the stock in trade of Pole Day competition. "Indy is always one great experience after another just waiting to happen. There's a real gap to close for the newer fans to experience what that was like."

The Illinois Corvette Club was out in full force, participating in the annual Corvette Corral where more than 100 examples of America's sports car in a myriad of trims and colors lined Hulman Boulevard. A 1966 Corvette with the legendary 427 cubic inch engine figured to be the most senior of the speedy group of tourers, with nearly-new Grand Sport models from the current model year rounding out the lineup. Drivers from Chicago, Champaign, Peoria and other areas left their homes in the early morning hours of Community Day to make the trek to the Motor Racing Capital of the World.

Other News and notes:

Several celebrities will be out in full force on race day, the Speedway announced today. Three-time Academy Award-winning actor Jack Nicholson will be the race's honorary starter. The timing is perfect since the race occurs in-between games 6 and 7 of Nicholson's beloved Los Angeles Lakers playing the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Western Conference finals.

"Few actors draw the level of respect and admiration that Jack Nicholson so deserves," said Jeff Belskus, president and CEO, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp.

Not only is Nicholson waving the green flag but his co-star in the Academy Award-winning "The Departed," Mark Wahlberg, will be in the field to take it -- sort of. Wahlberg, grand marshal at Long Beach earlier this year, will be a passenger in the IndyCar Series two-seater driven by Michael Andretti and start just behind the 33-car-field. It marks the first time a driver and passenger will join the field.

Besides those two, fans and participants might also bump into the Kardashians, Kim and Khloe, expected to be in attendance on race day to support Quick Trim, sponsors of the Rahal Letterman Racing effort for Graham Rahal.

In Indy Lights, Arie Luyendyk Jr., Jeff Simmons, Brandon Wagner and Wade Cunningham are four series veterans returning to the cockpit this weekend. Luyendyk had a press conference Wednesday to announce IZOD, the IndyCar Series title sponsor, as a primary backer on his Andersen Racing car.

Luyendyk last competed at the Speedway in 2008 for Andretti Autosport (then called Andretti Green Racing). Simmons will drive for Team E, Wagner for Davey Hamilton Racing and Cunningham for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

In the press conference, John Andersen, brother and co-owner with Dan Andersen, noted the current Indy Lights cars will run through at least 2012, and will not be replaced until after the new IndyCar Series formula is decided.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Davey Hamilton , Michael Andretti , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Sam Schmidt , Jeff Simmons , Wade Cunningham , Brandon Wagner , Dale Coyne , Danica Patrick , Arie Luyendyk Jr.
Teams Andretti Autosport , Dale Coyne Racing