Welcome to Indiana-ville! During the month of May, photographer and writer Jay Alley will bring the Motorsport.com viewers a unique perspective from Gasoline Alley.
Forty-three years ago I attended my first Indianapolis 500 and the thrill of going out to 16th & Georgetown to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has not diminished since then. Lots of changes have occurred at IMS over the years, but Indy is still Indy on race day and today the buildup begins for the 97th running of the 500. People still refer to "The Month of May" around here even though it's now down to two weeks of track time and there's only one weekend of qualifying instead of two. Going to the track in May is a time honored Indianapolis tradition for thousands of race fans and it's still one of the best sports deals around.
Admission on practice days is only $10 and six hours of track time, the 500 Museum which is open year round, bands, and other fan oriented activities on site are enough to keep even a novice fan busy for the day. Qualification days cost only $15 while the final practice held the Friday before the 500, known as Carburetion Day, costs only $20 when the Indycars run for an hour, the Indy Lights race in the Freedom 100, teams compete in the annual pit stop competition and this year the band Poison will put on a concert on the infield stage. But the best deal going is to buy a bronze badge from the Speedway for $100. The badge gets you into the track and allows garage area access every day except for race day and if you plan to be at IMS every day they run, it's a no brainer.
And if you've only seen the Indycars on television, then please don't get lulled into thinking they look slow or unwieldy. Television simply does not do justice to the speed and spectacle of Indy, as the long TV lenses compress the images and don't truly reflect the fact that they travel over a football field per second every lap. I've often wondered why TV doesn't put cameras at ground level on the inside of the turns where most of the photographers work. Pan shots from that angle would truly show the speed at which Indycar drivers race and help convey the image of the fastest racers in the world. After all, they started here in 1911, the series is named after Indianapolis and they've raced on this same track every year since then except for during the two world wars.
So today it all begins and I will be at the track every day. Already this week Indycar action has been on the news with NASCAR's Kurt Busch running a simulated rookie orientation program on Thursday in Ryan Hunter-Reay's car for Andretti Autosport. It was funny watching the TV reports and seeing his Furniture Row crew members with their fingers in their ears to mute the sound of the car as it ran down the frontstretch. That's another thing which television simply can't convey: the total sensory experience which is Indy. Especially on the main straightaway where the grandstands create a canyon of echoes as the sound reverberates, Indycars scream and the place vibrates with noise when cars are on the track. Depending on which way the wind blows, the sound comes at you and envelopes you regardless of where you are and you feel it in your bones. Having normal conversations then is a challenge as it can be difficult to hear someone even when they are standing right next to you. Then when you get a whiff of the sweet smell of ethanol exhaust, there's no mistaking that this is Indy. On hot days you can smell the Firestone tire rubber, the sensory experience is complete and gearheads know they are at the mecca of auto racing where anything can happen and something special usually does.
These are a few of the reasons I shoot auto racing and got involved at Indianapolis as a photographer beginning in 1984. Everyone who knows me knows where I will be in May so if you're trying to find me, you'll have to go the westside of Indy. Come on out and join me in satisfying that need for speed with the Indycars and the Indy 500. There's no place like it and you won't be disappointed.