IRL: Behind the Barriers: Indy 500 Opening Day

Thousands of participants competed in the Indianapolis Life 500 Festival Mini-Marathon on Saturday, kicking off festivities celebrating the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. On Saturday morning the flags atop the pagoda were up for...

Thousands of participants competed in the Indianapolis Life 500 Festival Mini-Marathon on Saturday, kicking off festivities celebrating the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27. On Saturday morning the flags atop the pagoda were up for the first time this month. The flags cracked in the wind and music played over the Speedway's public address system while the historic speedway was used as a portion the marathon course.

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The music on the world's largest civilian public address system was interrupted on Sunday morning at 10:10, welcoming fans to opening day at the track. Fans lined up on the pagoda plaza, waiting patiently to score an autograph from Johnny Rutherford or Rick Mears. The line for the A. J. Foyt commemorative pin was so long the giveaway was opened 20 minutes early to accommodate the crowd.

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The first motorized on-track activity of the month consisted of all five of A. J. Foyt's Indianapolis 500 winners completing a lap in formation. The cars were driven by Darren Manning, Al Unser Jr., A.J. Foyt IV, Larry Foyt and George "Ziggy" Snider. Foyt rode behind the formation of race cars in a 1977 Pace car with Tony George. Foyt won four tines as a driver (1961, '64, '67 & '77). Kenny Brack won the 1999 Indianapolis 500 in a Foyt owned car.

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Before on track activities began in earnest, A.J. Foyt was interviewed on the start/finish line by longtime track announcer Tom Carnegie. If Carnegie rambled a bit while introducing Foyt, no one cared, as listening to Carnegie's voice propagate throughout the speedway will soon be a sweet remembrance of the past. Carnegie announced his retirement from the IMS public address system last year. During the interview, Foyt didn't surprise anyone when he said, "Indianapolis was my dream and it still is my dream."

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Jaques Lazier took the honor of being the first participant on track for the month. Lazier is driving the No. 21 Playa del Racing entry sponsored by the Indiana Ice hockey club.

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Davey Hamilton was announced as the driver of the fourth Vision Racing entry today. Hamilton will drive the No. 02 Dallara sponsored by Hewlitt-Packard, with the sidepod reading, "The computer is personal again." Hamilton noted that he had been trying to put together a deal for two years. "We were close the last two years, but it would have been a one week deal" said Hamilton. "I need time in the car with an established team." Hamilton has been a part of the IndyCar Series radio network, a spotter for Logan Gomez in the Indy Pro Series and a driver in the Indy two-seater program.

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The Sam Schmidt Motorsports No. 99 is sporting sidepods with Sanitec decals. Sanitec Industries is involved with the disposal of hazardous waste. The car will be driven by Buddy Lazier.

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Vision Racing announced today sponsorship for the No. 20 entry driven by Ed Carpenter. Hitachi power tools will be the primary sponsor on the car with associate sponsorship from home improvement chain Lowes.

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While several cars were emblazoned with new sponsors in the garage area, the pagoda at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has new logo from Bombardier Learjet. The logo is lit in red and white at night. Architecturally striking, the pagoda is impressive at night with the lighting of the roof line and the flags atop the structure. Lit for the month of May, the pagoda is often brightly lit for special events such as Monday Night Football.

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Several new billboards can be seen around town. East-bounders on Crawfordsville Road will notice a huge Patron advert with Scott Sharp's Rahal Letterman Racing mount featured. Perhaps the most notable billboard is at 16th and Georgetown Road with Michael Andretti. The Jim Beam ad says, "The only thing left to do is win. Bring it home Michael."

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Jimmy Kite will drive for PDM Racing this month. The team, working out of the Leader Card shop owned by A.J. Watson, is currently updating a Panoz chassis. Kite, who will be second week qualifier, expects to take to the track for the first time on Wednesday, May 16. "This is the third time that I have raced with PDM at the Speedway, which is kind of a record for me," said Kite. "I really have to thank Paul and all the guys at PDM for believing in me and what I can bring, on the track, to the program. We know we won't be challenging for fastest lap, probably not even fastest on the second weekend, but I feel pretty good about the kind of race car that we will have. Paul has always given me a good car and it is exciting to be back at the Speedway with PDM."

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A total of nine cars have passed technical inspection at the Speedway.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Al Unser Jr. , Buddy Lazier , Davey Hamilton , Scott Sharp , Michael Andretti , A.J. Foyt IV , Jimmy Kite , Kenny Brack , Sam Schmidt , Rick Mears , Tony George , Logan Gomez , A.J. Foyt , Jim Beam , Ed Carpenter , Johnny Rutherford , Jaques Lazier