IRL: Behind the Barriers - Race Day

Dario Franchitti is the second Scotsman to win the Indianapolis 500. The first was, of course, Jim Clark, in 1965. Clark and fellow Scotsman Jackie Stewart have been an inspiration to Franchitti during his career.

***

Dario Franchitti with his spotter, Motorsport.com's own Dave Reininger.
Photo by Joe Jennings.

It's all about the spotter. Just ask any spotter. David Reininger spotted for Dario today, and also spotted for Freedom 100 winner Alex Lloyd on Friday. For those who do not know, Dave is an award winner writer who covers the Indy Racing League for Motorsport.com and is the usual reporter for this column.

***

Today was the fourteenth Indianapolis 500 that was affected by rain. Previously, six were shortened by rain, three postponed because of rain, three resumed after a rain interruption, and three run on two days because of rain. Today's race adds a tally to both interrupted and shortened. The longest postponement was in 1986, when the race was scrubbed on May 25, then May 26, and finally run on May 31. The race has never been postponed or delayed into June

***

The most spectacular rain shortened ending was 1975, when a cloudburst occurred on lap 174. Those were the days before ubiquitous satellite radar displays and modern race communication techniques, and a number of cars spun before the yellow, then red, flags slowed the field. Contrast that to the first rain in today's event, where Race Control knew the rain was coming, showed yellow at the first drops, then brought the field safely to the pits and impound area.

***

The most stubborn - or perhaps the stealthiest - handling of rain was in 1940, when the race was run under caution from Lap 150 through the end at Lap 200.

***

While fourteen rain delays is almost a tradition, today's race continued some real traditions. One was Jim Nabors singing "Back Home Again in Indiana." Due to illness, the beloved actor and singer could not attend this year's race. A video message from Jim was played, after which all the fans here today sang "Back Home" in his honor.

***

Memorial Day is, at its core, a solemn event remembering those in the military who have given their lives defending our country. As is the custom at the 500, "Taps" was played to honor their sacrifices.

***

Florence Henderson once again sang "God Bless America" during the opening ceremonies. She was joined by most of the crowd.

***

The National Anthem was performed by members of each of the five branches of the United States Military: Senior Master Sergeant Angela Burns, U.S. Air Force; Petty Officer Lisa Williamson, U.S. Coast Guard; Staff Sergeant Colin Eaton, U.S. Army; Petty Officer J. David Sigmon, U.S. Navy; and Sergeant Terri Kopetzki, U.S. Marine Corps. As with Miss Henderson's rendition of "God Bless America," most fans chose to sing along.

***

As the National Anthem concluded, a flight of four F-22 Raptors from the 27th Fighter Squadron, 1st Fighter Wing, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, flew over the Speedway. The Raptor is one of the most advanced combat aircraft in the world, with a combination of air superiority, stealth and supersonic cruise capabilities.

***

Today was a good day to be 27. The Raptors in today's overflight are from the 27th Fighter Squadron. The squadron commander attended today's race, and was told to exit the Interstate at Exit 27. "Back Home Again in Indiana" is on Page 27 of the race program. Today is May 27. And, of course, Dario Franchitti achieved his victory in car number 27.

***

The presence of three Andrettis - Michael, Marco and John - in the field might seem remarkable, but it is not a record. It has happened in the past. The record is 1991 and 1992, when there were four: Mario, Michael, John and Jeff.

***

It was a busy day at the front of the field. There were 23 lead changes among nine different drivers. Neither is a record. In 1960 there were 29 lead changes among five drivers, and in 1993 there were 23 among twelve drivers. Both the 1960 and 1993 races ran the full 200 laps.

***

The 500 attracts celebrities. Among those attending today's event were Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Richard Petty, Marcus Allen, Greg Ogden, Baron Davis, John Oates, Mike Conley Jr., Ray Liotta, Peyton Manning, Apolo Anton Ohno, and Gen. Chuck Yeager. Dempsey drove the pace car and Manning served as honorary starter. Petty was here to support John Andretti, who has driven stock cars for Richard in the past and will drive for Kyle Petty later this season.