Joe Jennings, IndyCar Correspondent
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened its gates at 5:33 a.m. Sunday morning and even before the opening bomb advisory went off, traffic was building and thousands of fans were starting to wake-up.
Across from the track, the Coke lot was chock full of campers and partygoers, eagerly awaiting the start of the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500. Many were awakened by the cars that were lined up in search of the perfect parking space.
By 6 a.m., a traffic gridlock had befallen the area. From a personal standpoint, the first 20 miles took 25 minutes and the final mile took one hour and 15 minutes.
The weather forecast calls for a record high of 95 degrees give or take and a heat index exceeding 100. The heat record for the 500 is 94 degrees.
Gasoline Alley has been chock full of people since it opened and numerous luminaries were seen dotting the scene. Bands and other marching groups have been marching on the front straightway to the delight of the early-bird fans.
The 33 cars are being rolled to pit lane at this time and pace car parades will begin momentarily.
At 11:30 a.m., the 33 drivers will line-up on the yard of bricks for the traditional group photo.
Specialist Ron Walker along with the colorful Purdue (University) Band will perform “America the Beautiful” just before noon and they will be followed by Florence Henderson, who will sing “God Bless America”
At 11:55 a.m. Martina McBride will sing the National Anthem and at the conclusion, five military planes will do a flyover.
The drivers will walk to their cars after the Anthem to begin preparations for their long day of work.
At Noon, a special tribute will be done on Dan Wheldon. Fans entering the track were all given a pair of white sun glasses to wear on the 27th and 98th laps. Also, Bryan Herta will drive Wheldon’s winning car on a slow lap around the track just prior to the start of the race.
Jim Nabors is known for his singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” and while he will not be at the track this year, he will perform in a video presentation just prior to the command of “Ladies and Gentlemen Start Your Engines.” Mari Hulman-George will give the command to the drivers.
With the pageantry winding down, the moment all 250,000 fans have been waiting for takes place at 12:07 p.m. when the cars take to the track, lining up in 11 rows of three. At precisely 12:15 p.m., the green flag will drop for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
And the rest is history and may the best driver win in a safe race.