Another Adventure w/ CY – Indy 500

May 25th, 2014

I don’t remember who won – I was more interested in the food. Just kidding.

GCY and I went to the Indy 500 in 2007. What fun!

We got there just in time to do the Thursday before race around the track. Gen Yeager went first in the backseat of one of the drivers. That is not easy getting in and out of the car.

After 3-4 times around at 100 and something, it felt as if only 2 seconds had passed and he was back and it was my turn.

I kitted up and got in. Slowly. The crew made sure I was buckled in, helmet on right, etc.

We took off. Lots of side G’s. Those turns created quite some side load. At first, I was worried how much  it would hurt if we flipped. I decided it wasn’t my day to die so chose to simply enjoy the ride, keep my eyes open and stay present.

Wow. What a sport.

It was over too fast and we were slowing down to 100 mph, then slower and slower till we stopped where the driver had picked me up. I got out, shook myself and I think someone took a photo but can’t remember where it would be.

They told me I had gone a few mph faster than Chuck – probably the first time ever :-) If true.

As I approached Chuck, a tall woman with a very deep voice grabbed him, literally grabbed him and tried to spin him around, for a photo. Didn’t ask, just insisted. It startled him and everyone. He wasn’t going to take that from no man-woman, no matter that she was twice his size. The sheriff, our host and friend, clued her in re respect and that she wasn’t the star that day. Danica then asked politely if she could take a photo with General Yeager and all was well.

We ran into General Hester whom we had met in Hawaii and his wife. I told him what to expect. He was excited to race around the course.

We went over to visit Juggs – the caterer. What a character and nice guy. Of course he fed us some very good food. Chuck hadn’t seen him since Chuck had been the pace car driver in 1986 and 1988 and had flown the P-51 in a fly-by in the 90’s.

For the parade, rather than be in it, General Yeager decided to just watch it at a designated VIP section.

It was so VIP that we were virtually the only ones there – it was the very end of the parade…..

Some times.

A block before us, we saw some of the floats turn off. Whaaa—?

We tried to yell and wave at them they were going the wrong way. So we and about 30 other people along that last block missed a bit

Funny.

Another day, we were at a luncheon, and they had a fly-by right over downtown Indianapolis. The cool factor just never goes away.

The day of the race, the sheriff took us and some friends to the venue.  We went straight to the top floor to watch. What a view. We said hello to Peyton Manning. What a gracious fellow. I couldn’t get the photo/lighting right and both the guys were very patient with me as I repositioned them several times.

Before the race, we went down to the field. Chuck was going to be the pace car for the pace car. They have booked the pace car celebs so far in advance that they had to come up with something for the 60th anniversary of breaking the sound barrier.

Patrick Dempsey’s people came over to me and asked if General Yeager would like to come over and meet Patrick. I was pretty sure Gen Yeager had no idea who Patrick was. Even so, I told the minder: “No, courtesy would suggest that Patrick come over here and say hello to General Yeager.”

The minder wasn’t used to that but knew I wasn’t kidding so he went back to Patrick and spoke to him. Patrick immediately came over and graciously stuck out his hand introduced himself.

General Yeager chatted with Patrick a little – then asked: “Are you a pro driver?”

Patrick politely chuckled and replied, “No, sir, I’m an actor.” That didn’t happen often.

General Yeager gave him some tips about driving the pace car and not running into him as Gen Yeager would be ahead of him.

We went over to the pace car as it lined up and chatted with Johnny Rutherford who was the co-driver in the pace car.

Apparently General Yeager sat on the hood of Dario Franchitti’s race car. That year, Dario won his first Indy 500. He gave some credit to his hero Chuck Yeager – it was good luck.  I missed this as our friends and I were racing to get back to the top floor to get a better view of the start of the race.

I was torn – where would be the best view? On the ground or above….

Apparently Dario had been at a private event on a private ranch at the same time as we. Everyone got to meet Dario but me. I keep wanting to misspell his name Franchetti – I remember racing when Mario Andretti was on top of his game.

I had been to several races by odd circumstances.

The first one, I was in Cannes at the film festival for a course at UPenn. We went over to Monte Carlo, dressed formally and went to the casino – the last of the elegance. I ran into Omar Shariff looking handsome as ever. I said hello and he wanted to know why I wanted to meet him – he was a hasbeen. He, as a self-proclaimed hasbeen, looked far better than almost any top of their game guys I have ever seen.

We were on the streets the day of the Formula One race, me bemoaning the fact that I had not written to Princess Grace in time and how could I find her now – they’d think I was a nut. (We knew her family from Philadelphia. I never did meet her as she died shortly after that, but later I was a guest of her son).

As I was trying to figure out how I could see the race since I was there, I ran into someone I had met at the film festival. He said come with me – we’re going on a boat in the harbor, maybe a cruise.

Okay.

We walked somewhat out of town and in came a dinghy. We boarded and went out to a catamaran hooked up to several boats.

It was the perfect view of the race. And the food was great.

If you’ve never been to a Formula race, it’s pretty funny. The cars come around for about 5 seconds, a very loud 5 seconds, and then you wait a while with the quiet until they come around again. Have to time going to the ladies room or some other event – because you blink you could miss the lap in front of you.

The next race I attended was Watkins Glen. I was in the pits working for television as assistant to the producer. Wildly loud. I was in my last year at UVA.

I spied Paul Newman and radioed the producer.

“Ask him if he’ll do an interview.”

I went up to him, politely waited till he finished his conversation.

He turned to me. I introduced myself and asked him.

He did not answer, just turned his back rudely.

I then said, “I’m sorry to upset you. May I just say personally, I’m pleased to meet a race car driver and wish you well in the race.”

He turned his back even more. I learned later this was not unusual for him. He was very rude to a gal with whom I grew up even though she was a guest of his wife’s on many weekends. Clearly we all just caught him at the wrong time.

I moved on. And learned a lot from the announcer – his interviews were far more interesting and in depth, far more prepared, than any I’ve seen since then on television or radio.

Then a friend invited me to another Formula One race in Long Beach, CA. Same as Monte Carlo. A long wait, then you see the first car and zoom, it’s over for 30 minutes. Funny.

Another acquaintance, who had worked in the racing business, after driving with me during rush hour in LA said I should become a race car driver. I was pretty good but….the ganging up, etc on the course….just too wrong and dangerous.

In any case, at the Indy 500, it was fascinating to watch – television does not give it justice – you just don’t get the sense of speed as they zoom by.

When the race was over, we vamoosed and beat the traffic.

What a fun weekend.

c. GCYI

 

 

 

 

 

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