It is what it is until it isn’t
“Everything that happened today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is why it’s special.
It’s competition in its most pure form. Embrace it.”
These words, shared at the end of one of the most exciting days in Indianapolis 500 qualifying, and by someone with deep knowledge of the recent transformation of the NTT IndyCar Series, rang true unlike any time in recent memory.
Qualifying this year had it all – fast VS slow, big VS little, star VS future star, genuine drama and disappointment.
But what came with it was a reminder of what the Indy 500 stands for and had, until recently, seemed to be forgotten. Showing up is not enough. Indy means something. And you can’t know what Indy means until you aren’t there.
In this world of FOMO, it took a year of feeling the pain of drivers missing out to restore the balance, and it inspired genuinely heroic efforts to overcome long odds.
When the 36th car was added to the entry list, a good, old-fashioned tension was restored, and teams of all sizes, all too familiar to the outcome of last year, had a genuine fear for the embarrassment of missing the show.
It drove unsponsored, and basically out of money, Juncos Racing to work 42 straight hours and still bet the farm by skipping final qualifying practice to make their frankencar just right, and prove that passion is worth the few hundredths of seconds that mattered.
It drove Sage Karam to go beyond himself and all of his past to get one more shot to be the star he seemed destined to be.
It drove Pippa Mann to try again, after the heartbreak of last year, with a team with way more heart than resources, to safely make the show and avoid another year of pain.
It drove Ben Hanley, to actually embody the Evel Knievel livery his car adorns to pull out a qualifying run no one saw coming.
It drove Carlin Racing, to try to get three cars in the race, even while the learning curve is still very high.
It drove Fernando Alonso, beset by a festival of tactical errors by his powerhouse team (including literally watching paint dry) to still make 6 attempts to make the show.
It drove James Hinchcliffe to exercise and re-exercise all of his demons, to make his way back… again.
And it drove some of the best television in years, fronted by NBC Sports’ excellent commercial-free coverage (for us, Gold was worth every penny) of practice and qualifying, allowing the drama to build slowly. (Editor’s note: the 20 minute interview with Robert Wickens was one of the most captivating and emotional imaginable)
Why we love Indy is that there really is nowhere else in the sporting world that can wrap this cacophony of stories, emotions, innovations and pure guts into a single event.
It is Indy. And it is back.