Ever since I was a little kid, I can remember watching the Indianapolis 500 on television. In 1989, I visited the track and actually got to ride around on a tour and view the bricks close-up.
That being said, I am not a die-hard open-wheel racing fan. I watch the big races, such as the Indianapolis 500. Like many, I was turned off to the sport by the huge CART/IRL split. Lately, the most open-wheel racing I’ve watched is the mediocre movie Driven, cheering for Joe Tanto, Beau Brandenburg and Memo Moreno.
For whatever reason, I can recall that Gordon Johncock’s hometown is Coldwater, Mich. I remember that because I always look up cities I’ve never heard of. Back in 1982, Johncock had a healthy lead over Rick Mears before his lead shrank to .16 seconds at the bricks, one of the closest finishes and most memorable Indy 500 runs of all-time.
That is, until the 100th running Sunday.
Johncock’s lead over Mears was similar to that of rookie JR Hildebrand, who looked to have Sunday’s race in the bag, leading by nearly 10 seconds until he had a Lightning McQueen moment on the final lap. For those unfamiliar, McQueen is not an IRL racer, but the character from the Pixar movie Cars. My son William watches that ad nauseum. Anyway, Hildebrand clapped the wall on the final turn on the final lap, allowing Dan Wheldon to pass him with less than a half-mile to go. Heartbreak for Hildebrand, and elation for Wheldon.
That had to be the most delicious milk Wheldon has ever tasted.
Wheldon now joins Helio Castroneves, Emerson Fittipaldi, A.J. Foyt, Dario Franchitti, Arie Luyendyk, Mauri Rose, Johnny Rutherford, Al Unser Jr., Al Unser Sr., Bobby Unser, Bill Vukovich and Rodger Ward as the only multiple winners in the Hulman/George Era at the Brickyard.
Hildebrand was oh-so-close to ending the foreign domination at Indy, too. Since 1989, when Fittipaldi started a wave of non-American milk drinkers, only Mears (1991), Unser Jr. (1992, 1994), Buddy Lazier (1996), Eddie Cheever Jr. (1998), Buddy Rice (2004) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006) have claimed checkers for the homeland. The current run of five foreign-born winners ties the longest stretch in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Memorial Day and Indy have become synonymous. It’s a part of the plans for most sports fans. Thanks to IMS for some outstanding May memories throughout the years, including Sunday’s JR Hildebrand classic. And, of course, on this important holiday, thanks to the service men and women now and in the past who make these days of freedom possible!