Sunday, May 30, 2021 — “It’s race day at Indianapolis.”
A very special race day for me because it was my first-ever Indianapolis 500 I’ve had the honor covering and the first one I’ve seen in person. It was long time coming, but my genuine dream came true.
The site of being at IMS on race day was surreal for an Idaho graduate that was tossed aside.
That Sunday had a beautiful orange sunrise, as “The Ecstasy of Gold” and “Here Comes the Sun” were playing back-to-back. Cannons were booming through my eardrums, constantly heard music left and right.
The buzz around the paddock and narrow pit lane is unmatched. Amazing pageantry like the classic Indy cars and Purdue’s ever colorful presence. Finally, seeing the sport’s legends like Al Unser and bright future racers like Sebastian and Oliver Wheldon was unlike an out of body experience.
The most interesting thing about it was this past May can be viewed as an appetizer.
Why an appetizer? While it wasn’t a full crowd, but it was the largest event in this pandemic up to that point.
Yet, you could’ve told me it was packed based on how passionate they were to see the fastest 33 racers in the world. All eager of conquering the 2.5-mile circuit and forever immortalized themselves as an Indy 500 champion.
In the end, it was Helio Castroneves who joined Indy’s elite of four-time winners. A feat only done by three other men (AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears) and it was at that point where I fully realize, “Indy hits different!”
Seven months to the day later, I finally wanted to reflect on that memorable month that essentially saved my life.
Why did it took me seven months? Well, life has been both a blessing and a curse. On top of that, I wanted to see the NBC telecast which I hadn’t seen until yesterday. When you live it like I did, I don’t often watch the broadcasts. That’s just me but for this special race, I needed to.
To close out my 2021 journey, I wanted to share what I went through and why to me this 500 symbolized the end of an era. When you’re done reading this, hope you’ll understand why I’m saying such sentiment.
Without further ado, here are my reflections split into five chapters:
The Road to Indy (2016-2020), Getting to Indy (Before May 30th), Being at Indy (Pre-Race), History Made at Indy (Race) and The Indy Aftermath (June-December)
The Road to Indy
Aptly title as such, my road to Indianapolis began with a huge ambitious goal. To get an idea why Indy has been a dream of mine, I must go back to the 100th running back in 2016.
While at a friend’s house in Seattle, probably semi-recovering from a night out with the men and women, I played the IMS Radio broadcast on my phone. Closed my eyes and just envision myself being there, hearing “Back Home Again in Indiana.”
It was at that point where I realized, ‘This is where I need to be by 2020!’ I had just finished my junior year (my best one) at Idaho and wanted to set a post-college goal of wanting to be at Indy in some capacity by that time period.
Little did I knew, it would be the only major goal I had after graduating in December 2016.
There’s something abut Indy that hit different and wouldn’t know how it’ll feel until I’m at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The 500 is my favorite race of the year because a lot is put into the “Month of May.”
Sometimes you have to be both great and lucky unlike Daytona where it’s all about the latter these days. Team effort is valued at Indy because to win The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, you need an all-around team effort. One single mistake or an awry strategy will bite you. Clear as day.
The climb of getting an opportunity of being at Indy was long and winding. Had to pay my dues but entering 2020, my gut was telling me this will be my year.
As everyone knows, the pandemic cucked the one goal I thrived to accomplish. The race went from May to August and nobody could witness Takuma Sato capture his second Indy 500 victory in person. Only a very select few got to cover it and with that, the dream initially died.
I didn’t accomplish my goal at a certain time period, fearing that my career was over. Last year was an absolute disastrous year and feared I wasn’t going to recover.
Rather than letting it eat me up to the point of having a downward spiral, I had to use that chip of my shoulder and earn my place of being at Indy.
All credit goes to the people who’ve had my back through thick and thin. Whether it’s the people from both Motorsports Tribune and The Podium Finish or fellow media colleagues across the country, I needed that wakeup call.
However, it can only get me so far that I needed to do things alone. Those two ARCA West races in Roseville and Bakersfield was the dose I needed to get my mind cleared. Hell, even when I stayed in downtown Los Angeles, seeing a magical sunset a dear friend told me would happen, my tank went from empty to full in a heartbeat.
From there, it was all about baby steps and make every opportunity my biggest event yet. Safe to say, the road wasn’t easy but entering May 2021, I had to take a chance on myself by leaving Washington for over a month. This wasn’t a vacation getaway, this was a business trip.
Getting to Indy
As great as this past May was, getting to Indianapolis had several roadblocks. Paid jobs wise, I was unemployed since June 2020 and relied on benefits that was about to end. I was morbidly obese, weighing at over 230 pounds. Money wasn’t coming my way and was downright bitter.
Ate a lot of garbage on a daily basis, mostly burgers. Looking back now, I’m happy to have gone down to around 195-200 pounds. While I deny that I’ve lost considerable amount of weight (Size 36 to almost 32), it felt great taking time to improve my body. That wasn’t the case during the first half of 2021.
By the time cars were about to hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I’ve already visited Oklahoma City, Darlington and Charlotte. When I got there to Indy, I was fresh off the most frustrating weekend I’ve had at the time.
I wasn’t happy with my photos from Darlington because I was creatively restricted. If you know me, I’m an all-out guy! Anything less isn’t acceptable and it’s been my mantra for as long as I lived. Feeling frustrated at myself and other people isn’t fun which is why I don’t discuss about Darlington. Seeing people at Charlotte was the highlight by an absolute landslide, but I digress.
Once I arrived at Indy, I was scammed at a place I stayed for a few days. There were so many misleading holes that wasn’t mentioned until I got there. Not only the hosts weren’t aware I was standing outside their home for 90 minutes, I couldn’t do anything. The shower shucked, the mattress felt severely stiff, and the bathroom trash bin was a free-for-all. Shit was disgusting!
If it wasn’t for a couple of days seeing downtown Indy, the IMS Museum and Circle City Raceway, my sanity levels would’ve imploded.
The hosts looked at me extremely creepy and knew I had to leave immediately. There wasn’t any other choice but stay at the downtown Hilton. Fortunately, I got my money back by telling those scammers I had a family emergency to attend.
Therefore, my mind returned on the Month of May (and a quick pit stop at Minneapolis for a charity event). It wouldn’t be until the GMR Grand Prix where I got the okay of covering my first Indy 500. It was done, the bloody lad’s vision from 2016 was slowly becoming a reality.
Being at Indy
To this day, describing what it’s like witnessing the mecca of auto racing is tough. If you were to tell me, I couldn’t give you a genuinely blunt answer other than “it hits different.”
Every day I was in an awe being at IMS. Like a kid being at a candy store where the options of sweet goods are endless. The historic Indy cars at the museum floored me. Authentic, restored, it didn’t matter because I was taken aback and smelt the roses.
Ones in particular were Dan Wheldon’s 2011 machine, Bobby Unser’s 1968 livery and especially the Marlboro Team Penske Chevrolet of Rick Mears.
Fully branded as well which by the way, if it’s fully brand tobacco livery, you’ll get instant love from me. I don’t smoke and never will smoke, but I’ve always been a mark for tobacco liveries.
There were so many photos I really loved from 2021, but that Marlboro Penske though. What a beauty!
As lovely as things were, challenges were dealt. Mostly about making my mark and creating unique stories.
Never in my life I had creative, writing and content block like that month. While my final works, such as cooler temperatures on race day and Sage Karam’s eventful practice, were solid. I still had that rut of not being satisfied.
There were times I had to face the music from my closest colleagues. Multiple times I had to stop being bitter about not having my works on magazines or having clients to work with. I’ll openly admit, I was a stubborn prick.
A challenge I still deal with when I’m not doing what I love, but not as bad. At least until my car accident two months ago, but I’ve at least been working on getting better.
My career and passions is everything. It’s all I got. It’s all I really know.
As race day drew near, it was put up or shut up time. But more simplified and went back to a saying my high school state history/psychology teach said to me in 2013 – HAVE FUN!
History Made at Indy
Race Day at Indianapolis is “goated” tier. What else could I say? You need to be there to get that vibe. Aside from hearing that Menudo track, Sunday morning was unlike any Sunday morning I’ve had.
As I’ve alluded in my introduction, it’s more than a game day feel. It’s a lifestyle. But once I heard “Back Home Again in Indiana,” I closed my eyes, exactly like I was in 2016.
Only difference was I wasn’t in sleeping in some couch relatively close to UW Greek Row, but at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Once pole sitter Scott Dixon led the field of 33 to green, the 200-lap odyssey came and went in a heartbeat. Two cautions and living in the moment while eyeing for content will do that.
The atmosphere was better than a concert, especially when Conor Daly took the lead. My god! TV didn’t do it justice, the Noblesville racer got a massive pop! I couldn’t help by grin from ear-to-ear and so glad I had a mask on.
My photos weren’t my greatest and didn’t captured as much because I’m a newbie at IMS. The electricity of the crowd and seeing cars zooming around the 2.5-mile oval was unforgettable.
As the race wind down, it came down to Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou. The Indy Ace against the Young Lion was a sight to believe as the crowd were so into it, hoping Helio can get his fourth 500 triumph.
With just two laps remaining, Helio made the race-winning pass on the outside and with that, held off the eventual series champion. History was made, he’s a four-time Indy 500 champion. 30 years after Mears won his fourth 500 over Michael Andretti.
The photo I took of Helio crossing the line wasn’t the best, but everything after was simply magic.
Crowd were loudly chanting, “Helio! Helio! Helio!” Michael Shank pulled off his greatest stretch knowing in the words of Leigh Diffey, “Spider-Man was back at the Speedway!”
He damn sure was back!
A mesmerizing moment and while I still remember everything that happened after the race, it went real fast. I just covered history being made and in the blink of an eye, it was almost midnight when I left IMS.
My body and mindset was checked out after my content were done. The job was done and wouldn’t trade it for anything. When I left IMS, all I can think of was seeing the 06 in P1 on the pagoda scoreboard. What a day. What a race.
The Indy Aftermath
Once I left Indiana, it was business as usual. Headed back to Washington for a full day before going to Sonoma and that went well.
Afterwards, I got a non-media job I’m not crazy about because it’s not what I want to do. I’d rather shoot photos and write about racing on a weekly basis for a financial living.
What’s scary about that job was this saying after exiting the Media Center at night.
“It doesn’t matter if you end up working at a grocery store, nobody will take the opportunity of covering the Indy 500 from you.”
The former sadly happened, but the latter will always be true.
Seven months have gone by and I can openly say the 105th Indy 500 was the end of an era.
This was the last Indy 500 Al Unser, Bob Jenkins and Robin Miller got to witness. All three were a corner stone to the track’s legacy and forever left an incredible mark in their profession.
On top of that, both Bobby Unser, Jack Lanigan, Jr., and Andre Ribeiro passed away prior to the 500-mile race. It was subdued indeed and I’d imagine in 2022, it’ll feel that way.
Seeing those three in person before their passing hits completely different now. They’re all missed by the Indy car community and every time I look at the photos I took, I get a lump in my throat.
That’s kind of why it took me this long to reflect on the 105th Indy 500. The telecast had many flubs, and more catered towards casuals, but I still think NBC did a good job capturing the race.
Few things I didn’t noticed until watching the race which made a few runs more impressive like Karam, Simon Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter. It wasn’t an easy day at the office, but salvaged a strong result. Just not having their face on the coveted Borg-Warner Trophy.
What has happened since May 30th changed me for the better. Yes, I’m currently dealing with the financial hell a car accident does to a person, but I’m not gonna deny that life has turned around. “Indy just hits different!”
I’m forever grateful covering my first Indy 500 and hope to do more in the coming years.
Until we meet again, doubt me if you insist, prove me wrong if I give consent. For Now, Is It May Yet?