Drivers, start your engines

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Well my last week’s question about Sale and Pelletier (WHO?) faded into insignificance in light of the spectacular success of our own Aussie heroes! What a great story! I spent all Monday handing out Australian flags (luckily I had the foresight to bring over a packet with about 100 little matchstick sized flags that make perfect lapel pins) and proclaiming the lesson that dad pointed out we could all learn from Steven’s victory: Sometimes, it’s not the best and fastest one who wins, sometimes, it’s the one who is able to do their best and still be standing at the end. It’s a great example of the cultural importance of “The little Aussie Battler”.

Marie-Francoise looked at it from a more tactical point of view and suggested I ask a different question: How did Steven manage to get the rest of the field to fall over? I told her that maybe he smeared emu oil on the track. They says it’s good for everything! Might be just the trick for skating victories as well. Of course when Alisa (I hope that’s the correct spelling – she didn’t get much press over here) won the following day, my flurry of flag-distributing continued, this time with the message – sometimes we Aussies are just very good!!! I told my friends that Australia Post had already issued stamps in honour of these sporting heroes and everybody wants the stamps. If anyone would like to mail me a letter or postcard with the new stamps I will have no trouble finding happy homes for the stamps. My address is at the bottom of this email. Thanks!!!

Now to this week’s adventure. No trip to Indiana would be complete without a visit to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even though Peter and I are not great race fans, we knew this was an important pilgrimage to make on behalf of our beloved race enthusiasts – Lea, Matt, and Liam, so last Saturday, we sped down the interstate in our newly serviced (thanks to Kent) Ford Escort to check out the Speedway and Motor Museum.

It was well worth the trip. The Speedway itself is huge, as you might imagine, and is surrounded by a most imposing set of structures covering many blocks. We took a wrong turn looking for the museum and ended up circumnavigating the series of huge grandstands which can hold a capacity crowd of 350 000 people, making the races there the largest sporting events held anywhere in the world. The traffic on race days must be absolutely horrendous and we were more than pleased that the only visitors on Saturday were a few other curious folk enjoying an interesting day’s outing.

The track was constructed in 1909 and was actually built as a testing track for the burgeoning motor vehicle industry. At that time, public roads were not sealed at all, so a 2 1/2 mile circuit track was made of crushed rock mixed with tar, on which the new machines could be driven to show their full capabilities.

Occasional races were also held as a way of providing entertainment and showcasing the various car models and features that the manufacturers wished to promote. Some of the products that were developed or tested at the Speedway include supercharging, turbo-charging, high compression engines, front-wheel drive, four-wheel drive, hydraulic shock absorbers, four-wheel brakes, suspension systems, experimental fuels and lubricants, to name but a few. There actually is a longer list in the booklet where I cadged this information from (lest you think I suddenly have developed a breadth of mechanical knowledge), but I am really only listing these to impress Lea, Matt and Liam. Suffice to say, we car drivers can thank the Speedway for a lot of the things we take for granted today, although I somehow doubt our Escort is actually supercharged or even turbo-charged! It’s teal coloured, that’s all I know!

The original rock and tar mix didn’t last long and its deterioration was the cause of many accidents. A more substantial surface was soon provided later in 1909 with the installation of 3.2 million (!) paving bricks. This surface proved to be more durable (but would have given a pretty bumpy ride) and the whole track was not covered with asphalt until 1969, although parts of the track had been patched as required prior to that date. Most of the original surface material is still in place under the new surface, except where tunnels have been excavated under the track. The only bricks which remain visible today are those which were preserved to mark the Start/Finish line.

A feature of the tour of the Speedway Museum included a bus ride around the circuit. This was a great thrill, and as we drove sedately around the various curves and along the straights, we could only try to imagine ourselves flying along at speeds around 200 mph. Of course, had we covered the straight in .9 secs, we would have missed seeing the 13 storey Japanese style pagoda which serves as the Main Control centre, the huge scoring pylon which uses 3000 light bulbs to display individual cars’ race information, the entrance and garages of the famous Gasolene Alley area, the golf course (4 holes inside the track, 14 outside), and the Formula One track which was constructed in 1999-2000.

The Speedway now hosts three major annual motor events: the Indianapolis 500, which has run each May since 1911, with breaks in 1917-1918 and 1942-1945 for the two World Wars; the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race which was first held at Indianapolis in August, 1994; and the US Grand Prix which was held for the first time in September, 2000. It is estimated that these three events are worth $727 million to the city of Indianapolis. I guess the occasional traffic congestion is worth it. Back inside the museum, we watched a video outling the history of the Speedway, and wandered through the Hall of Fame, learning about the drivers and race teams who had their moment/s of glory there. Some drivers raced for a number of decades. The Indy 500 trophy is adorned with silver cast represenatations of each winner’s face.

We were also able to admire and marvel at many of the cars which have been victorious at the track over the past 90 years. Some of the early cars were really amazing. They looked so heavy, clunky and unsophisticated, but they were able to reach speeds of 100 mph and more even way back when. Lea, Matt, and Liam, you guys were certainly there with us in spirit. I hope you enjoyed it. We kept saying: “Wouldn’t they love to see this!” Bathams, when you make the trip over to visit, then I recommend you stay at the Brickyard Crossing Golf Resort and Inn. The golf course was established back in 1929 and this hotel which is right on the Speedway site would be a perfect blend of your love of motor racing and your newly found interest in golf! Give me a call and I’ll make a booking for you.

After a wonderful day, we sped back home grateful for our trusty Escort – super-charged or not, it’s really taken us to some interesting places!

This week’s question? What was the first competitive event ever held at the Indianapolis Speedway? It’s not what you might think.