Which is better: Talladega or the Indy 500? That was the question readers have been wanting me to answer over the last month or so since I experienced the Talladega spring race, which is known for its complete debauchery that is revered across the south & many consider to be the greatest spectacle in racing.
And then the Verizon Indy Car Series came knocking with an opportunity to put the debate to rest once and for all. They wanted to give Busted the full experience, including riding in a two-seater with 1969 Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti. They wanted you guys to see the communications center where the Verizon racing app (which has in-car video & is free, unlike the NASCAR app) is controlled. They wanted Busted at Carb Day, which has to be the most interesting non-sporting sports day of the year. They wanted us to experience the crowds, the EDM, the pageantry of the 100th running of the Indy 500.
The final verdict: the Indy 500 is still the undisputed king of racing and, frankly, Talladega shouldn’t even be in the conversation it’s that incredible at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Talladega is fun & the scene is wild, but the crowd seems to be aging & NASCAR is having a hard time finding a younger audience. That’s not a problem at Indy. The infield hosted a 50,000 or so crowd for Skrillex & friends in the Snake Pit. Turn 3 is a giant college football tailgate. Carb Day (Friday) is dominated by the 21-35 crowd like they’re at a Chesney concert.
Verdict #2: If you’ve never experienced the Indy 500, move it right to the top of your sports bucket list. Get an RV, a few of your best friends & head into the belly of the beast. Get a camping spot off Georgetown Rd. and be prepared to get weird.
Verdict #3: The Verizon Indy Car Series is cooler than you might think. The drivers aren’t marketing robots like NASCAR. Most are young and seem to be more likely to have a vodka/Red Bull with you than a NASCAR driver. American Conor Daly showed up to the EDM show in the Snake Pit two hours before the Indy 500 green flag dropped. The 500 winner, rookie Alexander Rossi, is 24 and from California. Josef Newgarden was born and raised in Hendersonville, TN on Predators games and trips to the Ryman. Graham Rahal is from Columbus, OH, married to Courtney Force, John’s daughter, and is a huge Ohio State fan. Ryan Hunter-Reay – American. Marco Andretti – American. Charlie Kimball – American. Hell, even Buddy Lazier is still hitting the track at 48.
The Busted Coverage Indy Experience
First, the ride along with Mario Andretti:
• What’s it feel like? It feels like being in a rocket, if you ever sat and thought what it would feel like to be sitting in a two-seater rocket. The initial shot off pit road is intense because as you come around pit road out of turn one, it looks like you’re gliding across the grass. You can’t see pavement. Then you’re onto the track and heading straight into turn two, which feels like you’re about to be launched into the wall. The backstretch is pretty comfortable. It’s possible to move your arms. There’s more leg room than I imagined. The ride is two laps. That’s plenty to get a tiny feeling for what these guys are going through for 200 laps.
• Cost: $500
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Mario nearly hitting a forklift:
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Mario throwing pizza dough with driver Townsend Bell:
We raced cars against Helio Castroneves via Hum by Verizon and then there was a quick soundbite from the 3-time 500 winner:
— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) May 26, 2016
Now some Carb Day action…it’s just a massive party where fans watch a pit stop competition, listen to a DJ, maybe catch Journey and have a really good time.
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Indy 500 Race Day:
• The crowds: Get there early and you won’t be bothered too much by the crowds. The track is 2.5 miles long. There are plenty of entrances for 350,000 or so fans. It took us about an hour to get to the track via backroads from northern Indianapolis around the Broad Ripple neighborhood. Not bad at all.
• The weather: Crackling hot. Bodies hitting the ground. The hospital was full. You get the idea. It’s a marathon out there, definitely not a sprint.
• What can you bring? It appeared to be your normal race atmosphere on the infield side of things. All the normal beverages were in play.
• Insider secret — get yourself a small two-wheeled cart to carry coolers. Bungee the coolers & you’re carrying in an incredible stash.
• I bet you thought an Indy crowd would be a bunch of liberal pansies. They sure do love ‘Merica at this place. Of course the Memorial Day holiday plays a part in all this, but Indy fans can NASCAR it up in the USA pride.
• Like I’ve said over and over, it’s a different crowd. There’s the bro-which-way-to-Lolla factor with the jerseys, but it’s no big deal. Just shows the Indy diversity. Bros seem to like this scene.
• Pretty sure I saw all sports represented from NHL, NFL, MLB to NBA.
The milk challenge…drink like you just won the 500:
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• Do whatever it takes to kiss the bricks. Buy pit access. Whatever. I’ll never forget kissing those bricks on Carb Day.
• You can also obtain a pre-race pass that allows you access to pit road on race day. Then, if you know somebody, you can get out on the track – see below.
• 99.9% of the serious, loyal to the core fans aren’t dabbling in the infield fun at the Snake Pit or in the Turn 3 GA lot. The parents sit in the suites, down the front stretch or in one of the giant bleachers around the outside of this place. Their kids head to the infield. That’s just the dynamics of the place. I can’t sit in the stands. I need to see the people.
Florence Henderson keeps up on Indy Racing…just rattles off names. No way she studied up. That’s just pure knowledge.
— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) May 29, 2016
— Busted Coverage (@bustedcoverage) May 29, 2016
• The Verizon Indy Car Series still has a long way to go before races other than Indy matter to a viewing audience, but this race still has that special feeling. I wish more casual fans had a chance to get in a two-seater to feel the sensation. This would make them care considerably more about the sport & the balls it takes to go 223 mph.
• Head to a go kart track. A group of us went racing on Saturday on three different tracks. We raced Belgian go karts and normal karts that kids could drive. It was a blast and the cost was about the same as a movie. Kids were smiling, talking trash, racing hard into the corners, just totally into it. You’ll have a new appreciation for racing.
• This country can still throw one helluva party. Didn’t see a single drunken fight. Not a single person in cuffs.
• Go spend time in Indianapolis. It’s young. It’s growing.
• Don’t be afraid to get weird. It’ll keep you young and the stories will be told the rest of your life. It’s worth it.
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