Saturday, June 09, 2007

Back Home Again in Indiana

Growing up the youngest of three boys in Indianapolis, Indiana, I think my Dad often looks up to the sky and asks why someone played a cruel joke on him and threw my mom two X’s instead of a Y. With all the testosterone that ran rampant through that house it’s no wonder why my dad came to have the fierce love for sports he does, let alone competition in general. There are always certain sporting events throughout the year where my Dad gets a little on the nostalgic side. There’s Wide Right One and its sequels (Sorry fellow 'Noles fans), his hatred for Pete Carroll since his days with the Jets (I know.. what a grudge!)… and of course the days of the “Big Sombrero” (AKA.. The Creamsicle Era for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) when the NFL’s season gets under way. But there is one event that has the ability to move even the biggest sports geeks in the world to tears: Jim Nabors, AKA Gomer, singing “Back Home Again in Indiana” prior to the start of one of the greatest sporting events in American history: The Indianapolis 500.

There are certain events in life that one must experience as almost a rite of passage if you will, as a part of their family’s tradition. For the Sterger family, this race... is just that. Known for repeating his stories more than Nick At Nite reruns ‘I Love Lucy’ episodes, my dad has often told my sister and I stories about his memories growing up blocks from the track. There were times he would lay in bed, and listen to them test the engines. Or other times, when he would sell newspapers at the track, just to be able to watch the race from the infield. He spent time among some of the track’s legendary drivers, and even grew up along side of some of their children that would preserve their families’ legacies as some of the greatest in the history of the sport. My dad has always talked about taking my sister and I back to his hometown to experience one of his greatest childhood memories, but with the help of my friends at IMS and Miller Lite… I one-upped him. This year, I surprised my dad with one of his greatest dreams come true: I took him back home again… to Indiana.

While some may contend that open wheel racing has begun to lose the flair and prestige it once had, I beg to differ. What I saw in my three days at the Indy Motor Speedway rivaled many of the greatest sporting events I had ever attended. Here are just a few of the highlights.

Carb Day!!!... I was stoked. I thought hot damn.. I finally get to break my diet… and eat some bread. Boy, was that false advertising. Lots of cars, lots of hotdogs, lots of… alcohol. But alas.. No bread. (Will Carroll, you are a liar!!!!... ) Sigh. Actually, Carb Day is the last day the cars can be on the track for practice before Sunday’s big race. Though the weather held out rather nicely, it also proved to be scorching hot for the good majority of the day. The afternoon got so hot in fact, that one young woman felt compelled to take her clothes off on top of the guard fence surrounding the track during the Pit Challenge. Surprisingly, she didn’t walk away with newly fashioned silver bracelets from the Indianapolis Police. She did however get escorted away by her less than thrilled husband.

The Checker’s Rally’s Pit Crew Challenge was pretty much the highlight of Carb Day for me. It was nice to see the guys that do all the behind the scenes nitty gritty stuff get some well-deserved recognition for all their hard work.

In the end, it was Helio Castroneves and his Penske crew that beat out another Penske crew by a mere few milliseconds. And the best part of all?.. Yours truly got to present their check!!!...

After a few smiles for the camera, I got a behind the scenes tour of some of the garages, but namely the Luczo Dragon Car garage. The guys were super nice, though I couldn’t convince them to let me borrow their spare car for the afternoon. Damn. Oh well, maybe next year?..

Anyone that knows me, knows my passion for food… namely a great steak. So, I was pretty stoked to get into one of Indy’s most legendary steakhouses: St. Elmo’s. I dunno how to tell you this.. but their shrimp sauce is apparently kinda a big deal. I mean, people know about it. Unfortunately however, I am not a huge fan of anything that lives in the water. Needless to say, you won’t catch me trying to decide if something is chicken or fish. I know the distinction quite well. So, everyone else got to enjoy their shrimp, and I got my steak. And all was right with the world.

The big fuss surrounding this year’s race was regarding the overabundance of female drivers: 3 of them. While three may not sound all that great, it most certainly is when one of them just so happens to be Danica Patrick. Sara Fisher also returned to the scene this year after a brief stint in Nascar West. And, rounding out the top three was newcomer Milka Duno.

This year’s race also proved to be a wet one. It rained for most of the morning before the race, and when the sun finally did make its appearance there was certainly no shortage of humidity. There were tons of celebrities on hand for the race namely Ludacris, Florence Henderson, and Ashley Judd (smoking hot wife to Dario Franchitti). Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey was this year’s pace car driver, a job I so envied. He was probably one of the first guys I have seen actually put the pedal to the floor in the pace car… then again he does race as a hobby of his. Colt’s Quarterback Peyton Manning was this year’s flag waver, though he seemed to be having some difficulty perfecting his wave.

There was the absence of one iconic face this at this year’s race however: “Gomer.” Much to my father’s and I’m sure everyone else’s dismay, Jim Nabor’s was not on hand to sing his timeless rendition of “Back Home Again in Indiana.” Instead the entire crowd joined in voice and sang in his honor. (Get Well Gomer. We wish you well!)

The race itself was a wash. The rain held out just long enough to get past the half way point. Stop. Then start again. When the race was finally called it was Dario Franchitti that would lay claim to this year’s title.

“So raise that glass of milk high Mr. Fanchitti, because not only did you win one of the greatest races in the history of American sports, you also get to wake up next to your smoking hot actress of a wife. If that’s not something to celebrate.. I dunno what is.”


roothog229 said...

Hey Jenn!

Good to see this post up. Hopefully your sanity is coming back, and you're feeling a lot better about life and everything around it. It's also good knowing you have such a great circle of friends who stick by you until the end. I hope that group only grows...and if anything, I've got your back in spirit all the way.

Enjoy your time off, and feel free to find me anytime if I can help with anything at all.

ANON1 said...

Um yeah. You look better and better every time you post new blog post.

Will said...

No pics of your shirt on race day? For shame! :)