When those famous words “Drivers, Start Your Engines” were spoken Memorial Weekend Sunday this year, my son, Marcus, and I were sitting in the Southeast Vista grandstand in turn two, along with a crowd that seemed much bigger than the official figure of 135,000.
We were there because Marcus and I are both “car guys” and racing fanatics, especially Indy car racing, so being at the Indy 500 was something we had talked about doing for a long time.
We finally got there in 2021 because of an incredible gift I received from and through Marcus. You can read more about that gift on HillFaith, the website of the 52-Week Ministry Foundation that is devoted to sharing the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the thousands of mostly young aides working on Capitol Hill for senators, representatives, and congressional committees.
Here, however, I want to share some observations about what I saw and heard at the race that say something about the heartland of America beyond the banks of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., and the Hudson River in New York.
As you probably have heard, Helio Castroneves won the 500 for the fourth time in his career in a vintage demonstration of the maxim that old age and experience will almost always beat youthful exuberance and horsepower.
Castroneves had a fast car from the first lap, but instead of uselessly fighting for first place when it didn’t matter, he stayed out of trouble for the first 375 miles, only moving into the lead occasionally, conserving fuel, assessing his rivals, and preparing to go for it as the race neared the finish.
The effervescent Brazilian’s third Indy win came in 2009, and, while he’s won a host of other Indycar races in the decade-plus since then, his glory days in the “greatest spectacle in racing” seemed to be in the past with 11 winless 500s. He might well have retired from active competition after leaving the Penske team with which he’d been the number one driver for so long.
But he won for the fourth time on his 12th attempt and then in Victory Circle enjoined the crowd, “I never gave up. Never give up your dreams! Believe it!” The man may be from Brazil, but refusing to give up, refusing to let go of a dream, is about as American as you can get.
America is what Indy is all about, as was so vividly demonstrated during the pre-race ceremonies that honor America’s fallen heroes. The fans at Indy on Memorial Day aren’t like so many of those at an NFL, MLB, or NBA game who can’t be bothered to show respect.
Without prompting, the huge crowd in the grandstands stood, removed their hats, and solemnly placed their hands over their hearts as U.S. Navy veteran and gospel music performer Generald Wilson delivered a stirring rendition of “God Bless America.” So did country music recording artist Jimmie Allen, who sang the national anthem the way it is supposed to be sung, reverently, with passion and joy.
Then came “Taps,” that mournful, soul-stirring tribute, perfect on every note by the 38th Infantry Division Band of the Indiana Army National Guard. I don’t know how any person can listen to “Taps” without being deeply thankful that so many brave Americans have given their all to keep the rest of us free.
And there was a flyover by pilots of the 187th Fighter Wing, assigned to Dannelly Field, Alabama. Their F-16s’ livery matched that on driver Conor Daly’s U.S. Air Force-sponsored car that paid tribute to the fabled Tuskegee Airmen, the first Black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II. Did somebody say something about “systemic racism” in America?
Oh yes, there was also “Back Home Again in Indiana,” a state song that stirs the souls of Hoosiers almost as much as “The Eyes of Texas” does for all liberty-loving men and women in the Lone Star State.
Something else I saw in the crowd, or actually didn’t see, was masks. Officially, everybody admitted to watch the race at the track was required to wear a mask, but I saw a paltry few people so attired.
Far fewer than 10 percent of those in attendance were masked. And that hapless official “Mask Ambassador” stationed in the grandstand presumably to enforce the mask requirement stood all by himself the whole time.
Americans are tired of the masks, tired of the self-dealing double-talk from officials like Anthony Fauci, and filled to overflow with skeptical disdain for feckless politicians’ promises like those from President Joe Biden about “small” July 4th cook-outs “if everybody does their part.”
One senses a pervasive disillusionment and even anger among millions of people, from all races, economic standing and social statuses, that the pandemic is old news, they’re being played for fools now and they’ve had enough.
I’m thinking that, as of now, Election Day 2022 won’t be much fun for any politician in either political party who continues the pandemic shell game.