Century-old Indy aging quite gracefully

May, 22, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS -- Back home again in Indiana, and it seems that ...

The older Indianapolis Motor Speedway gets, the nicer it gets. Improvements and changes never stop around here. I can still navigate the place, but have to focus. You can't drive through gate 9-A and just go on autopilot anymore.

Bottom line, America's oldest speedway is somehow its most youthful, in a lot of ways. Just the best-kept track in the country.

No doubt I'll get an email or text from Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage taking issue with my assertions. Confidential to Eddie: When your teenaged track turns 105 years old, we'll talk.

The Yellow Shirts, as we've always called them -- officially the Safety Patrol -- are getting younger. Or is it that I'm getting older?

By younger, I mean a lot of 50-somethings. I even saw one this morning who couldn't have been older than 30. Back in the day we used to joke that to don the iconic yellow shirt and direct traffic and pedestrians, no one under 80 need apply.

Misery loves company to a point, so it's comforting that Jacques Villeneuve is back with considerably less hair, grayer, than when he won the Indy 500 in 1995 as a Canadian youth raised in Europe who really didn't know enough about this race to feel any pressure.

But again, only to a point. This I hate to see and say: Every year I get less and less afraid of A.J. Foyt, because annually I'm more confident I could outrun him if he took a notion to punch me out.

With every pole he wins, and this makes two straight, Ed Carpenter somehow is getting to be more and more of a Mark Donohue look-alike.

The only way to really appreciate the speed of these cars, in the month of May, is to come regularly to NASCAR's Brickyard 400 here each summer.

Only that way do you get the blatant contrast, through the turns alone.

These cars dart, streak through the corners, far more nimbly than the plodding stock cars that lumber through the turns, their weight and clumsiness pushing them up the racetrack.

I just can't, and never will, get over the fact Indy cars run 230 mph-plus here, on a track that was built in 1909 for cars that averaged about 70 mph.

My old friend and colleague Robin Miller was about 25 when I first met him here in 1975, and I'm not at all sure he's turned 30 yet.

You certainly couldn't tell by the way he still writes and talks on TV. He's the youngest guy in the media center -- and unchallenged as the funniest, with his one-liners and his unrivaled impressions of Foyt and Mario Andretti.

Every time I think I've caught a little static from the masses over my coverage of Indy the past couple of decades, I think of all the grief Miller has caught, and weathered. He's got the thickest skin at Indy, that's for sure.

OK, on now to media day, where all the drivers will be present, in a "Chalet," one of those nice, air-conditioned rooms that were built early in this millennium to accommodate the Formula One elite.

Beats the heck out of race week of yore, when the general message to the media was synopsized by the signs on Foyt's garage doors: "Keep Out."

F1 is long gone from here, but the construction for it still helps keep this the No. 1 track in the country in creature comforts.


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