No Parnelli on track

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

INDIANAPOLIS -- You can't ride a horse around Churchill Downs five days before the Kentucky Derby. You can't play catch in Yankee Stadium five days before the World Series. You can't play shinny at Joe Louis Arena five days before the Stanley Cup final. You can't carry a flag around an Olympic Stadium five days before the opening ceremonies.

But you can drive around Indianapolis Motor Speedway five days before the Indy 500.

In your own car. Or, in my case, a rent-a-car.

OK, it's only one lap - 2.5 miles of the 500 they'll run here Sunday for the 92nd Indianapolis 500. And the average speed is about 15 mph - or about 212 mph slower than the qualifying laps which won Scott Dixon the pole for the event.

But you are, along with thousands of others over the course of the day with licence plates from all over North America, on the very pavement where the race will be run Sunday, on that narrow ribbon of track in front of 250,000 seats where so much history has happened.

Sit in the new media centre here, with wraparound slanted glass windows, and it was amazing to watch the never-ending parade of family cars slowly circling the track where a Sunday drive isn't quite the same as it is anywhere else in the world.

One guy, obviously with somebody in position to take pictures, drove a beat-up old claimer-type stock car with No. 1 on the door and a Confederate flag painted on the roof, around the track.

Yeah, he'll always be able to tell folks, he once drove a race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

One writer's cellphone rang in the media centre and the scribe was called to the window to watch his wife driving down the track with the kids waving out the window.

Why not?

COULD SEE DENTS

So there I was, a Jones who is no relation to Parnelli, on the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, driving high to the top of the bank only feet from the new "soft walls" where you could see the dents where cars hit the wall during qualifying earlier this month.

Even at the breakneck speed of 30 mph, which we got up to at one point, you could feel the force pulling you down toward the inside wall in Turn 4.

The speed dropped dramatically as you drove down the main straight, mostly due to the gawker factor, which certainly won't come into play Sunday. There was so much to gawk at, including the pits being lined with old race cars from the '20s and '30s and the new pagoda scoring tower which you could later tour.

This is not my first time around this place, but was an entirely new perspective from which to take the enormity of it in and try to imagine what it would be like with all those fans in the stands on race day while going just a tad faster.

When you're done, you get a small certificate saying you completed a lap of the track and a ticket to spend the day at the place.

There seems to be a golden rule of pro sport in today's era - never give anything away for free. And this wasn't free, but $7 is close. While it has a sponsor, the American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day, which took over the track here yesterday might be the best bang-for-the-buck deal in all of sports.

It's not just a slow-mo drive around the track. Fans can tour the garage area, watch the Indy 500 teams practise pit stops in the morning, get a wrist band to get an autograph from one of three different sessions with drivers, be involved in a half-hour public Q&A with four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears and visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and Hall of Fame, located in the infield, featuring 75 of the oldest and most remembered Indy 500 cars of all time - including the Marmon Wasp which won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 with Ray Harroun driving - and more than 30 Indy 500-winning cars including all four A.J. Foyt drove to victory here.

One of the greatest sports museums in the world, it includes a 20-minute film of historic highlights in the Tony Hulman Theatre.

Spend the day here and by the time you head home when the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. experience is over, you'll not only have a very real feel for the place where the largest single-day sporting event is held every year, you'll likely have seen the famed Borg-Warner Trophy, which is taller than some of the drivers and includes a small sculpture of the face of every winner who has driven over The Yard of Bricks start-finish line from The Brickyard days when the entire track was made of them.

MILES OF INDYDOGS

You may even have learned some of the fun facts about the place, such as the fact that 12,000 gallons of Coke will be drank here, a close second to 15,000 gallons of Miller Lite beer.

So many IndyDogs are eaten that if they were laid end-to-end they'd circle the 2.5-mile track 2.5 times.

You might also learn that more than 4,000 Firestone tires are used here during the Month Of May, as they refer to lead-in qualifying weekends here.

One of the yellow-jacket volunteer staff may have informed you that the IMS grounds includes a total acreage of 1,025, including the Brickyard Crossing golf course inside the track, with a total of 415 separate structures on the grounds containing 1,344,000 square feet of space with 26 bridges and six tunnels and 17 grandstands which, if each row were laid end-end-to-end, would stretch 99.5 miles.

They might also mention that an estimated 18,500 laps are driven on the track during qualifying, practice and race day. But they're probably not counting my lap.


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