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After Indy, What's Next for IRL?
Cars enter turn 1, by Steve Burzynski
Cars enter turn 1, by Steve Burzynski

By: Mark W. Theisen

WEST BEND, WISCONSIN June 5, 2011: After having a week to disseminate all the sights, sounds, information and people that made up the 100th Anniversary Running of the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday I have some parting comments:

The fan enthusiasm for this year’s race was by far the best seen in recent memory, they were truly energized and it is to the credit of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for seizing upon the Anniversary theme and not letting go. The crescendo built each day of the month and so did the crowd, while the race was not a sellout, it certainly was the best in the past 10 years.

What made this all work?

The teams were working with a 9 year old engine and chassis combination and that allowed for the smaller teams and one-off entries to catch up the with “halves” of the league and that was evidenced by the closeness of speed between the pole and the 33rd starter and resulted in the race being wide-open and it being “anybody’s” race generated much more interest. The Speedway and the media played that card just right.

The roster of current drivers were more accessible than ever before, being out and about with the fans will have a lasting impression and speaking of lasting impressions, how about Simona De Silvestro coming back to qualify and race with hands bandaged from burns suffered in a practice crash. Talk about enduring yourself to the fan base!

The willingness of the former winners of the race to participate in the plethora of events in and around race day so much so that many looked tired on race morning when the got into the former winning cars for a lap around the track. These drivers were at sponsor events, the Hall of Fame banquet, signing fan autographs Friday morning in the Museum and then again on Saturday at the track and then some even showed up riding in the 500 Festival parade on Saturday afternoon.

The turnout of pace cars and replica’s thereof was astounding on May 21st. From the Stoddard-Dayton that paced the first 500 on down to the current models, over 250 were on display and it was truly a lifetime experience. Thanks to all those collectors that worked so diligently to keep there cars up and ready for the show.

67 500 race winning cars were assembled in the Museum and the daily turnout set records. Another once in a life time chance to see these in one location and my hat goes off to all that made this possible from the Speedway which owns several to the private collectors that saw fit to loan there beauty to the track for this honor.

Over 125 of the possible 259 living participants in previous 500’s made their way to the track for an autograph session, again going out of their way to help the track celebrate 100 years.

The pre-race activities were nothing short of phenomenal. The invocation, “God Bless America”, Our National Anthem, Taps, Back-Home-Again-In-Indiana and the flyover by a Stealth Bomber just sent goose bumps down the arms of everyone and the tribute to the Military, both past and present, rendered everyone speechless. Always thrilling, this year’s pre-race will be hard to top especially with four time winner A.J. Foyt driving the pace car and Indianapolis Motor Speedway chairperson, Mari Hulman George riding with him in the pace car for her first ever such trip around the track prior to the race.

The results, a rookie leading with 250 feet to go and then a car from a one-off team winning the race, will be talked about for a long time to come. Everyone wondered who would be the 100th Anniversary champion and how they would handle it and would they respect it. From listening to Dan Wheldon talk he will do just fine. Being a former winner he understood what winning the Indianapolis 500 was all about and he will be a great representative of the track and the race in the months to come. Hopefully he can hook up with a ride or two for the remainder of the season.

We had oh so much to look forward to for this year’s race and nobody let anybody down. It was truly spectacular and memorable.

2012 will dawn a new century at Indianapolis and will see all new chassis, competition in the engine department with Chevrolet and Lotus joining Honda and the adaptation of aero-packages to fine tune the cars. Already Chevrolet has aligned them with Penske racing as their flagship team. Honda has chosen Target-Chip Ganassi while Lotus and has sided with KV Racing Technologies. This establishes the “halves” for next year while the rest will have to catch up.

That bar has been set so incredibly high for 2012 at Indianapolis. Hopefully everyone will try and build on the momentum of this year to retain interest.

It is a tough task and I for one hope the Speedway and its staff are up to it.