Back in 1909 I don’t think it ever crossed Bob Burman’s mind that, as he drove his Buick to victory in the Prest-O-Lite 100, that he was putting a sequence of events in motion that would eventually involve an expected 400,000 spectators at the opening event of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season. Better known as the Indy 500 this race, as always, will be held at the old Brickyard this Memorial Day weekend. Why brickyard? Well, in 1910 after the asphalt failed and caused the deaths of two drivers the speedway’s owner, Carl Fisher, spent $150,000 to purchase 3.2 million bricks that were used to resurface the track. While today’s open-wheel racing enthusiasts might sniff in disdain, for 1910 this was cutting edge stuff. Obviously the surface has since reverted to a high-tech asphalt capable of handling the top speeds in excess of 225 mph. And all of this in an open-top, open-wheel high-tech equivalent of a go kart. Woo hoo, sign me up!
I should disclose, though, that despite having attended many an Indy 500 in my youth, my current racing passion is dedicated towards Formula One. Yes, the head executive Bernie makes Hugh Hefner look like he’s Amish, but the cars….consider these comparisons:
1. Car of the decade: Bugati Veyron (you know, the one that raced the Eurofighter Typhoon?) cost $1,900,000. Performance: 0-100 mph in around six seconds.
2. Average F1 car: cost unknown (steering wheels alone cost around $30,000). Performance: 0-100 mph, and back to 0, in around four seconds.
3. My Toyota Tacoma Pickup truck: cost was about 30% of a steering wheel. Performance: 0-100 mph in about a week.
For most folks Memorial Day weekend marks the start of the summer season so if you’re headed out on a local highway be prepared for long traffic queues and crowds at the local campsites. There you’ll join the huddled masses under blue tarps seeking the warmth of the sputtering campfire made from spongy alder wood and the occasional pallet. Growing up in the Midwest our traditions revolved around racing and getting out for some good-ole-boy bass fishing. No, this doesn’t involve dynamite, nor does it entail a vertical shotgun, rather it means finding a friend with a $25,000 bass boat outfitted with an electronics package akin to something from Hunt for the Red October and then changing rods more often than lures in pursuit of a the biggest bucketmouth the local lakes had to offer.
Memorial Day, though, is clearly about more than fish. Enacted as a federal holiday after the Civil War this holiday honors the men and women who died in service to our country. Ever wonder how often this sacrifice is made? Setting aside training accidents, minor skirmishes, embassy conflicts and the like, there have been around 150 armed conflicts involving US forces since 1890. While you’re out and about this weekend, whether it be with family, friends or just a quiet time with yourself, please do take a moment and give thanks to those folks that aren’t able to do the same. In the event that you display our flag, remember that the correct procedure is half-mast until noon and then full mast for the remainder of the day.