Until today it had been eight years since I had set foot inside the two and a half mile oval better known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. If memory serves me correctly, the last time was May 29th, 2005 to see the greatest spectacle in racing, the Indianapolis 500. The late Dan Wheldon won the 200 lap race that year cementing his status as a racing legend. I stopped going, quite frankly, because my grandmother was no longer able to go. She was a diehard IndyCar fan and bought tickets to the 500 every single year. I started going with her in 1998 and continued to go to the race for the next seven years. She passed away in late 2005 and that’s sort of when my interest attending the race sort of waned.
I will say that in the years that followed I continued to keep tabs on what was happening in the IndyCar world; particularly what Helio Castroneves did because that was my grandmother’s favorite driver. I’d catch a few laps of a race on TV here and there, read a recap of an event online; I even watched a few episodes of Dancing With The Stars when Helio won. Nevertheless, my IndyCar fandom was mostly long gone, or so I thought.
Today, my company had a field trip to the track as kind of a sponsor’s meet and greet with Pippa Mann, the IndyCar driver we’re sponsoring. As part of the trip, Pippa gave us a tour of her garage and the run down of the entire month long preparation process that each of the Indy 500 drivers has to go through. Following tour, we made our way to the winners circle for some photos and spend the rest of the afternoon watching the cars practice from the stands. The practice time today actually got cut short due to thunderstorms and heavy rains, but before the skies opened up I happened to make my way down by Helio’s spot in the pits to snap some photos. As the drivers came in Helio was immediately flagged down for an interview. Knowing that he may very well come up by the fence to sign some autographs, a group of people had gathered along the fence where his pit crew was stationed. I didn’t have anything for him to sign, but I thought, maybe I can get a fist bump out of him or something. It was worth a shot considering he was my grandmother’s favorite driver.
The interview dragged on for a few more minutes and most of the crowd gave up on meeting Helio, but I stuck it out. What you see below is the end result.
At the time it happened, I was as giddy as I was the first time I went to the 500. It came and went quickly but looking back on it, there’s enough emotion in it to carry on for a long time. Yes, to most it was just a selfie with a famous person (Helio does take a lot of selfies though), but to me, it was a fun tribute to my grandmother. 16 years have passed since I first set foot in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Each of those years I made it out to the track had many good memories, but today’s might very well be the best one.