Only about 400,000 plus racing fans will attend the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. I often listened to the race on the radio as a child. My Dad and I would listen, then I would run outdoors to play, before coming back to see who won the race. There were many ties to the Fresno area where I grew up. Several drivers and car owners lived in Fresno. The most famous was Billy Vukovich, who won the race twice in a row, before crashing and burning to death the following year, while leading the race by a huge margin.
The Indy 500 Museum is a great place to spend some time before the race. The collection of cars provides great insight into the evolution, not only of race cars, but also of the safety features developed over time. It is also a great place to get out of the heat for an hour or so.
All the engines for the race cars are made by Honda. Starting in 1996, Honda began an ascent to the heights of open wheel racing. In 2004, Honda won its first Indy 500 race. Much like most innovators here, they were laughed at first, then moved to owning the entire field, and sole supplier to the race.
Some facts about the Honda engine: The service life is about 1400 miles, between which the engine can be rebuilt. A total of 40 drivers completed 202,210 racing miles over the course of the 17-race season with only a single race-day failure. Honda also powered the entire 33-car Indianapolis 500 starting field, and for a record-extending fourth consecutive race, there were no engine-related retirements during the running of the Memorial Day classic.
The engine itself is a fuel injected, aluminum alloy 90 degree V8, and weighs 275 pounds. Its displacement is 3.5 liters. It has a dual overhead cam shaft, and four valves per cylinder. The crankshaft is alloy steel, with five main bearing caps. The pistons are forged aluminum alloy. The engine uses McLaren Electronics for engine management. A six speed transmission and single water pump are much like most passenger cars we know. The fuel is 100% fuel grade ethanol.
About Mr. Honda himself: Soichiro Honda’s love of victory helped launch a small company into a racing giant. He possessed an uncanny ability to develop technology for racing and adapt it to the consumer market. At age 22, and drawing upon his skills as a mechanic, Mr. Honda developed a V-8 Curtis Wright aircraft engine to race on a Ford chassis. He took the wheel himself that year and set a Japanese speed record hitting 75 mph. Honda Racing was born.
Later that year, after an unfortunate racing accident, Mr. Honda made a promise to his family to never take the wheel of a racer again. Soichiro began to tackle racing from the development standpoint, producing some of the finest engines ever to race.
From their website: Triumph and innovation. Precision and speed. The lifeblood of Honda Racing. Join us and rediscover some of our proudest moments through the years, and honor the man who gave rise to one of racing’s greatest powers.
Small side bar: We saw Air Force One at O’Hare Airport Friday in Chicago. Apparently, our fine President and former Chicago resident is in town for the long weekend. I guess he needs some much-needed R & R after trying to help both Barbara Boxer in her Senate re-election, and the gulf oil spill fiasco. Most suspect he is barbecuing in his backyard this weekend. We were not invited.
But we had a fabulous dinner at Harry and Izzy’s last night. The rack of lamb was almost as good as Jimmy’s in Carmel Valley. Then we had a drink at the Equinox atop the Hyatt, much like the one in San Francisco. The more we drank, the faster it spun!!! Sunday is the big day!
The reality of the engines are this. The roar of the 33 racecars accelerating down the main straightaway for the start is truly exciting and earth-shaking. And we must wear ear plugs just to deal with the noise and vibration. And our seats are on the main straightaway, in the grandstand area, and not far from the start-finish line. A closed circuit camera system allows us to see the remainder of the track. Best of all, the pit area is right in front of us!
Today is a big and bright blue sky, soon to be filled with balloons, upon completion of “Back Home Again in Indiana” by Gomer Pyle, aka Jim Nabors. But the excitement builds, the engines are fired up, the crowd goes crazy, and we are on our feet. This is the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”. Flo Henderson sings “America the Beautiful”, and Jewel sang the National Anthem. Thousands of balloons are released. Mrs. Hulman George shouts for them to “Start Your Engines!!!!”
Dario had the best car all day and really deserved to win. The best performance was by Tony Kanaan who moved from last to as high as second. And our lovely heroine, Danice Patrick, coaxed an average car to a great 6th place finish on a very hot, midwestern day. It was a great day!