Friday, May 29, 2009

Playing The Infield

I spent my Memorial Day weekend doing what everyone in the Midwest should have been doing—sweating uncontrollably, walking more than any person should ever have to, and watching fast cars go around a big oval. I’m talking of course about going to the Indianapolis 500, otherwise known as “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing” (not to be confused with Lance Armstrong, who is known as “The Greatest Testicle In Racing”).

I realized this past weekend that, for the most part, I have taken the race for granted. Until I came to college, I had spent my entire life in the surrounding Indianapolis area, so the race was always around and was always shoved in my face. It took me moving to Ohio to completely appreciate what I left behind. Before I talk about my experience this past Sunday, though, I think it’s important to understand the different types of fans that come to the race. The way I see it, there are five types of fans at the track each and every Indy 500. They are as follows:

The Rich/Celebrity Fan

The Indy 500 attracts so many C and D list celebrities that if you aren’t completely paying attention, you might think you’re watching “Dancing with the Stars.” In the celebrity rundown section in The Indianapolis Star, you could find people like Jared Fogle, the “getting a stomach staple and claiming it was Subway was the best decision of my life” guy and Jay Bush, the “I have the most disobedient dog in the world” guy. It’s gotten to the point that I’m fairly confident if I get kicked out of the NFL and MLB drafts, they’ll let me drive the pace car next year. Really, it’s like these people come to the race because it’s the one weekend that they know they will be treated like A-listers and for that I really can’t be mad at them.

My good friend and former teammate Michael Conley (who is the starting point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies, for those of you who don’t know) rode to and from Indianapolis with me and on the way back to Columbus he described his Indy 500 experience. He talked about how a limo dropped him off right outside the track, bypassing the hundreds of thousands of fans who had to walk up to five miles. He told stories of finger foods and rubbing elbows with A.C. Slater in a suite overlooking the start/finish line. He spoke about men wearing tuxedoes and monocles, who were ready to serve at the snap of a finger. I calmly explained to him that he really didn’t go to the race at all. It’s like he was trying to make me puke.

The Diehard Fan

I know some of you are saying to yourself, “But I love John McClane. There’s no way he’s going to make fun of me for that, is there?” Relax. I’m not talking about that kind of diehard fan. I’m talking about the guy who has those radio headphones on so he can hear what’s going on while he’s watching what’s going on, and will probably at some point tell a female that he’s on the same frequency as Tony Kanaan’s team and can hear their strategy. This guy has every driver’s number and chief sponsor memorized, knows the series standings, and probably had a life at one point in time. Tragic, really.

I know the diehard fan better than I should because, well, I lived with one for 18 years. For as long as I can remember, my dad has loved NASCAR (totally different sport than Indy Car, he’ll tell you), which is surprising because he regularly wears a tie and isn’t afraid to comb his hair. He doesn’t have the radio headphones, but you can bank on it that every race he goes to he finds the guy that does and instantly becomes best friends with him. Unless he’s a Tony Stewart fan, in which case my dad will tell the guy that Tony Stewart caused the Holocaust and is the reason the economy sucks. My dad’s hatred for Tony Stewart runs so deep that he refused to set foot in a Home Depot while they sponsored Stewart and has since applied the same stipulation to Office Depot. I wish I were making this up. I can only pray, for his sake, that McDonald’s never decides to become the chief sponsor for Stewart. My dad and his daily Egg McMuffin breakfast would be faced with a rather serious crisis.

The Local/Regular Fan

If it weren’t for my experience last weekend (more on this later), I would consider myself a local/regular fan. These types come to the race because they either live within a half hour of the track or because they’ve been to every race for as long as they can remember. Most are a combination of both. These are the kinds of fans who make sure they buy the program as soon as they get there and are probably wearing the official Indy 500 t-shirt from 1995. If you ask them who they are cheering for, chances are they will say “either Arie Luyendyk or Al Unser Jr.” because they have no idea who is even in the race. And why should they? Who is in the race isn’t important. The fact that they are keeping a family tradition alive is.

The First Timer

The first time fans are the laughing stock of everyone at the race and are pretty easy to pick out. These are the people who are stunned by how much walking is involved and can be heard saying things like, “I had no idea it was going to be so hot.” These people are usually the ones who are shocked with how disgusting the restrooms are and don’t see what the big deal is about cars just going around in circles. Despite being told over and over by friends how intense the race actually is, the first time fan will always be surprised and will angrily ask their friends, “Why didn’t you tell me how intense the race actually is?” This question is usually answered with a firm punch to the face.

Finally, we have the race fan that is the backbone of the Indy 500, which is why I chose to be this type of fan on Sunday. The other four fan types are always jealous of this fan, because they will never have anywhere close to the same amount of fun as…

The Infield Fan

There are actually two infield sections during the 500. The turn two infield section is a family friendly area where kids can play freeze tag and trade Pok√©mon cards without worrying about hearing four letter words or seeing their first pair of headlights. The turn two infield is where mothers hand out juice boxes and tell their kids that Santa Claus can make it around the world in one night because his sleigh is faster than the cars on the track. I would say that the turn two infield is so boring that it’s not even funny, but that phrase insinuates that if there were a little less boredom, the turn two infield would actually be kind of humorous. And there’s nothing funny about seeing a father of two, five years removed from college frat parties, holding his wife in one hand and a bag full of wet wipes and animal crackers in the other.

Turn three, on the other hand, is a living example of every reason why I don’t want to ever have a daughter.

There’s a bit that Jim Gaffigan does about holidays that almost exactly captures the collective attitude of the turn three infield at the Indy 500. I’m fully aware that most of you are too lazy to click on the links, so I’ll just tell you that there’s a line in which he mocks how Americans rationalize their overeating during holidays. “I normally don’t have a burger, a brat, and a steak, but it is the Fourth of July…” In a similar manner, people in the infield have the attitude that “I usually wouldn’t bong three beers in a row while my pants are at my ankles, but this is the Indy 500…”

What makes the infield so special is that it’s impossible to watch the race. The track is two and a half miles around, so when you are standing 100 yards away from it, you can’t really see all that much. I didn’t know when the race started, I didn’t know who was leading at any point during the race, and I didn’t know when the race was over. Part of this was because I couldn’t see what was going on. But mostly I was just distracted by the behavior of everyone in the infield that surely would have made their parents proud.

I decided that if I was going to sit in the turn three infield, I should probably do my best to fit in. That’s why I wore a Budweiser tank top with jean shorts that were cut off just below the pockets and construction boots with high socks. By doing this, I could gain the trust of the people in the infield and get a comprehensive understanding of what they go through. Basically I was John Howard Griffin, only instead of changing the pigmentation of my skin and dealing with irrational hatred on a daily basis, I wore a tank top and was overly obnoxious.

My first awesome encounter with the people of the infield came as the parade of veterans was making its way around the track. The people in the infield are some of the most patriotic people alive, which was made obvious to me when virtually everyone started chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” I decided to get in on the action and began the same chant at both logical and completely illogical times (I accidentally started a chant during the national anthem. Whoops.) The chanting eventually morphed into me just walking around asking people if they loved America and then screaming “Home of the free because of the brave!” and chest bumping them after they would obviously say yes. God bless this country.

At one point, I saw a white guy (please make note of his skin tone, as this is important for the story) wearing an old school New Jersey Nets #30 jersey in my vicinity. Because I’m basically an old school jersey professional, I immediately knew he was rocking a Kerry Kittles and felt an obligation to congratulate him on his wearing of a rare jersey. I walked over to the jersey wearer and said something like, “Kerry Kittles…that’s awesome”, at which point he gave me a thumbs up and walked away. This prompted a drunk guy to get up from his own puddle of urine, walk over to me, and ask if that was the real Kerry Kittles (this is why the skin tone was important). I answered with a rather predictable, “You bet it is.” The guy went on to tell me that he was a huge Kerry Kittles fan because he grew up in Cincinnati and graduated from Moeller, which was the same high school Ken Griffey Jr. went to. I asked if that’s where Kerry Kittles also went to high school and he said, “No, but he did go to Villanova.” Oh, well thanks for clearing that up. Come to think of it, there’s a good chance the guy I was talking to was former Ohio State and Moeller basketball player Matt Sylvester, but I just didn’t realize it at the time. If that’s the case, it was good to see you again, Syl. You look great.

Toward the end of the race, after the “liquid bread” had been flowing for a solid four hours, a typical redneck (no need to describe this guy. Just think of the first image that comes to mind when someone says the word “redneck.” Yep, that was him) decided that he couldn’t hold out any longer—he just HAD to put his arm around me and start singing. His song of choice was Skid Row’s “18 and Life”, which seemed like the perfect song to be coming out of this guy’s mouth. I originally thought he was a fraud because he only sang ,“Ricky was a young boy” before mumbling the rest of the first verse, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt since he was trashed out of his mind. Plus, once I started singing the chorus he jumped back in and sang until he suddenly stopped and yelled, “Ladies, show us your boobs!” If the world had more heroes like this guy it would be a much better place.

If you’ve never been to an Indy 500 and you are between the ages of 21-30 (either literally or in your mind), I recommend you make sitting in the infield for a race a top priority of yours. I’ve made it clear in the past that this blog is, for the most part, family friendly, which is my way of saying that I left out the top 15 best stories that happened at the track. There were beer showers (just like it sounds), fist fights, and people making love. There were ladies in the men’s room, men in the ladies’ room (wait, how would I know?), and more exposed skin than clothing being worn. It was everything I wanted my 10th birthday party to be, before my mom informed me that she (and I’m paraphrasing here) “doesn’t know the first thing about having a good time.”

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I want to inform the Trillion Man March that I have had a Twitter account for a little while but haven’t really used it all that much. I initially started it as a way to post my favorite links, but I never really got into it. Until now. I have recently been tweeting (these Twitter terms are out of control) a lot solely because I’ve fallen in love with live tweeting, which basically consists of me watching something on TV and breaking it down with the most accurate and serious minute-by-minute analysis ever. I suggest you follow me and keep an eye out for these live tweeting sessions. I plan on doing it at least once a week, so join in on the fun if you’re up to it.

Also, I’ve received a bunch of e-mails about how I’m ripping off the San Jose Sharks and ABC. Apparently the Sharks (best hockey team name ever) named their arena the Shark Tank and ABC has announced that they have a new show coming out with the same name. Because of this, I’ve decided to change the name of my mailbag, but I haven’t decided what the name will be yet. I like the idea of somehow incorporating “shark” into the name, but that’s not a must. The next blog post should be of the mailbag variety, so I’ll definitely have a new name by then. If you think your idea for a name is the most creative thing you’ve ever come up with, feel free to send it in. If your idea sucks, keep it to yourself.

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Streak for the Cash Group Leader: T. Rittenhouse and R. Huff (streak of 13 wins)

Streak for the Cash Group Loser: B. Truslow, for the fourth entry in a row (streak of 15 losses). Truslow responded to the challenge I sent him with the last post and has since lost two more picks. You are quite possibly the biggest loser of all-time. Ever.

Your awesome YouTube was sent in to me by Jack K. There’s your shout-out, Jack. And here's your video.




Your Friend and My Favorite,

Mark Titus

Club Trillion Founder