2018 Indy 500 Notebook: Part 3: Carb Day

Tony Borroz opens up what has been dubbed “The 2018 Indy 500 Notebook” for an unedited look at The Greatest Spectacle In Racing. This new series will span the days leading up to and after the 102nd Indianapolis 500, set for Sunday, May 27th. The 2018 Indy 500 Notebook is not exactly live coverage, more like raw coverage. It’s an unfiltered look and what makes the Indy 500 so alluring in the first place. 

The prologue can be found here.

Part 2: “Hey Hinchcliffe, Wanna Race? Then Go Faster!” here.

Ah, Carb Day. Yet another vestige of the past that still exists into the present day during the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Carb Day used to be held on the Thursday before the race. It was the last opportunity to practice. To tune up your car and, as the name implies for you old-timers out there, adjust the carbs for the atmospheric conditions. That was a huge deal, half a century ago. You’d set up your car for qualifying – that took place weeks before the race itself – but by carb day, the air could be thicker or thinner, higher or lower on humidity; a whole bunch of stuff that could really screw up your race day performance.

Woodstock of the (Mid) West

But now, in 2018 (and for a long while), there are no more carburetors. The art and science and sorcery of finessing float levels and needle and jet sizes are as obscure as A.J. Watson’s shaping hammers. So what do you do on Carb Day at Indy in 2018? Party baby!!

Well, some people are there to party. There’s some sort of stage area that’s turning into a fixture over in the Turn 3 area. There’s a whole bunch of people, tens of thousands, that turn up to Indy, buy a ticket, and never see the race. They’re all over in Turn 3, listening to one horrid mediocre band after another (Blues Traveler(!) is about to take the stage), drunker than 18th-century sailors, oblivious to 99 percent of the world.

As a historical side note, this all used to happen over in the infield of Turn 1. It was known as “The Snake Pit” and was, legend has it, something like a cross between The Bog at Watkins Glen and Altamont, just before Meredith Hunter got his. Alcohol! Drugs! Nudity! Sex! Debauchery! You know, a good ol’party for a wide swath of America.

But that’s not the whole thing. Other stuff,  stuff that’s actually important to racing, still happens on Carb Day, far and away from the “Snake Pit” of today.

SnakePitStage 1600x800
For the 100th Running of the Indy 500 in 2016, the Snake Pit featured performances by Skrillex, Martin Garrix, Zeds Dead, DJ Mustard, and B.O.A.T. Photo: IMS LLC.

Beer Run

For one thing, there’s the pit stop competition. It has no bearing on the race, but this pit stop competition is important to the teams as far as bragging rights are concerned. There’s some money involved, sure (there’s always money involved in racing), but the teams refer to it as “beer money.” Essentially two cars line up, side by side, ready-set-go, drive forward for about ten yards, stop, all four tires are changed, drive forward for another ten yards, and the fastest crew wins. Everybody seems to have a good time, the fans enjoy watching it, and it gives you something to do on what used to be Carb Day.

Anticipation & Anxiety

And that – having something to do – can be a real Godsend. The waiting, waiting, waiting for the green flag to fall can be interminable for drivers and teams. Shoot, it’s interminable for me. I’ve been ready for this race to start for months now, and I bet 99.9 percent of the drivers and crew members feel the same way.

This waiting can be a real killer on the nerves.

Part 4: By This Time Tomorrow here.

Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. His forthcoming new book The Future In Front of Me, The Past Behind Me will be available soon. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.