It’s mid-morning in Speedway, Indiana and I walk outside into the bright Memorial Day sunshine. It is as perfect and sunny as a small town Midwest spring day can get. Leafy green trees line the block. White clapboard houses. White picket fences. Carefully maintained yards and house-proud dwellings line the block, stretching out as far as one can see. Birds tweeting and chirping. All that’s missing is a toe-headed paperboy with a crewcut.
This would be postcard middle America to a tee. Pleasantville in 3D Technicolor.
Nothing that would make it remarkable in the least, but if I were to walk ten yards to my left, there it would be. A half-mile to the east is Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A low, glowering eminence grise whose presence can be felt, night and day. It glows through your consciousness, like a power source just into the infrared. But here, right now, there is nothing but a quiet holiday morning. Yesterday, and I mean less than 24 hours ago, the scene was utterly different.
Tony Borroz attended the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 28th, 2017. This series, Bricks And Bones, explores the cultural significance, endearing legacy, and the nitty-gritty phenomenon of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
The prologue of this series here.
Chapter 1: Real Wronghere.
Chapter 2: St. Elmo’s Firehere.
Chapter 3: The Quiet Racerhere.
Chapter 4: Hang Tenhere.
Chapter 5: Female Perspectivehere.
Chapter 6: The Fearless Spaniardhere.
Chapter 7: Speedway Legendshere.
Chapter 8: Barrel Rollhere.
Chapter 9: A Wide Facehere.
Chapter 10: Among The Fanshere.
The streets, even these residential streets nominally on the periphery of The Scene, were swarmed with people. Walking ten yards to my left, which is north, would have given a better picture. A mass of humanity all moving in one direction: towards the Speedway. And 98 percent of them are dragging coolers, hauling backpacks, carrying this and that, and all of them, all 100 percent, are jabbering and jibbering and talking and screaming and chatting and debating and conferring. And the closer you got to the track, the more intense it was. The place was awash in soda and beer and hotdogs and corndogs and deep fried turkey legs the size of a Cro-Magnon’s club.
Burgers, fries, nachos, greasy pizza slices the size of a snow shovel blade, chow-mien(?!), more burgers, more corndogs; food enough to feed an army. And everywhere you looked, the mass of humanity was dressed in shorts and t-shirts and tank tops, blaring nationalist slogans or team allegiances or declarations of wanton consumption of drink and substances. And all of them talking and burping and babbling and farting and guffawing and snorting and prattling and sweet Buddha there’s a lot of them.
Normally the attendance of the Indy 500 is around three to five hundred thousand. That is roughly the number of kids that showed up at friggin’ Woodstock and this happens every year, year in, year out. And these people, these bright, perennially cheerful, down home Midwest salt of the Earth folk welcome them in. It is a stunning display of hospitality right out of some old testament parable. “Need to park your car? Why, here’s a spot on our lawn. That’ll be $20.00.” The streets are lined with cars, the yards are packed with them too. The front yards and delightful screened in porches are full of people talking and eating and drinking. And the roads, always the roads are packed with a moving mass of humanity, going onward, ever onward toward The Track.
But that was yesterday. Short hours ago. Not even a full day. And now, not a speck of lawn is taken up by a vehicle. There is no trash to be seen anywhere, and I mean that: no trash. Later Healey and I do a bit of a driving tour, and the scene can only be described as stunning, and only in the context of what it was like the day before.
There was a huge parking lot the size of a shopping mall. Now it is a green, grassy field. Scores of port-a-potties are now neatly stacked on trailers, all patiently idling in line, waiting to merge with traffic. All souvenir booths are shuttered. Food stands of the most common and mass-produced eats imaginable are locked down and boarded up. The garbage cans, packed to overflowing yesterday are gone, completely gone. All refuse vanished as if on the whim of an invisible wind-god.
And the track, good Lord the track itself: a scattering of people here and there on the outside, but no signs of the throng of humanity that once was. The inside is eerie in its striking lack of people and its neatness. Here and there, maybe a total of 150 people where there were once hundreds of thousands. They walk and sweep and pick up the bits of leftover trash that has so far gone unaccounted for.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway the morning of the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo: Chris Owens.
And the trash! It has all been collected up, piece by piece, and stuffed into rust-colored garbage bags, and the bags, tens of thousands of them, all neatly lined up at the end of each row of seats. The aluminum white horizontal stands against the strong rust of the vertically arranged garbage bags is like a Christo installation piece.
The contrast between what The Speedway brings, invites; desires even, with what the town is now shocks in the extreme.
Yes, this is Speedway, both in name and deed, but the vast majority of the year it is just a simple, small Midwestern town almost drowning in its own unpretentious charm. And now, not even a day after such noise and speed and riotous behavior, Speedway, Indiana is nothing but silence and slowness and subdued conduct. It is back to as it was. Again it is Pleasantville. It is deepest, whitest American. The heart of paleness close by the banks of the Wabash.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.
*To be continued. Bricks And Bones is an Automoblog original series with forthcoming installments during the days leading up to, and following the Indianapolis 500.