HAWL IN: Racing paradise lost….for now

Sports

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – MAY 26: A view of the national anthem during the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – There are a number of traditions that have taken a year sabbatical during the COVID-19 pandemic – and people knew they would.

A number of ceremonies and sporting events have been postponed or outright canceled as states prevented large gatherings due to the spread of the virus. For many summer events, that happened over the past month-and-a-half.

The “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” was one of those on Sunday, as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway sits empty this Memorial Day weekend. For the first time since 1945 – the final year of World War II – there’s no Indy 500 in the month of May at the iconic venue.

It wasn’t a surprise when the originally scheduled race day rolled around, since the announcement of the delaying of the race till August 23rd came back in March. But that didn’t make Sunday any easier for fans of the event, who’ve become accustomed to all that is the month around the 500.

Having worked in Indianapolis for seven years, covering seven races, and watching the event on television since 1986, it was definitely was a letdown not to have the event as normally scheduled. Sundays before Memorial Day have either been spent watching the race on TV or in the pits in the thick of the action.

Yet to truly understand the impact, you have to ask those die hard fans both in Indianapolis and locally in the Chicago area what it’s like not to have it in May.

I posed the question on Twitter, and the responses were many.

To understand the power of the Indy 500, one must look at the month itself instead of the actual Sunday. Pole Day to Bump Day, Community Day to Carb Day and the festival parade, it’s all meaningful and important It’s an entire event race fans not only in the “Circle City” but also those fans of open wheel racing around the country.

To be fair, however, it’s pagentry of Sunday that makes it a global favorite.

From the early morning cannon blast to signal the opening of the speedway to the prerace songs, like “Back Home Again in Indiana,” they are counted on just about every year. In fact, the latter of those has been performed by Blackhawks National Anthem singer Jim Cornelison for the past two races, and he was slated to sing this Sunday.

“Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” or “Drivers Start Your Engines” preceded the flying start of 33 cars lined up in rows of three starting the first of 200 laps. Sometimes it’s hot, other times cool, and occasionally a little rain, but the race is always there for fans around the country.

It’s a meaningful May moment that wasn’t there in 2020, like a number of other events since the middle of March since the pandemic took hold. At least this race will go off on August 23rd, keeping a few of these traditions, with the question of fans still remaining up in the air.

But for this Memorial Day weekend, paradise was lost in Indianapolis.

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