Car enthusiast Neukom attends Indy 500; his number-one pick rookie Rossi wins race

(Photo used by permission of Daniel Neukom)
History teacher Daniel Neukom exults in the stands surrounding the Indy 500 circuit on May 27. His location is the first turn in the oval. Behind him is the main straightaway, and on the right is the the famous control tower, called “The Pagoda.”

Daniel Neukom, history teacher and car enthusiast, went to the Indy 500, May 26-30. The race is on an oval track over 2.5 miles in circumference, and there were more than 350,000 fans in attendance this year.

Q: How long have you wanted to go to the Indy 500?

A: I’ve been a car racing enthusiast for more than 50 years, and I have never attended the Indy 500. This year was the 100th running of the race, so it seemed like a perfect time to go.

Q: What was the race itself like?

A: Very shocking. In the first 100 laps of the race there were many passes for the lead. Then it settled down a bit, and in the last 100 miles, there were several people making unusual pit stops. The finish was shocking. The rookie (Alexander Rossi) won the race by using a very clever fuel strategy. When he was running his victory lap, he ran out of gas on his way to the pit stop; it was that close. The fans were very excited at the surprise win.

Q: How hard was it to get tickets?

A: A friend had tickets already. They aren’t terribly expensive.

Q: How were your seats?

A: Not the best seats in the house, but still very good. They were about 20 rows up, halfway through turn 4. We could see almost half of the circuit, most of turn 3, all of turn 4, and most of the straightaway. There was a Jumbotron (a big TV screen) inside the turn too, so we could see the rest of the race.

They also had commentators on the public address system, who kept you up on each race development.

Q: Whom were you cheering for?

A: My number-one pick was Rossi, because he came from Nevada City before he went to Europe to train as a driver. I’ve been following him in Formula 1 for a few years.

There were many drivers with much more experience. He was the fastest rookie to qualify. My hope was that he would win rookie of the year, but when he won the race through great strategy and fine driving, it was a monumental upset. Rossi won around $2,500,000.

Q: What did you think of Indianapolis?

A: It’s a medium-sized city. There is one part of downtown called Massachusetts Avenue, full of bars and cafes and art galleries. There’s not much beyond that.

Q: Besides the Indy 500, what did you do while you were in town?

A: We were there for four days, and we went to the track for three days. We saw the last day of practice, called carb day.

Then we went to the Indianapolis Museum, where they have a massive collection of old racecars. It was a fabulous museum.

On Saturday, we saw the drivers’ meeting. All the drivers got up and said a few words in street clothes, and it was interesting to see them all relaxed and being friendly. They also signed a lot of autographs for people, but seeing them there was enough for me.

Q: What is carb day?

A: It’s the final day of practice when all the drivers get on the course, to make sure everything’s set properly. They go at racing speed; the average speed was 225 mph during their laps.

Q: Did you meet any interesting people?

A: Everyone was incredibly enthusiastic and friendly; it was such a major event of a race that everyone was happy to be there.

This is the largest sporting event in the world. It took us four hours to get from our hotel room to our seats on race day. There was a lot of traffic, and we had to walk an hour and a half. It was all part of the experience, being at the Indy 500, but it was worth it because it was a great event.

Q: What was the best meal you had during your trip?

A: It was at a famous steakhouse that’s been around since 1902 called St. Elmo’s. It’s in a lovely old brick building downtown, and their signature dish is a shrimp cocktail. What makes it special is the cocktail sauce on the cold shrimp. You take your first bite; at first it’s sweet, but suddenly it becomes extremely hot and spicy. But then it suddenly becomes sweet again. It was so spicy it completely cleared out my nostrils. It was so good we went back two days later.

Q: Do you plan on going again?

A: No. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a terrific race, with the shocking, pleasing ending. If I returned, I would be disappointed. It just couldn’t be as good. It also cost me about $2,000 in expenses to go, to stay in the hotel, buy food, airplane fares, etc.

—By Mac Scott

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