As I sit here watching the 2011 Formula Grand Prix of Monaco I am quite disappointed that I am unable to attend the IZOD 100 Years of Indy 500 Celebration. I have been going to the Indianapolis 500 since 1977 at age 8. From those early days when the Indianapolis 500 was a city-wide event and it seems everyone knew someone who was involved in the race I have noticed a decline in the significance, importance, excitement and ultimately attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Being a Formula 1 fan I could not have been more excited than when F1 came to Indy. I bought tickets for my son and I immediately, spending $600 for us to comfortably sit in box seats across from the Ferrari pit. It was well worth the expense to fold up the two extra seats and spread out a bit while we watched my favourite event across from my favourite team.
Inclusive of F1, MotoGP, NASCAR, all IRL events and the various auxiliary races at IMS I believe I have likely attended close to 100 races at the IMS and other tracks. Unfortunately this year marks the end of the Indianapolis 500 and the IRL unless I receive a personal apology.
What prompted the termination of my involvement with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League was the extreme disrespect shown to me by employees and the track administration this year. It was Thursday 19 May, 2011 when Wendy Evans and the other "Yellow Shirts" at Gate 7 denied admittance to me because I had ridden a bicycle to the track.
This year I had specifically purchased a "fixie" bike to ride from the Boone County Courthouse in Lebanon, Indiana to the IMS each day. I first arrived on 12 May, the day after my bicycle arrived, and watched the track activity for a short period of time.
Here is a brief rundown of the various policies on bicycles at the IMS from the most permissive to most restrictive as I was told by the various people working the Safety Patrol, many of whom recognize and even know me by name. It should be labeled some type of Top Ten list.
1) You can ride your bike anywhere on the grounds;
2) You can ride anywhere except the Pagoda Plaza, you have to walk it through there;
3) You can only ride your bike on the roads inside the track;
4) You can't have your bike in the Pagoda Plaza, take it out the back gate of the garages;
5) You can ride in but have to lock it at the bike rack;
6) You have to walk your bike, can't ride it on the grounds;
7) You have to walk your bike but can't take it in the Pagoda Plaza;
8) You can walk it in but have to lock it at the bike rack;
9) You can't bring your bike into the IMS grounds; and
10) You can't have a bike on IMS property, this includes the fence surrounding the grounds.
What I have to ask and I am sure you are wondering is: what EXACTLY is the bicycle policy for the IMS? That is the question I went to the Administration Building and asked but was told that apparently there isn't a written one but they know bicycles are not allowed for safety reasons.
As you can see in this photo of my bicycle locked at the "Bicycle Parking Only" bike rack bicycles clearly are not allowed at the IMS and any explicit or implied statement to the contrary is completely unintentional. I suppose that sign and bike rack are for decorative purposes only just as are the dock and "Yacht Parking Only" sign along the lake in the infield golf course.
On 17 May I listened to Paul Paige and had quite a lengthy conversation with him about some of the problems that have led to the decline of the Indy 500 and the IMS and what we can do about it. Overall, I believe it is much too "corporate" now. The biggest problem I have is that I can predict with 100% accuracy who the winning engine builder, chassis maker and tire supplier will be for the 2011 Indianapolis 500 motorcar race. Yet, when I first started attending I had no clue.
It's not that over the years while I have gotten to know more drivers, team owners, chief mechanics, race strategists and the entire network of crew members but it's because there is only one engine builder, one chassis maker and one tire supplier for this competition between cars. As Paul Paige said, the excitement has been taken out of it.
Now, the current and recent administration has also taken "the event" out of it. What type of person pays $250 to attend a "Snake Pit Ball" and celebrates in a tent? Certainly not the type of person who was in the "Snake Pit" back in the 1970's. Everything is so sanitary and compartmentalized now. There are a series of specialized events to inspire attendance rather than an event that draws a crowd.
The extreme disrespect shown to me at Gate 7 on the 19th, when I was told, "Just get out!" was the crowning moment which leads to my perception that the Indianapolis 500 and the IMS no longer exists. For my son at least, I have arranged for a Speedway Police Department officer to take him into the facility so he may watch the race and not break his streak of attending since he started going with me when he was age 3.
I get told "Just get out!" because I arrived on a bicycle and told the Safety Patrol to call their Command Center. That is unacceptable. That was exactly what I had been told to do by the administration if "anyone gives you any trouble about bringing your bike in." I am not some drunk though. But it shouldn't matter who the person trying to enter the grounds is, they should all be treated with respect.
I find it overwhelmingly interesting as to what is considered safe and tolerated by the Safety Patrol: drunks, people pulling wagons around so loaded down that it appears the are moving out West, these collapsible aluminum and canvas "chairs" that are practically a living room suite now, coolers the size of an S10 and whatever else that is not a bicycle which people can shove into a vehicle and parade around the grounds. Yet I, in an IZOD suit jacket along with my bicycle am not allowed at the track. Yes, I do wear a suit, jacket or am otherwise dressed in fashionable clothing while at the track.
Just for background though here is a bit about who I am. I am a child-custody advisor and political activist. I have met and am recognized by nearly every member of the Indiana General Assembly, state officials, policy makers, attorneys and judges. I am well-recognized at the track. Anywhere I go in that facility people know me and greet me. Not just all of those I mentioned previously. It's numerous fans, clients of mine, other politicians I know, media personalities or those who simply mistake me for someone else or are curious as to who I am. I am a person who never meets a stranger.
The one interesting "qualification" that I have is being a former professional cyclist who had been invited to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado while I was in high school and have also raced with Lance Armstrong. One could assume I know how to ride a bicycle and even walk it alongside me.
Some of the highlights for my son include attending a cookout with Scott Dixon, his family and a few friends, about a dozen people total the day after the race one year; being recognized by Eddie Cheever as he sat with Tony George on a golf cart in the team bus lot. Eddie introduced my son to Tony.
It shouldn't matter that I started attending 34 years ago, that I have brought many people with me, that it is on the agenda of fans from throughout the country to see me at the track or that so many of the participants know me. Every customer should be treated with respect.
I was invited to a wedding of a crew member at the track yesterday and I went. Sadly, unless I get a personal apology, that will be the last time I go to the IMS, attend an IRL event or wear IZOD clothing.
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