“The Old Brickyard-No Longer a Graveyard”
The Indy 500 has always been about speed, daring, nerve, bold passes and bad wrecks.
Once upon a time it was also about death, but no longer.
At 220mph, in traffic, if a driver got in trouble, he would likely die in the 500.
Some horrific crashes, cars airborne, cars hitting cars, cars hitting walls, and then fires.
75-have been killed in all at Indianapolis, including fans hit by debris, mechanics, who used to ride in cars, and then people involved in pit accidents.
Big name veterans, like Billy Vukovich, little known drivers like Pat O’Connor. Grizzled experienced guys like Eddie Sachs.
They died in 15-car crashes during the race, the most horrific the fires that engulfed Swede Savage. Three drivers died in one day in a tragic marred 1973. Scenes you never forget..
Sunday was as scary as we have seen. Not the outcome, the amazing come from behind win of Takuma Sato of Japan, not the attrition, 14-cars not finishing, not the scintillating run of Formula 1-champ Fernando Alonso, getting to first, before his engine quit late, but what happened to one of the leaders.
Former 500-champion Scott Dixon is alive because of all the deaths from before.
He climbed out of the tub of his car, the back end having been ripped away, without a major injury.
That after a crashed car bounced off the wall into his path, at 190mph. Dixon ran over the tire of rookie Jay Howard, went airborne, started to roll, hit the inside wall, the retaining fend, flipped upside down on the track, flipped rightside up, and stopped wit the engine on fire.
Rescue workers were there within :30.
The destroyed car’s driver cockpit stayed intact. The HANS, neck device prevented the driver’s head from snapping side to side. The 5-way seat belt, locked him into the seat. The cushion padding around all sides and beneath him, shielded him from the force of the crash, diffusing the violence of the impact. Fire no longer a fear because of a different type of Sunoco fuel.
He went driver side into that catch fence. It scared me, for the exact same crash a couple of years back claimed the life of Indy car star Dan Wheldon in a terrible tragedy in Las Vegas.. The safer barriers play a role too as do the catch fences, so cars do not go into the stands.
Dixon was secure in his car as it cart-wheeled along the fence.
Much like NASCAR, it took the death of Dale Earnhardt-Senior to lead to radical changes in driver protection. Ditto for the Indy car series.
Speed, passing, drafting is what makes the Indy 500 the spectacle it is, and it’s why 300,000 fans comes to the race on Memorial Day weekend.
These are special guys, with special traits, to climb into these cars, designed like rocket ships.
Sports medicine has saved lives. Sports technology has made these cars even safer.
It is the Great American Race. Back Home in Indiana, but it is better now than it has been in a long time, with apologies to AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti and the calvalcade of all the great names.
The Old Brickyard, no longer a graveyard. Scott Dixon can attest to that.