Every year in October, after the end of the IZOD IndyCar Series season, the official fan club of the league, Indy Downforce, has their year-end banquet and celebration. Every year that I’ve been a member of the club, I’ve read the comments by others about how much they’ve enjoyed the banquet, but unfortunately I was never able to attend. Well, this year I made it a priority to go, and wow did I ever pick the right year. This year’s event was much more than just an evening banquet. INDYCAR officials such as Grassroots Marketing Manager Jason Penix begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting and volunteers from the membership such as Nancy Gass and Judy Bickel worked very hard to line up several great opportunities for those of us who could make it to Indianapolis last Saturday.
The day began with tours of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Sam Schmidt Motorsports shops. Two buses full of fans went to the TCGR shop. I went with another bus load of fans to Sam Schmidt’s shop. The folk at SSM were fantastic and very accommodating both with granting us near unfettered access to their shop and facilities as well as being very open, direct, and honest with their answers to fans’ questions. If you’ve never been in a professional race shop before, the cleanliness of the place is startling. I’m accustom to seeing my local mechanic’s shop, which is well organized and tidy, but far from spotless. You could have eaten off of any of the surfaces including the floor at the Sam Schmidt Motorsports shop!
After the shop tours, we were treated to tours of Timing and Scoring and Race Control by none other than Keith Forbes, long-time head of engineering at IMS. I must admit that my wife and I were a bit startled that they were still using CRTs and VCRs for monitoring and recording the track action. I guess it just reaffirms the old axiom, “If it ain’t broke…” Mr. Forbes not only did a great job of showing us around, but he provided a wealth of technical details about the operation of timing, scoring, and race control. All of it was intensely fascinating to a technophile like me.
The Pagoda tours had to be done in two groups, so while one group was learning about the control centers in the Pagoda, the rest of us were treated to a display and discussion of the safety equipment and procedures by Mike Yates, Manager of Track Safety Operations. Mr. Yates described for us in detail many of the procedures used an how the crew communicates via hand signals and spoken code to address on-track incidents quickly and efficiently. It impressed me that he was very quick to admit that the incident involving Simona De Silvestro at Texas this year had “gotten away from them”. A sign of a good team is how the respond to errors, and the Holmatro Safety Team showed great professionalism in not only recognizing the error, but addressing how to avoid it in the future. That incident has lead to discussions regarding the design of the 2012 chassis to allow for the most efficient egress of drivers in the event of an incident.
The last treat before the banquet was that everyone was treated to a hot lap around the Speedway. Firestone Indy Lights driver Phillip Major, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal, and four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race Al Unser, Jr. were our drivers. The cars were governed so that they could not exceed 100 mph, but still going around IMS at 100 mph an inch from the wall while your driver has one hand on the wheel and is turned around talking with you is quite a rush!
Finally, it was time for the banquet! The food was good and plentiful, but it was your standard hospitality buffet type stuff. We weren’t there for the food, though. Mike Young, as always, did an outstanding job as Master of Ceremonies, and at the end, he was given a gift from the fan club as a measure of our appreciation for his efforts at all of the pre-race parties throughout the season. Winner, winner!! Chicken dinner!! In addition to the various raffle items, a table of other gifts were prepared so that every member present walked away with either a die-cast Panther Racing car, an IZOD IndyCar Series ball cap, an IndyCar Series flag, or a 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series wall banner, plus there was a Indy Downforce cap for every member at the banquet tables. Guests at the banquet included our hot lap drivers, Al Unser, Jr., Phillip Major, and Graham Rahal. Special guests were the Most Popular Firestone Indy Lights award winner Pippa Mann, and the Chief of Security for IMS and INDYCAR Charles Burns. No, no one adjusted his collar that night. 🙂 Having Mr. Burns there was quite a treat as he can never attend the pre-race parties due to his security duties during event weekends.
All in all, it was a fantastic time filled with outstanding opportunities, great conversation, and a whole host of memories and photos that will help carry me through a little bit of the off-season. My involvement with the Indy Downforce Fan Club has also sparked an idea in my mind to have regular updates here at OpenPaddock on the happenings and developments for Downforce. Keep an eye out for a coming new segment called Garage 36. Our first installment will be a discussion with Jason Penix on a review of the 2010 Downforce season.