Along with enjoying the excitement from a distance, I was reminded of my younger years when I attended the race with my dad and uncles. Keep in mind please, that my family is Southern, which means that a day begins long before the sun even considers squinting one eye open.
“You know, Dad, the race activities don’t get started until the afternoon,” I would casually say. “So why do we go to the track in the middle of the night?”
He reminded me that when the sun came up, a bazillion people would be trying to get to the track, all at the same time. Why? Well, because a lot of city people were lazy and they tended to sleep until 6 or even 7 in the morning. Also, by leaving early, we always snagged a good parking place.
“We get a good parking place since we are the only people at the track,” I said with a snotty roll of the eyes. “Everybody else is in bed.”
“Don’t forget,” my dad would say, “we also have our breakfast right there in the grass.”
Well for a sleepy kid, those plans weren’t exactly what I described as deliriously fun. I would have been happy leaving after daylight and sharing a donut with one of my uncles.
Today, I treasure those memories. Maybe I never said so, but a family-made breakfast at the track was always delicious. Tears were in my eyes back then when the crowd stood for the national anthem. Tears sneaked back into my eyeballs when that mysterious voice boomed, “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
The year when streaking was the fleshy new fad, my dad clapped his hand over my eyes to prevent me from seeing a guy – naked as a jaybird – shimmying up a pole. Of course, the longer he tried to shield me from seeing that man’s lily-white butt, the more I begged to see it.
Police officers were not entertained by the skinny drunk guy, wearing nothing but a ball cap and a dirty pair of tennis shoes. He barely got up the pole before he was removed from it and taken to jail in his birthday suit.
Since those years, my dad and uncles have lost most of their hair. Our hearts have all been broken by the fact that one uncle has Alzheimer’s disease. One is widowed. A couple of uncles have health problems.
I’m now a breast cancer survivor. And all of us wear the wrinkles of time, stress and struggles on our faces.
Sometimes I worry that those memories are slipping past me. But recalling the scent of bacon – frying in the predawn hours in one of the fields behind the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – and the hooping and hollering by my dad and uncles as they enjoyed the race, those were amazing moments for a tom-boyish little girl.
And now, those are priceless treasures tucked away in the heart of a 55-year-old woman.