Lincicome: While the Indy 500 is no longer the greatest anything, it still is a spectacle
I see by the ambulances lined up there in Turn 2 of the Old Brickyard, it is time once again for the Indianapolis 500, an American institution, as is, I might add, Arlington, the cemetery, not the Park.
It is too late to do anything about the place. The world's most famous motor sports track has been around long enough to have been proclaimed a national historic site, like the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and anyone who suggests the auto race is not worthy angers the living and dishonors the dead.
It was the great Jim Murray, I believe, who wrote the ultimate lede for the Indy 500. "Gentlemen, start your coffins."
Indy is not the sausage maker it used to be, and yet anticipating what can happen at 230 miles an hour when a human being hurtles into humorless barriers or goes twirling into traffic, so much blown debris at the mercy of the next ricochet, will draw a crowd, more than 300,000 so they say.
Their risk at being so close to so much danger and mayhem is no greater than it would be for someone who tried to roast a marshmallow by holding it in his teeth.
Anyone who hates auto racing, let me say, is no friend of mine, for I try to keep an open mind about voluntary lunacy.
Auto racing is the most sensual of sports. It assaults all the senses. It is louder than war, smells worse than fresh landfill, tastes like the wet end of a dipstick, feels like falling down stairs and looks like smeared paint.
Television has done what it can to make turning left exciting, with on board cameras and talking to the drivers during the race and putting little cartoon cars on a make believe oval, like one of those candy piece races at the basketball game.
But until something happens, that is, until somebody crashes into somebody else, auto racing is duller than warts.
We aficionados of auto racing applaud the courage of the men and the relentlessness of the technology that can combine to invent a machine that is absolutely worthless for anything other than driving around in a circle.
One of the Unsers, Al Jr. I think, once said, the appeal of the place is that people get carried out of Indy "on a stretcher," clearly a case of whistling past the brickyard.
But nobody -- drivers, owners, pit crews, or the guy in the tank top rolling his beer in a cooler with wheels -- will deny that they do carry people out on stretchers.
The notion is exactly why the place still holds a fascination, still piles in the curious and the morbid, both for the same ticket price.
Even journalists covering the race wear those nonremovable hospital bracelets, just in case, you know, they get carried out on a stretcher.
It is never unwise to imagine the worst as a precaution against it. Works as well as a rabbit's foot. And not a bad marketing slogan either.
Certainly it is more honest than "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing."
The Indianapolis 500 is no longer the greatest anything, if inarguably still a spectacle. There is no more tasteless, cluttered, loud, rude, self-interested, inhospitable place in sports. I'm surprised the French didn't think of the place first. There is actually a side street by the track named "Show Us Your ..." Blvd.
We understand that the Indy 500 is the great laboratory of the automobile, revealing useful secrets in the same way as does an autopsy, and often with the same tools. Never discount the contribution of the rearview mirror.
A car has not been built to go too fast for a fool to drive in the company of others. The evidence is in the black marks on the surfaces of speedways that disappear into walls without doors, reminders that remain year after year, unwashed by the rain or reason.
An auto race goes nowhere but into the dark limits of the soul, fertilizing the morbid and exhilarating the foolish.
So, here it is again, the Indy 500, pondering the question, is human courage greater than exotic technology?
It is. Drivers, start your ...