As Boy Scouts marched by on the track, all peach fuzz and starched pants,beasties living in the ooze of Turn One cheered when a spaced-out warrior whipped his girlfriend around like a Frisbee until she flew, ker-spluggsh, into a mud lake created by overnight thunderstorms and a stampede of four-wheel-drive monsters.
From his Budweiser beanbag chair atop his Demolition Derby veteran Pontiac, hospital billing agent Ken Harrell watched the frolics and pronounced them good. "She loves it," said Harrell, who pointed out that the three cops on horseback were smiling.
The $65 seats are atop the steel grandstands that line the front straightaway of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. No mud wrestling up there. Up there, safe, are the politicians, celebrities and high-rolling corporate chiefs who love to hear that the Indianapolis 500 is (as they say) "the greatest spectacle in sports."
Well, maybe 33 high-tech cars going 200 miles per hour in pursuit of $2 million with more than 300,000 people watching is a spectacle beyond compare. Certainly, the customers are a spectacle seldom seen outside cages, as Ken Harrell said from atop his 259,000-mile junk heap with Mickey Mouse painted on the hood.
"The world's largest zoo," said Harrell, who parked in Turn One at 10:30 Saturday night and plans to get some sleep June 1.
By the way, Ken, what kind of car is this? It has headlights mounted on the fenders, a log chain holding the hood down, and it is painted black, white and orange. Somebody stole the left horn of his matched steer horns.
"It used to be a Pontiac. Nice, too, until the body fell off. It's a '66. And a '67, '68, and some '47."
Unlike the Kentucky Derby, where the race starts late in the afternoon, the 500 begins at 11 in the morning here. So the $10 customers in the infield, maybe 80,000 of them, float in the night before on a river of beer. A veteran reporter was startled at 7 this morning when he saw, with his own eyes, someone drinking, truly truly, a Pepsi.
At 8 o'clock, little garden tractors tugged the high-tech racers onto pit row where for the next three hours they were the object of gawkers who occasionally stopped, knelt down next to a car and smiled for a camera. The pole car, Rick Mears' this year, always draws the most stares, unless you count Linda Vaughn, Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, whose chassis is terrible aerodynamically but pretty good otherwise.
High school bands marched down the front straightaway while a disembodied voice over the world's biggest public address system told the 300,000 customers that here we have Sam Hanks, the 1958 winner, and Sam says Indianapolis is like a second home, and people who couldn't see Sam cheered at that.
Along pit row, a small army of men in yellow firesuits walked purposefully toward their assigned spots.
"There's not more of us," said Bill Winger, who owns an electronics company but works as a volunteer fireman in the pits each race day. "We just all have these new suits, so you're seeing us better."
Last year a fire in Mears' pit was nearly catastrophic. It might have ignited the tank holding 250 gallons of highly flammable methanol. The volunteer fireman, when asked if that tank could explode, fell silent a moment. "Under the right circumstances," he said.
An ABC cameraman and his sound man, working the pits, wore fireproof suits.
Back in Turn One, Chad Miller, 21, wore his caveman's suit.
"Women lay down at my feet and beg to be carried away by their hair," said the catalogue printer from North Manchester, Ind.
Miller said it cost him $6 to get his suit together. The off-the-shoulder suit is $4 worth of carpet remnants, and his wig is $2 worth of shag carpet normally used in the rear window of cars. His four-foot-long club is paper and chicken wire.
"The 500 is Indiana," the caveman said, and about then another Hoosier walked by in a T-shirt saying, "Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow You May Be in Utah."
At 10:30 this morning, the disembodied voice introduced each driver, row by row, and 20 minutes later someone sang, "Back Home in Indiana," and then, with the drivers in the cars, someone played "Taps" in memory of this country's war dead. about then another Hoosier walked by in a T-shirt saying, "Eat, Drink and Be Merry, for Tomorrow You May Be in Utah."
At 10:30 this morning, the disembodied voice introduced each driver, row by row, and 20 minutes later someone sang, "Back Home in Indiana," and then, with the drivers in the cars, someone played "Taps" in memory of this country's war dead.