The tears won't be evident at first. Not if Arie Luyendyk can help it.
The emotions of running the Indianapolis 500 for the last time will be hidden under Luyendyk's helmet as he takes his cool-down lap around historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon, away, he hopes, from the eyes of the expected 400,000 in attendance and close-up shots by television cameras.
Auto racing fans have known since November that Luyendyk is retiring from IndyCar racing Sunday, concluding that part of his career in the single event that has defined his 15-year tenure in American racing.
In the days leading to the Indy Racing League's marquee race, Luyendyk has been strong. His voice hasn't trembled, and he has not gotten caught up in all the hoopla about the driver who has won more money at this track ($5.2 million) than anyone else.
That strength will disappear for Luyendyk, who also won the pole, once the race is over. It will complete an amazing year of retirement for many sports legends, such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and John Elway.
"Hopefully, I'll still be around at the end of the race to experience the cool-down lap," Luyendyk said this morning. "That will probably be an emotional time, so I can compose myself before I get into the pits.
"I'll know that will be the end."
Well, not exactly. Although the 45-year-old Luyendyk, who has been a commentator for Fox Sports this season, is retiring from IndyCar racing, he is not ending his driving career. Not just yet.
"I'm going to retire from . . . the oval-style racing," Luyendyk said, adding, "If I get a chance to maybe run at LeMans next year with a good team and a good outfit where I have a chance to win, that would be attractive for me to go and drive there. We're actually already looking along those lines now."
Still, no matter where Luyendyk races in the future, and no matter how successful he is, he always will be remembered by IndyCar fans for his days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He won his very first IndyCar race at this track, posting the fastest Indianapolis 500 time ever at 185.981 mph. That day, he took the lead with 32 laps remaining and held on for the win.
It took the native of the Netherlands seven years to win his next Indy 500, but it was one of the most exciting in history: He edged Scott Goodyear by about a half-second.
He is the single biggest name on the IRL series since the notorious split between the league and Championship Auto Racing Teams in 1995. And his career has thrilled not only fans, but also drivers.
"It's neat to be a participant in the race that is his last race," said rookie John Hollansworth Jr., an Oakton High graduate. "A two-time winner, combined with the Formula One heritage and the road-racing heritage he brings, he's unique. He's also one of the best spokespersons to open-wheel racing and, perhaps, motorsports generally."
On Thursday, the other 32 qualifiers in the race gave Luyendyk a large frame with all of their signed driving gloves encased. Another driver, Steve Knapp, asked Luyendyk to autograph his driving suit because, well, it just might make for good karma here.
"Being successful here has made my name in American racing, and then I went back and proved that wasn't a fluke the first time, so that's important," Luyendyk said. "To me, it's an honor to be one of the names that people bring up when they talk about great achievements here.
"But people don't have to call me a legend. It's really not necessary. I'm just a regular guy who stayed that way despite his success. Jordan, Gretzky, Elway -- those guys are legends."
Luyendyk became known at this track for his fearless driving. Ironically, it is fear -- at least mortality -- that is leading Luyendyk to retire from IndyCar racing. He has seen drivers die in crashes, leaving behind spouses and small children. And when he was part of three crashes over a 10-month period, he knew it was time to walk away. While he could.
"For me, the rewards don't outfavor the risks," Luyendyk said. "I'm still competitive when I get in the car, and I feel that I will be competitive for the next couple of years, but I don't want to wait for the signs that your time is off and your reflexes are off. I don't want to discover that while I'm in a race car.
"Ten years ago, it would have been a different story. At my age, I've decided that I've had enough. Right now, I just don't want to pack my bags all the time to go racing. I also don't want to wake up in a hospital any more, not knowing where the hell I am. I'm done with that."
Luyendyk has had a stellar career, but all of it has not been filled with warm and fuzzy experiences. There was the time in 1992 when he sat out most of the season because his team did not have enough money. But that was the same year Luyendyk was named one of the world's 50 most beautiful people by People magazine, so he rebounded from the Foyt incident, became a heartthrob and lived to win another Indy 500.
There was an ugly incident in 1997 when rival car owner A.J. Foyt slapped Luyendyk in the back of the head. Foyt had thought that his driver, Billy Boat, had won the race at Texas Motor Speedway and became angry when Luyendyk wouldn't leave Victory Lane.
But because Luyendyk already has two Indy 500 titles to his credit, he has no intentions of taking it easy Sunday. He is grateful for the gifts from his fellow drivers, but he will treat them like enemies come race time. He thinks it would be neat to end his last Indy 500 in Victory Lane.
"With the crashes, especially the big ones, that I've had in my career, of course my wife [Mieke] is worried during this race," Luyendyk said. "I know Sunday afternoon, she's going to be happy when it's over. She might even cry tears of joy."
And sometime during that cool-down lap, under his helmet, alone with his car, Arie Luyendyk might be crying, too.
Time: 3 p.m.
TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2.
Track: Gateway International Raceway, Madison, Ill.; 1.27-mile oval.
Defending champion: Alex Zanardi.
Pole-sitter: Juan Montoya (182.778 mph).
Favorite: Michael Andretti, who was a half-second behind Zanardi in 1998.
Don't count out: Montoya, the rookie who has taken over Zanardi's ride. He is trying to tie a CART record with his fourth consecutive victory.
Series: Indy Racing League.
Time: 11 a.m.
TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2.
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 2.5-mile oval.
Defending champion: Eddie Cheever.
Pole-sitter: Arie Luyendyk (225.179 mph).
Favorite: Luyendyk, who won the race in 1990 and '97.
Don't count out: Scott Goodyear, who starts ninth. Goodyear has been Indy 500 runner-up twice: in 1997, behind Luyendyk, and in '92, when he was .043 seconds behind Al Unser Jr., the closest margin in race history.
Series: NASCAR Winston Cup.
Time: 6 p.m.
Track: Lowe's Motor Speedway, Concord, N.C.; 1.5-mile oval.
Defending champion: Jeff Gordon.
Pole-sitter: Bobby Labonte (185.230 mph).
Favorite: Gordon, who has won the race three times in a six-year career.
Don't count out: Bobby Labonte, who won in 1995 and was third last year.
CAPTION: "Right now, I just don't want to pack my bags all the time to go racing. I also don't want to wake up in a hospital any more . . ." says Arie Luyendyk.
CAPTION: Arie Luyendyk will start 15th, and final, Indianapolis 500 from pole.