Drivers in the Indianapolis 500 always seem to say they don't care about leading the first lap. They always seem to lie.
When the most evenly matched Indianapolis 500 in history -- and the last for the legendary Arie Luyendyk -- gets the green flag Sunday, expect a lot of clamoring near the front. The Indy 500 long has been known for its dramatic and competitive starts, so there is no reason for the 83rd running to be different.
"I think a lot of it has to do with as soon as you get strapped in and the adrenaline starts flowing, your brain sometimes disconnects from your right foot," said Billy Boat, who will start the race from the outside of Row 1. "That's the challenge of this race, trying not to let that happen."
The drivers' early positioning will become even more important than usual if the temperature reaches the upper eighties, as forecast. In hot weather, the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway could become slick, making handling difficult.
"This place is so weather-dependent that everything we [say] may mean nothing," said Mark Dismore, who qualified fifth at 222.963 mph. "But I have no intention on trying to win the Indianapolis 100."
Leading the first lap of the Indianapolis 500 rarely has anything to do with winning the race. In 1990, Emerson Fittipaldi set the Indy 500 record for most consecutive laps led, starting with the opening lap. However, Luyendyk won the race that year, leading only the final 32 laps.
Greg Ray -- one of Sunday's favorites, along with Scott Goodyear, Luyendyk and defending champion Eddie Cheever Jr. -- knows the danger of trying to lead the first lap. In 1992, Ray sped out to the lead. Then he crashed and spent the next three hours as a spectator.
"If you get a good start, and the other guy doesn't, then it happens," Ray said. "If you don't, you have to just react to it and know that you're prepared. I don't think you can plan anything here because there are 32 other guys here that have that plan, too."
Among many fans, and even some drivers, the pole-winning Luyendyk is the emotional choice to win Sunday. The oldest driver in the field at 45, Luyendyk announced last year that he will retire from racing. However, he amended that announcement earlier this week by saying he will continue to race in non-IndyCar events.
Luyendyk won the Indianapolis 500 in 1990 and 1997, winning from the pole position in 1997.
"I know I have a shot of winning based on my experiences here and how well my car ran" during qualifying, said Luyendyk, who is competing in his 15th Indy 500. "I have envisioned myself winning. It would be nice to go out like that."
Luyendyk is preaching patience for the start of the race, but he also is an advocate of taking the early lead.
"I think the race is going to come down to being able to execute pit stops really good and staying up, or near, the front," Luyendyk said. "Track position is everything. It's not very easy to pass somebody around here, especially if the weather doesn't cooperate. If a guy's going 216 [mph] and you're going 218, that's really not enough to pass him easily."
But this Indianapolis 500 won't rely totally on horsepower. According to race officials, Sunday's field will be the most highly educated in major auto racing history.
Twenty-two of the 33 starters have attended college. Two of the three starters in the front row (Ray and Boat) hold college degrees. Sam Schmidt, who at 222.458 mph had the fastest lap during the final practice runs on Thursday, has an MBA in international finance.
Buzz Calkins has spent two days driving back and forth between here and Evanston, Ill., where he is taking finals for his MBA.
"The teachers have been pretty understanding," Calkins said.
The fourth row will feature Hideshi Matsuda, who graduated from Ryukoku University in Japan. Beside him will be former Vienna, Va., resident John Hollansworth Jr., who has a law degree from Missouri, and also posted the highest qualifying speed for rookies, 221.698 mph.
But just like horsepower, said driver Eliseo Salazar, an engineer by trade, all those college degrees may be insignificant as the cars head toward Turn 1.
"At the end of the first lap," he said, "there will be a lot of stupid moves anyway."