Is There Any Better Weekend To Be A Race Fan?
SPEED has been calling this weekend "Racing's Greatest Weekend". It starts with the World of Outlaws at the Dirt Track at Charlotte on Friday, it continues with qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Saturday morning, the NASCAR Nationwide Series from Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon, and ends with three races on Sunday. But not just any three races. Three crown jewel events in three different series. The Grand Prix of Monaco in the morning, the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" the Indianapolis 500 in the afternoon, and ends with NASCAR's longest race, the Coca-Cola 600 in the evening into the night.
As a race fan, is there any better weekend?
I've been a NASCAR fan all my life, but I would always try to watch the Indy 500 every year. Why? Because it's Indy. It's a special race. Even as a non-IndyCar Series fan, I always enjoyed watching that race. Special moments happen there. Like Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to lead that race in 2005, and then finishing fourth. Or Dan Wheldon being brought to tears when he won that very same race. Or when Sam Hornish Jr. pulled an incredible slingshot move on Marco Andretti to beat him by .06 second to win the closest ever Indy 500. Or last year when it looked like JR Hildebrand would become the first ever rookie to win that race in its 100th running, but crashed exiting turn four to hand the lead to Dan Wheldon.
It's a special race. It's unpredictable. It's a must-see event.
Just recently I've gotten into Formula One pretty heavily. My uncle is a F1 fan, and we always talk about it at family get-togethers. So I decided last year I'd try watching Monaco because I knew that Monaco is the Daytona 500 of F1.
So I set aside my Memorial Day Sunday for a day of racing. I'd skip the beach, skip the barbecues, and I'd just watch racing.
I woke up early to be up in time for the F1 race. And I enjoyed the whole event. I was on the edge of my seat all race long. From the start of the race when Michael Schumacher made a crazy move on Lewis Hamilton in the hairpin, to the restart after the red flag with six laps to go. I learned that day that was the first time a race had ever been restarted after a red flag that late in an event. Sebastian Vettel won that race, one of his 11 wins that season en route to his second straight FIA World Championship.
I had about a two-hour break before the Indy 500 began. I was already pumped up for the rest of the day after seeing a great F1 race that morning.
it was apparent soon after the start of the race that the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 would be a special one. There was a lot of passing, and a lot of strategy. Early on it looked like the Chip Ganassi cars of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti would be the cars to beat, and the Roger Penske cars wouldn't have a chance at all because of mistakes on pit road.
But as the end of the race approached, it looked like the Ganassi cars picked the wrong strategy. Other cars tried to stretch their gas mileage to the end when they pit. Panther Racing's Hildebrand was one of those cars that stretched his fuel. And it worked. He had a four-second lead entering turn four on the final lap.
It looked like he had it locked up. He would become the first rookie to ever win the race. He would be ecstatic. But he only felt heartbreak. He tried to pass a lapped car on the outside in the middle of turn four and got too high. He hit the wall hard. But he was still moving forward. It looked like he could still win the race with only three wheels. But then Wheldon blew by to get his second Indy 500 win.
I was stunned. Everybody was stunned. Even 10 minutes after the race was over I still couldn't process what just happened. Luckily I had another three anothers before the next race started to bring my heart-rate down.
I grabbed some food, watched NASCAR RaceDay and got ready for the start of the Coca-Cola 600.
The race was dominated by Matt Kenseth, but in the end he wasn't a contender for the win. It became a fuel mileage race at the end, just like the Indy 500 earlier. But unlike Indy, there was a late caution that bunched the pack together.
On a green-white checkered, Kasey Kahne had the lead, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second. Earnhardt was in a position to finally win a race, and it looked like it would happen. On the restart, Kahne instantly ran out of gas and almost started a big wreck. Earnhardt went to the lead, followed by Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick. Earnhardt held the lead for the next two laps. But coming out of turn four, he ran out of gas. He tried to coast to the finish line, but he was beat by "The Closer" Kevin Harvick.
Just like at Indy, a National Guard sponsored car was the leader entering turn four of the final lap. And just like at Indy, that National Guard sponsored car did not win the race.
Three races. Three incredible finishes. All in one day. The events leading up to that day were fun too.
This year should be more of the same. Memorial Day Sunday as a race fan is the best day of the whole year. The rest of the weekend leading up to that day is fantastic too.
Try watching every event this weekend. You won't regret it. And you will realize why SPEED is referring to this weekend as "Racing's Greatest Weekend" because it truly is. There's no doubt about it.
Picture Credit: Getty Images