Sunday, May 25, 2014

Memorial Weekend, or Pollen Peak

We used to be riding back from Fiddlers Grove on Sunday, Memorial Day Weekend, hoping to catch Indy or some of it. It's been a kind of "tradition" for me since I was a kid in the '50s, paying attention to this hard-boiled race. Back then it was a radio event, and sometimes just the news of it, not actually listening to someone excitedly recount the circles. I'd also notice the Firestone Tire ads in Life Magazine, which featured the winners unless they'd just gotten killed, like Billy Vukovich, who's dates are b. Dec. 13 1918, Fresno, CA; d. May 30, 1955, Indianapolis, IN. Which isn't some anonymous moment now is it, May 30 being Sunday Memorial Day weekend, and Indianapolis being where the 500 happens on that day, and sure enough Billy was trying for his third successive victory and went over the wall while leading. Here's what a racing reporter thought at the time (more or less). His archaic views are almost humorous given that today at Indy they'll be running above 200 mph. The track, however, has indeed changed: the walls and enclosures are much better, and the driver restraint systems as well. Indy car racing is still a dangerous deal, however. A man in an open cockpit going 200 miles an hour is exposed to forces capable of killing him.

Like the Kennedy assassination, the Vukovich accident is a complex of mysteries and what-ifs. The best analysis is that he died of head injuries, not from fire (as initial reports indicated). You can of course google just like I can. It took much too long to figure out how to make the race cars less death traps. Seems like there was a time when nearly every big race involved drivers burning to death, and this was true in NASCAR as well as the open wheeled areas. Then there were the further weird accidents, like Davey Allison dying in a wreck at Talladega while attempting to land his helicopter. Even though there's a lot of obvious physics in racing, it seems to take dramatic losses to change things much. Ayerton Senna's death is the last (so far) in F-1 racing. Dale Earnhardt's death in 2001 caused huge changes in NASCAR, both in driver in-car protection, and in changes to all the tracks. All the changes could have been accomplished before the fatal crashes that spurred them. But it remains true that racing is very dangerous, and that speed will always increase the danger while it also adds to the excitement.

It's a wonderful cool morning here today, the Sunday of Indianapolis and Monaco F-1 and the Charlotte 600. I might run the weed-eater after a while. I'll wear safety goggles and gloves, and some tick spray. Also a dust mask to keep out the pollen.

Update: I'll bet something was nagging at you about this post. I looked it up, and confirmed a wisp of a memory. Used to be the Indy 500 was run on a Monday, the actual Memorial Day. That's when it ran in '55, when Vukovich went over the wall. Whether my grammar school was out on Memorial Day would be harder to find out. My guess is, no, because the end of school was at hand anyways. But I think generally back when I was a kid I'd find out about the race afterwards, not from even radio, and there was no television coverage at that time. The race switched to Sunday in 1974.

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