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10 Reasons for Every IMS Fan To Be Thankful

Thanksgiving is a time for family, for introspection about the route of our lives since last November and for counting blessings.

It’s no different for fans of racing and of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So here are 10 things every IMS fan can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Doug Boles: The president of every racetrack in America appreciates motor racing and its fans. But IMS President Doug Boles takes that fever to an unprecedented level. This guy loves, lives and breathes IMS and its events. He’s a tireless champion for everything that IMS brings to the city of Indianapolis, Central Indiana and the world. He always puts the fan first in his mind because he IS one of you – a fan first, track executive second. He’ll talk with the Alley Cats and Fortune 500 executives in the same stride, then often leaning down to pick up a piece of litter on the property and dispose of it in the trash can a few seconds later. The man is a marvel, a dynamo whose soul is embossed with the IMS Wing and Wheel logo. Anyone who has met Doug or seen his sincere passion for IMS and its fans knows this and should be thankful for him.

Lights at the Brickyard: Remember the days when IMS was open for the Month of May and largely dormant for the other 11 months of the year? That feels like the Dark Ages now. IMS is a vibrant, busy place with spectator events from May through December, starting with the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May and ending with Lights at the Brickyard in November and December. Lights at the Brickyard is unique as the only major event on the IMS schedule that doesn’t revolve around competition. It’s a wonderful way to see the Speedway in a different light – pun intended! – and create new memories with your family at the Racing Capital of the World.

IMS Museum: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum has been a fixture in the Speedway’s infield since the current building opened in 1976. Thousands of fans and visitors stream through its doors every year, admiring the machinery and memories of races dating all the way back to the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. If you haven’t stopped by the Museum or never have visited (gasp!), do yourself a favor and stop in. There are plans for special displays in 2018, such as the magnificent A.J. Foyt exhibit in 2017, and you can stand next to some of the most iconic cars in racing history. You also can get a close-up look at the most majestic trophy in sports, the Borg-Warner Trophy. Plus an appreciation of a sport’s past only enhances your enjoyment of its present.

Jimmie Johnson: NASCAR is undergoing a generational shift, with iconic stars Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick gliding into retirement over the last three seasons. The Cup Series still is in good hands for the future with young talent such as Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, 2017 Lilly Diabetes 250 winner William Byron and 30-something superstars like Kyle Busch. But NASCAR fans should be grateful that the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet, Jimmie Johnson, is still racing in the Cup Series. Johnson is one of the greatest drivers in stock car racing history, with 83 victories and seven Cup championships. He is a master of IMS, with four Big Machine Brickyard 400 victories. He’s also a terrific, classy ambassador for NASCAR and motorsports and one of the most generous, genuine human beings you’ll find in any walk of life. Appreciate him as one of the Mount Rushmore drivers of the sport, as he won’t be around forever.

Donald Davidson: Donald Davidson is the only full-time historian for a racetrack on Earth. It’s a special job for a special guy. Almost every IMS fan knows Donald’s story. He saved for years to attend the Indianapolis 500 in 1964 from his native England and wowed drivers, fans and media with his incredible knowledge of the race and its history. He returned to Indiana in 1965 and has been here ever since, entertaining and informing millions of fans with his otherworldly memory that can recite the starting fields of every Indianapolis 500, along with anecdotes about every driver and many of the cars. His talks around the Midwest in the spring are a staple of the pre-race promotion for the “500,” and his “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” radio show is a decades-long fixture of the Month of May in Indianapolis. But despite his incredible gift of memory and passion for IMS, here’s why Donald Davidson is a true treasure: He’s one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet. He makes time for everyone and is a gracious gentleman, one of the finest ambassadors for IMS and the sport of auto racing who has walked this planet.

Helio Castroneves: Helio Castroneves’ career as a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver ended after the 2017 season, but let’s be thankful he will continue to race with Team Penske in the Indianapolis 500 in May 2018 and onward. Helio has been an ultra-competitive staple of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” – he won his first two starts, in 2001 and 2002 – for so long that it’s hard to imagine the race without him. His charge toward leader Takuma Sato fell short by an agonizing .2011 of a second last May, but it showed he still has the speed and desire in his early 40s to become just the fourth driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. Don’t count out Helio for that fourth win – ever. His driving style is made for IMS, and the experience gained over 17 starts in the race will make him a prime contender for victory every time he’s in the field of 33.

Yoshi Muroya: There’s no doubt that Takuma Sato and Kasey Kahne both put together sterling drives to win the 101st Indianapolis 500 and Big Machine Brickyard 400, respectively, in 2017. But for my money, the clutch performance of this season was turned in by Japanese pilot Yoshihide Muroya in the Red Bull Air Race. Muroya needed to produce a run for the ages in the final round to win the exciting race in October. He did just that, flying to a track-record run that earned him the event victory and the Red Bull Air Race World Championship in one of the most breathtaking performances in the last decade at IMS. Muroya is a wonderful ambassador for the sport of aerobatic plane racing, a dignified, polite gentleman quick with a smile and even quicker in the cockpit of a Zivko Edge 540 airplane.

Bro-mance: 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato and Red Bull Air Race World Champion Yoshihide Muroya both are racing celebrities in their native Japan, but they never had met each other before the Red Bull Air Race event in mid-October at IMS. Fast-forward two days after their initial meeting at that event, and you would have thought they were buddies since childhood. The bond between two racers from the same country was instant, the ebullient Sato meshing with the quieter Muroya over shared secrets of speed, one on asphalt and one in the air. It was uplifting to see Sato cheer for Muroya from the hangar area with the vigor of an SEC football fan on a Saturday afternoon. It was even more heartwarming to see Sato celebrate Muroya’s dramatic World Championship victory in the hangars, on the Yard of Bricks and even by asking Yoshi a question during the post-race press conference!


Jim Cornelison: Replacing the legendary Jim Nabors as the singer of “Back Home Again in Indiana” during Indianapolis 500 pre-race ceremonies is a tall task. Nabors’ stirring rendition of the unofficial national anthem of Hoosiers everywhere was as much of a part of the race’s storied traditions for decades as the command to start engines and the balloon launch. No one quite knew what to expect when Chicago Blackhawks national anthem singer Cornelison took over the job last May. But when I and fellow IMS employees heard the opening notes of Cornelison’s soundcheck rendition of the “Star-Spangled Banner” on the day before the race last May, the hair raised on our necks, and we all ran to the Media Center balcony to listen. We immediately knew something special was happening. And when Cornelison nailed “Back Home Again” during pre-race ceremonies – who can forget how long he held the final note on “HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” – a new tradition was born. Cornelison wanted to return in 2018, and we were grateful to have him. You should be, too.

Fernando Alonso: The shocking announcement last April that two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso would skip the Monaco Grand Prix with McLaren to race in the 101st Indianapolis 500 with Andretti Autosport was met with a mixture of excitement and reservation by some race fans. Yes, it was great to see Alonso’s “throwback” spirit in wanting to win the world’s most prestigious race despite never having driven a Verizon IndyCar Series car. But Alonso came from Formula One, which had a reputation of being a cold, aloof series during its eight-year run from 2000-07 at IMS. Would Alonso come to IMS and demand the spotlight as a petrol-powered diva? Would he be competitive? Would IMS fans embrace or shun him? Alonso answered all of those questions even before he turned official laps in May, enthralling millions of live stream viewers with his speed during a special test in early May. He also showed incredible humility throughout the month, bonding with fans and fellow drivers and performing every PR and promotional task asked of him with grace and class. And he was a marvel during the race, qualifying fifth and leading four times for 27 laps before an engine failure ended his race while in contention for victory with just 20 laps to go. Alonso has indicated he will focus on winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2018, but anyone who witnessed his classy, fast Indianapolis 500 debut this year will be more than happy to welcome him back to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” race any time he wants.

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