Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Brick(yard) shy

There's a hole in this Sunday morning, and it's loud and it's bright and there are people sitting in lawn chairs in front of campers in it, smoke rising in thin wisps from the breakfast fires while they crack open the first cold one of the day.

Yes, boys and girls, it's Brickyard 400 day at Indianapolis again. And for the first time, ever, I won't be there.

I was there for the first one, when the place was your basic mass of humanity, and a 23-year-old kid who grew up eight miles west of the Speedway won as the Mass Of Humanity sent down its love in thunderous sweat-blurred waves. And I was there for the 21st, when the place was a third full, and the kid-turned-elder-statesman won for the fifth time in an event that had lost its shine some years back.

I saw the Brickyard 400 when it was new and different (Holy gee, Martha, stock cars at Indy!) and when it became less new and different, and when it became what it is now: a race that too often turns into a 400-mile Tournament of Roses parade, with gaudy, blaring moveable ad campaigns circling each other nose-to-tail endlessly, endlessly.

I can't exactly say I'll miss that. But there's a hole in my Sunday nonetheless.

And if Jeff Gordon, the kid-turned-elder-statesman, doesn't win today in his long wave goodbye to  motorsports' most iconic landmark, I'll have a neat pair of bookends for consolation, assuming I've said goodbye to the Brickyard for keeps myself (and something tells me I haven't). I'll have come in with Jeff Gordon, and gone out with him. That's some pretty humbling company.

I'll be thinking about that this afternoon when I crash down on the couch and flip on the TV. I'll be thinking about the sheer magic of that first Brickyard, the fans wandering through the place wide-eyed in their Dale Earnhardt shirts and Jeff Gordon shirts and Ricky Rudd shirts. I'll be thinking about the 60-some drivers who tried to get into it (including A.J. Foyt, driving a Barney-the-Dinosaur-purple car).

 I'll close my eyes, and remember standing down inside turn one when the field came to the green.  I'll remember the animal roar of all that Detroit iron, and the black-and-white car of Rick Mast, the first Brickyard polesitter, leading them down, and the combustible August heat lying over everything like a collapsed tent.

 I had a camera with me that day, and as Mast dove into turn one, I raised it and snapped a picture. I still have that picture somewhere. It's one of the rare times I remember being utterly conscious of preserving not just a moment, but living, breathing history.

This will not be that today. It'll just be another Sunday, another Brickyard, probably three more hours of watching the Governor's Trophy Float chase the President's Trophy Float around and around.

It's only the hole in the day -- that odd, I-should-be-somewhere-else vacancy -- that will feel different.

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