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May 23, 2013

Shawn Wood's motorsports column: Sights and sounds of Indy

The headline on the press release from Ed Carpenter Racing read "The little team that could."

Carpenter and his one-car team defeated the Goliaths of the sport -- Andretti Autosport and Team Penske -- to win the pole for the 97th Indianapolis 500.

He is the first American to win the pole at Indy since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006 for Team Penske. Hornish also won that race.

Carpenter's pole speed of 228.762 miles per hour was the fastest since Hornish Jr. (228.985 mph), also in 2006.

For many years, the road to Indy wound though the ranks of midget and sprint cars of the United States Auto Club (USAC).

Drivers like Bobby Unser and A.J. Foyt made their names crossing America in midget and sprint cars before landing at Indy.

Even legendary Pennsylvania sprint car driver Tommy Hinnershitz raced at Indianapolis. He made three 500 starts (1940, 1941 and 1948) and had a top finish of ninth in 1948.

It has been a while since a dirt-track open-wheel racer has led the field of 33 into Turn 1 on race day.

Carpenter, who lives in Indianapolis, is the first owner/driver to win the pole since A.J. Foyt in 1975. He also won the inaugural Freedom 100 race for Firestone Indy Lights series in 2003.

Carpenter, who raced USAC midgets and sprints, carries the open-wheel banner Sunday. He won the series' last 500-mile race at Fontana (Calif.) last year, and his best Indy 500 finish was fifth in 2008.

It didn't matter who was the driver on pole day, as the speeds climbed, so did the crowd's anticipation of the announcement of 230 mph.

That's just a part of what makes this place so special. To hear and feel the passion of the fans as the speeds climbed from 227 to 228 to 229, each time the roar grew louder.

When Will Power, who had one of the best chances to knock Carpenter from the pole couldn't do it, the place erupted.

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