The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 23, 2013

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

Daily Item

---- — 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.

The 230-mph-barrier was flirted with, but not eclipsed. We may see that number next year.

There are other activities the surround the month of May that make this one Sunday out of the year so special.

While waiting to go out for my two-seater ride I was with a group of men and women from the Indiana National Guard who were about to do the Indy Racing Experience two-seater experience for the first time.

The look of awe and uncertainty on their faces was priceless as the two-seater sailed off into Turn 1 at 180 mph with its first passenger.

ESPN Classic airs some great 500s leading up to race day and there's nothing that will give you goosebumps faster than when you hear the voice of late long-time Indianapolis Motor Speedway public address announcer Tom Carnegie say, 'His voice has been an institution.' You know he's about to introduce Jim Nabors to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana."

Nabors, who missed the race last year due to health issues, is back to sing the song this year.

Then there's race day.

The emotions that coarse though your body on race day is something that can only be felt by each race fan when they come to Indy for the 500. Words do it no justice. It is even hard to describe the emotions you feel each day driving into the track.

Regardless of who drinks the milk on Sunday, our hearts are heavy with the recent tragedy in Oklahoma.

We must also remember that when the green flag drops on Sunday, somewhere around the globe, brave men and women of the Armed Forces have stood watch the night before in service to our great country to give us the freedom to cheer on our heroes. The blanket of freedom which has been fought for from Saratoga to Pearl Harbor to Afghanistan, has cost many great people their lives.

While you watch the 500 on Sunday or enjoy the Ray Tilley Classic at Selinsgrove Speedway in person, please take a moment to remember that many have paid a price for us to be at the race track today. That price we must never forget.

n Shawn Wood covers motorsports for the The Daily Item. Email comments to