Race fans have long lamented the absence of short-track drivers in the Indianapolis 500.
However, Ed Carpenter has qualified for the pole for the second year in a row, and he cut his teeth on midgets, sprint cars and Silver Crown cars.
Carpenter is the ideal candidate to lead the other 32 snarling racecars into the first turn. He is not only very fast but the only driver in the field who owns his own car. There is no question this is an expensive proposition, but this is just further evidence of how much Carpenter wants to race.
I recall Carpenter when he was maybe 10 years old, when he rode into the pits at the Indianapolis Speedrome on the back of Tony George’s Harley. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway president, George, was there to race his Legends Car, and Carpenter was there to help.
Later I recall watching him race at Lincoln Park Speedway in a midget. His mother and sisters sat beside me in the pit grandstand. They had a lot of questions about the races and the other drivers. However, it was clear that they were his biggest fans.
While Carpenter is a racer to the bone, he clearly has not depended solely on his talent in the cockpit to make his way through life. He went to school at Butler University while he was racing.
It would be great if Carpenter could win a least one Indianapolis 500 before he retires from the cockpit. However, his greatest potential value to the Speedway might be for him to take over its operation some day.
Carpenter’s stepfather, George, had a lot of ideas for the speedway and the competition there.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sell most of his ideas to the competitors or, for that matter, to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board of Directors. George felt that a stock block, flat-bottom car would cut the cost of champ car participation.
He also felt the reduction in cost would draw more car owners and drivers from the ranks of sprints and midgets. It made sense to me then and it still does.
There is no guarantee that the Speedway or the competitors will be more reasonable when Carpenter decides to hang up his helmet. However, we can hope.
Fans like new preliminaries
It seems that having a hometown boy on the pole for the second year in a row isn’t the only thing that the fans liked in this year’s Indianapolis 500.
Qualification crowds were at least as big as they have been in recent years. And, the crowds for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis exceeded the Speedway’s expectations. The Speedway estimates that, when the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is considered, attendance at preliminaries increased by more than 50,000. In addition to the raw attendance numbers, the fans apparently spent more as well. The tickets for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis were obviously higher, and the take for concessions was higher as well. After all, it was their only opportunity to purchase a cap, shirt, or jacket from the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
About qualification weekend attendance, Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles said, “I don’t have the numbers for (May 18), but it was a really good crowd for what was traditionally the first day of qualifying. When you look at both days we will have had a real nice weekend.”
“Just the Saturday of the Grand Prix weekend, the attendance was at least 10 times more than last year’s opening weekend. We’re really pleased how that played out, especially the reception to the infield spectator mounds. I talked to people who said they were die-hard Indy 500 traditionalists, and they enjoyed it and want to
Tim McKinney writes a weekly racing column for The Republic. He can be reached at 379-5632.