The 2010 Indy 500 was hot. Not hot as in nice and sunny. Hot as in being inches from death, as in seeing the shimmer of Lawrence of Arabia on the horizon, clawing through the desert sands having already thrown off your shirt and shoes, your eyeballs cracking into small dusty shards. Really hot.
When I was nine in 1957, my father took my brother John, who was 18, to the Indy 500. My sister and I stayed home with mom. The three of us went to the Detroit Zoo, itself a very hot and dry place to see the animals in their tiny cement cells pacing back and forth and being hot. On the way home, our car died. I can still see my mother’s hands clutching the steering wheel while we stalled in heavy traffic, the steam rising out from under the hood of the car.
If there was a birth, an emergence, of my feminism, it was on this day. Why was my brother at Indy while we were at the animal penitentiary? Worse, why was he at Indy where they had pit crews and we were bumper to bumper paralyzed with ignorance. What makes a car overheat? What does one do about that? Let’s call Dad. Oh, Dad’s at Indy. With John. Male privilege screamed at me before I knew its name.
I grew up with the sound of Indy populating Memorial Day weekend. We listened on a transistor radio propped up on a window sill while we did chores outside, scrubbed our old barbecue grill and made potato salad. The race went on for hours – they drove slower back then – and the suspense was extreme and wonderful. And the sound. I loved the sound of racing.
Later, as an adult, I went through a period of going to a lot of car races – open wheel, stock cars, funny cars, and Indy cars. The race crowd was rough, guys all looked like Harley ads and the women were Dolly’s, tight jeans and balloon hair. We all listened to Waylon and Willie and drank beer while we were driving. It was a brief period, thankfully, but it deepened my love of cars, their look, their speed, and their sound. Most of all, their sound.
The sound of Indy is sublime.
The sound when the drivers line up, jockeying back and forth, revving behind the pace car, the thunderous sound of acceleration when the flagman waves the start, the orderly humming under yellow. You can almost close your eyes and read the race.
We sat shoulder to shoulder and knees to backs in our seats up under the roof at Indy. So hot and the air so still that the heat thrown off from the cars was the only breeze. The heat this time almost made it better.
I was at Indy, not home at the zoo. With thousands of people and famous racers. Cars that bucked standing still they were so powerful and heat that wouldn’t quit. So hot that day, it could turn a person inside out. That’s how hot it was.
At Indy in 2010.