In 1999 I didn’t go to the Indy 500. I drove several friends to East Lansing Michigan for a Frisbee tournament. I did find a pizza place to watch the race on TV. In 2000 I did pick up Mike on the way to Indianapolis. Again, no planning before arriving in Indianapolis. I know I wasn’t going to park in the Indy 500 Motel parking lot, but I wasn’t worried, something will happen, and it did! Right across the street there was a sign saying ”parking $10.” I did a quick u-turn at the light and I’m parked for the night. This time we don’t have to wonder if the van is going to be there when we return to it 5 hours later. The man running to show did say three times we had to be out of there by 5am. That’s not a problem, the line to the infield starts at 5am sharp!
Another night of meeting people, buying airbrushed t-shirts and having fun until 5am. The only thing different was Mike offering to drive at 5am in to the infield. I did the previous time, so it was his turn. Well, another change was a couple of guys in a van that were parked next to mine talked Mike into following them to another entrance that lead to the snake pit. It sounded fun to me, so I didn’t care. I took the opportunity to lay down on the bed and get off my rear. Since I’m sitting in a wheelchair all day, I can get pressure sores on my rear if I sit too long. For me, 8 hours lying in bed on my stomach or side and off my rear is ideal. I don’t have to be sleeping, which I’m usually not. I sleep only about 6 hours a night. I can get away with 6 hours of getting off my rear for a night, maybe two in a row, but I’m starting to push it. Anything less then 6 hours and I have to pay close attention for the next several days. Going to Indy, I have to pay close attention for several days.
After 10 minutes of riding in the back of the van on the bed, I finally put my head up. There were fields of grass everywhere. (Oh crap) Mike, where are we? I don’t know! Mike lost the van he was following. It happens! After an hour or maybe two of driving around in circles, Mike found a gate into the race track. But by that time the infield was full! Oh well, it happens. I’ve been lost many times myself, or what I like to say, ”on the scenic route.”
We ended up parking in a big grass over flow parking lot outside of the race track. It was about 10am and Mike had been looking at a grill that was still hot with coals next to where we were parked. He grabs our food from the cooler, used someone’s grill and cooked himself breakfast. While he did that I got out of bed and had my breakfast a can of Mountain Dew. I have one every morning instead of coffee.
The previous time we went to Indy, we really couldn’t see the race, so this year I brought a 13” 12 volt TV. We were hoping to watch the race on it. Nope! The race was blacked out. The race is a sell out every year, but the money hungry people still black out the race? Why? Mike did find a NASCAR race to watch. I think it was the Coca-Cola 600. Within 20 minutes, Mike is snoring. I got an hour or so of sleep, but more important, 5 hours off my rear. I’m good to go? I had one problem though, well two? three? Mike was sleeping right in the doorway where the wheelchair lift goes into the van. My shoes were on the other side of him. My toothbrush and comb were on the other side him. And my shirt was on the other side of him. Even my bed, if I wanted to lay back down was on the other side of Mike. And Mike’s going to be sleeping for four hours, minimum.
Crap! What to do? I do have a old ripped t-shirt on that I was wearing under my shirt last night on for just a layer. When you’re from the UP, you learn to dress in layers. Awww, the heck with it. I’m going into the race track infield. I can buy a new shirt while in there. As for the shoes, oh well!
We must have parked in the way back 40. It took me an hour to get to the main part of the infield where they sold the t-shirts, hats, food, etc. Some where on my journey someone gave me a can of beer, which came in handy because I was refilling it with water at every water fountain I found. The temperature at the race that day was in the 90’s. It was sunny and hot and I was starting to over heat.
When its hot out, your body changes to keep you cool. Your blood vessels near your skin become bigger, so more of your blood is close to your skin, the surface. Also you start to sweat. The sweat evaporating draws heat away from your body which cools you down. When you become cold, the opposite happens. The blood vessels near your skin (surface) and especially your hands and feet contract. If you ever played hockey at the outside park rink knows about cold feet. Your body’s goal is to protect your organs. You can live without a hand or foot. My body, being paralyzed, doesn’t work like that. My blood vessels don’t change when I’m hot or cold, and I don’t sweat when I’m hot. So I can become hypothermic real easy and I can over heat and have heat stroke in a matter of minutes on a hot sunny day.
The 74th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial weekend 1990 was a hot sunny weekend. It was probably in the 90’s. I had been drinking water, but my can was out of water and I was over heating. I went from shade to shade looking for a water fountain, but with no luck. My core body temperature was over 100 degrees and rising fast. The worst part of over heating for me is as the hotter I become, the weaker and dumber I become. Cooling off becomes my only concern.
I was wheeling along the main grandstands along the main straight of the race track looking for shade and water. I looked down one of the tunnels and spotted a drinking fountain. A cool dark tunnel with water! I’m not going to die! I go to the opening and ask the security guard if I could please get some water that I was in danger of heat stroke. He said not without a ticket. I asked if he knew of another water fountain, but he said he didn’t know. There was no shade anywhere nearby and I was in trouble. When your body temperature gets over 104 degrees, you start to cook from the inside. I didn’t have the energy to look for another water fountain.
Finally, I looked at the security guard and told him I was going to that water fountain and I just started wheeling. When I reached the water, I filled my beer can and poured water over my head and arms. I spent the next 20 minutes plus drinking the water and pouring it on me. It was at least 20 minutes before the feeling of passing out started to go away. I poured so much water on me there was a 6 foot circle of water on the cement under my wheelchair. I probably looked like a wet rat to the people walking by. My hair was wet, my torn t-shirt and blue jeans were soaked, and I wasn’t wearing any shoes.
I sat at the water fountain another 20 minutes just trying to regain my strength. I was exhausted. If I could have, I would have laid down and took a nap. I hate over heating. I looked over toward the security guard. He quit looking my way a long time ago. Then I realized after all the water I had drank that I had to go to the bathroom. I looked at the security guard and thought that if he would have been nice, I’d go look for a bathroom in another place outside of this seating section. But since he didn’t, I started wheeling towards the seating area instead of toward him to leave.
After a personal pitstop, I wheeled out into the seating area to find out I was on the main straight away of the race track. I had no idea I was going to be there. My brain had been it survival mode since I arrived by the grandstands. To the right were the seats and to the left of me was pit lane. On the other side of pit lane were the race cares flying by at 200 plus miles an hour. If you’ve never been to an Indy car or NASCAR race, bring ear protection. Those cars are loud. I wheeled down the isle way starting to enjoy myself again. I stilled looked like a soaking wet rat without shoes, but I didn’t care. Soon I ended up at the winner’s circle where they are going to place the winning car and drink the milk. Its a tradition for the winner of the race to drink milk out of an old fashion glass milk bottle. I don’t know when it started, but its been a tradition as long as I can remember.
There was no one at all in the winner’s circle, just me! So, I went to the middle and popped a wheelie. I sat there for 10-15 minutes doing a wheelie. I am doing a wheelie where the winning car of the Indianapolis 500’s will soon be. How cool is that? I looked up into the crowd. There where at least 20 beautiful models up there waiting for the race to end so they could go to work having their pictures taken with the winner, the car and everyone wanting one. A couple smiled at me and waved when I looked up. One blow me a kiss. My guess is she knew someone that is in a wheelchair and was happy for me that I was out having fun or that I’m handsome when I have the soaked wet rat look going?
I heard over the loud speaker the the race was almost over. Maybe only a few more laps. Soon my quiet little winner’s circle was becoming crowded. When the race ended, I felt like I was in a mosh pit. The winners circle went from just me, to 100 people in minutes. I tried working my way towards the gate. It actually felt scary. It was probably only 25 feet to the gate, but it might as well have been 25 miles. People were getting really pissed at me when they tripped on my wheelchair. After 10 minutes, probably longer, I finally made it to an open gate going onto the race track. As I’m wheeling though, the security guard (a different one) looked at me and didn’t say a word. Everyone there had a pass hanging around their neck but me. I wasn’t even wearing a decent shirt or shoes. My plan was to buy a t-shirt when I reached the vending stands, but the heat had already started getting to me. The security guard knew as well as I that it was better for everyone if I was away from the winner’s circle and the crowd.
The first thing I noticed was the Borg Warner trophy. Its like the Stanley Cup of racing. It has the face of every winner of the Indy 500 since the very first race (Ray Harroun). There are 3 drivers that are on the trophy four times for winning the race. (A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears) I wheeled up to the trophy. There wasn’t anyone near it. I did stay 3 feet away so in case of a muscle spasm I wouldn’t kick it over. I didn’t to make the news being that guy. After that I just started wheeling around taking it all in. I was on the race track of the Indy 500 minutes after completion of the biggest race in America.
Then I spotted Tom Monaghan the owner of Dominos Pizza a Michigan based company. The driver that just won the 74th running of the Indianapolis was Arie Luyendyk. It was his very first Indy car win of his carrier. The race car he won with was called the Dominos Pizza Hot One number 30. I yelled out ”Tom Monaghan!” As soon as I did, this guy the size of a sherman tank jump in between us. So I yelled, “Congratulation!” The next thing I knew he walked over and shook my hand. Then he walked over to his driver, Arie Luyendyk and shook his. I didn’t follow him. If i had shoes on I might have.
Some of the most fun I’ve had in life happens by accident. I could have never planned a day like that one. And it all started because I left my house!!!