Special to TSO: Butch Welsch’s review of the 108th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, his 77th straight Memorial Day weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By Butch Welsch

Ed note: Once again, thanks to long-time subscriber and TSO friend Butch Welsch for sending along his thoughts from the Paddock Penthouse. This years was his 77th straight “Greatest Spectacle In Racing.” If you haven’t yet, we recommend purchasing Butch’s most excellent book about his experiences as an Indianapolis 500 fan: The Indianapolis 500: Memories of a Fan.

I traditionally like to give a re-cap of the 500-mile race from my viewpoint in the Paddock Penthouse. While the live telecast attempts to capture all of the different things that occur, there are some things that I believe many of you would like to know about that aren’t captured by TV. For those not in the St. Louis area, I must point out that KSDK, the local NBC outlet, left the race about the middle to cover the weather. They never came
back to the race, gave updates or anything. Local people are considerably upset.

Speaking of weather, it was the early story at Indy as well. We sensed there might be an issue because the cars were not allowed out into the pits. Their absence was a sign. The early morning Pre-race activities continued as scheduled. Then, at 11:15, everything was halted, and we fans were advised to seek cover. The Speedway even broke precedence and allowed fans to go to their cars with the promise they could get back in.

Pass-outs have never been allowed previously at the Speedway. This was a good plan for fans parked relatively close. The thought of making the ¾ mile walk to the car and back didn’t impress me. We all met up at Wendy and Matt’s seats in the Paddock. They are covered and about ½ way up. We thought we would be dry there. However, as the wind picked up to 60 MPH and the rain was coming sideways, we were just as vulnerable as everyone else.

The ten of us huddled together, played a few word games and waited for it to end.

It’s not the way we would normally want to spend race day. Around 2:00, the rain stopped, and the track driers were soon in action. Having been at the Speedway in rainy conditions, I was surprised at their efficiency. Within 2 hours, the track and pits were dry, and the cars were brought out and placed on the grid.

It’s time for a comment about the race fans. This event was delayed by weather, depending upon your point of view, anywhere from 4 – 6 hours. Nevertheless, by a little after 4:00 PM, when the actual pre-race festivities were started, it appeared that EVERYONE was back in their seats. Truly amazing.

Then, to make it even neater, after Josef took the checkered flag, he went into the grandstand for several minutes. Then he took the ride up the lift with the car to Victory Lane and all of the celebrating that goes on there. Next, announcer Dave Calabro, reminded us that Josef would be coming around the track to acknowledge all the fans. By this time, it was getting pretty close to dark. I looked up to the fourth turn and was absolutely amazed to see that it appeared that half of the fans were still there to salute the champion for the second year in a row. You can’t ask for more dedicated fans than those at the Speedway on Sunday.

As the cars were pushed to the grid, the sun was peeping through, and we became optimistic that there would be a race. Kudos to the Speedway for reducing the times allowed but maintaining the age-old traditions including Driver intros, Taps and the National Anthem. Once drivers were in their cars, Jim Cornelson presented “Back Home Again in Indiana,” followed by a second flyover by the Thunderbirds Air Force team.

Again, an amazing coordination job by the Speedway to have the flyover at exactly the right time in the music – despite being roughly 4 hours later. It is always impressive, but thinking about the coordination it took on this day was truly amazing.

Roger Penske gave the traditional “Drivers Start Your Engines,” and the field was off on their four parade laps. Unfortunately the excitement didn’t last long, as soon after the green flag fell, it was replaced by yellow. In the first turn, a multi-car pile-up occurred, and just like that, three cars were eliminated.

Following the clean-up, we were green again, with Scott McLaughlin leading the way. While there was a bit of changing places behind him, everyone seemed to be biding their time until the first round of pit stops. That came on lap 22 when the engine in Katherine Legge’s car expired.

This was a little early for normal pit stops, so Conor Daly and Sting Ray Robb split from the main field strategy and stayed on the track. On this alternate strategy, the two of them would end up leading a total of 45 laps. This was interesting because Daly and Robb were at the head of the field, not being passed. It became apparent that they were being allowed to lead by the pack at a reduced pace to enable fuel savings. Since the race was less than ¼ over everyone seemed content riding behind the two. In the end, Daly earned the “Hard Charger” award for moving up the most places. He started 29th and finished 10th.

On the second round of pit stops Rinus Veekay pulled out into the fast pit lane and made contact and was required to restart at the back of the field. On the next round of stops, Kyle Kirkwood made contact in the pits with his car sitting at a 45-degree angle to his pit box. He lost several seconds being straightened out so he could be serviced in his pit and then was given a drive-through penalty besides. I mention these two because both wound up being at the very back of the field following their infractions. However, we watched them both as they progressed forward and congratulations to both as Kirkwood worked his way back to a seventh-place finish, and Veekay ended up ninth.

Speaking of drive-through penalties, it was disappointing to see Kyle Larson make a slow drive-through following his pit stop on Lap 134. The penalty wasn’t surprising as he lit up the tires big time as he entered the pits for that stop, and a penalty seemed likely. It was sad for Kyle as he had driven an excellent race, staying within the top 10 throughout until that miscue. Unfortunately, Kyle’s indiscretion occurred much later than the others, and he didn’t have as much time to make up the time lost. He wound up in 18th place, and to contribute to his misery this day, after two helicopters and one jet ride, he arrived in Charlotte as part of his attempt to do the double. As he was preparing to take over his car, lightning and rain ended the race, and Kyle never had a chance.

I suspect, and I am hoping, that this won’t be the last time we see Kyle attempt the double.

While giving credit for impressive drives from back in the pack, we have to recognize Scott Dixon and Alex Palou. Dixon started in 21st and was actually in contention for the lead near the end, winding up 3rd. Palou started 14th, even leading a few laps before settling for a 5th place finish just behind the top 4.

When Pato O’Ward took the lead coming to the white flag, I told my son: “Pato is going
too soon, and going to leave Josef too much time to re-pass. When Newgarden decided to pass on the outside of Pato O’Ward, it was very reminiscent of Al Unser, Jr.’s attempt to pass Emerson Fitipaldi on the outside in the same location a couple of laps from the end of the 1989 race. The difference was that Little Al and Emmo touched wheels sending Junior to the wall. Emmo, went into a dirt track like slide, but saved it and went on to win. In that case being on the inside was the place to be. Cudos to Josef for making the pass and making it stick. For that pass alone he deserved to win. Josef showed his true enthusiasm for winning by again going through the fence and up into the mele of fans. He truly seems to enjoy this way of celebrating his victory.

We happen to be right above where he comes through the fence and get a great view of hiscelebration. He definitely takes Helio Castroneves’ fence climbing a step further, to the delight of the crowd.
Josef’s win got us thinking. He is only 33 years old.

Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) celebrates his second Indianapolis 500 win with the fans (Photo Courtesy of Penske Entertainment- Joe Skibinski)

The two oldest winners were Bobby Unser and Al Unser, Sr. both won at 47 years of age. That means that potentially Josef could race another 14 years. If he races even ten more years, especially if he
stays at Penske, then the thought of another four time winner certainly becomes a possibility.

There you have many of my thoughts from one of the best Indy 500’s ever. While not really wanting to condemn another racing discipline, when was the last time 5-7 cars were battling for the lead in the last 10 laps of a Formula 1 race. There is no doubt that when it comes to real racing Indy Car has the best and the Indy 500 tops them all.