When people ask for my favorite Indy 500 driver, I really don’t have one.
To me, Indy is about the you’ve-got-to-be-there-to-
Oh yeah, and it’s about the beer and partying, both of which I don’t do. Just give me a diet coke, one of those massive tenderloin sandwiches they sell at the speedway and a weekend without rain. I’ve been going to the 500 since 1974 and will be sitting in the Turn 3 grandstand again on Sunday, and that’s all I ask.
If I went with the sentimental favorite to win the Indy 500, it would be Tony Kanaan. The poor guy has been one of the fastest around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for years, but he has hit more walls than Bryce Harper. He also has struggled to get his car up to run-with-the-leaders speed this month, so I’ll leave Kanaan in the sentimental favorite category and feel good if magic does happen.
My pick, again, is Helio Castroneves. Partly because I like seeing him climb the fence in his victory celebration but also because it would be really cool to see another four-time Indy winner this year.
Castroneves and Dario Franchitti are both three-time winners, but Franchitti’s Honda-powered car has been a pig during practice and qualifying. Of course, Franchitti’s car was oinking its way around the speedway last year before Honda came up with a more competitive engine for race day, and he climbed his way through the field to win the race. He starts 17th this year, and anything can happen, but I just don’t see it this time for Franchitti.
Castronoeves has run well all month and will start eighth. His Penske team has struggled terribly in earlier races this season, but Indy is a place where experience on the track and in the pits makes a huge difference.
Barring some bad luck — which is entirely possible in this race (Castroneves was a contender midway through the race last year until a tire from another car’s crash bounced into his wheel and bent the suspension) — he’s the guy I’d bet on if he’s among the leaders in the final 20 laps. So I’m going with Castroneves to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as Indy’s only four-time winners.
The closest I have ever been to the world-famous Brickyard was about 10,000 feet while flying into O’Hare International Airport from Louisville.
Even from that altitude, the track looked huge and I can only imagine what it would look like from ground level. That being said, attending the Indy 500 in person is not on my bucket list. (Sorry Kirby).
That also being said, it does not keep me from guessing who might win the Indy 500 in 2013. I have no clue, actually. But I do have someone in mind.
My choice to win the Indy 500 is Dario Franchitti and not just because he already has three victories at The Brickyard under his belt.
No, this is all about the Scottish speedster needing a little pick-me-up following the late January news that he and actress Ashley Judd are getting a divorce, ending a 10-plus year marriage.
I figure the dude is so bummed right about now that he will go pedal-to-the-metal for however long it takes to cover 500 miles and drive circles around his Indy competitors.
Back in the day, when I would occasionally listen to the race on radio rather than watch it on taped delay, my fondest memory would be the announcers trying to keep up with the action. “Let’s go to turn one and Chris Economaki,” and all-too-often the response would be: “They just went past me, so let’s go to (fill in the blank) on the backstretch.”
It doesn’t matter what sport it is, the guy who has my support is not necessarily the favorite or the most highly regarded. It’s the one who goes for it. I love guys who step up to the challenge, guys who play despite injuries – sometimes over doctor’s advice – guys who don’t care about the money, guys who think that second place is the first loser. I love gamers because they play for the purity of the game, they play to become a champion. They’re all-in and they go all-out.
Michael Jordan was that way. So was Reggie Jackson, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Derek Jeter, Tiger Woods, Hale Irwin, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and on and on. Those were warriors who played without excuses.
A.J. Foyt, the Indy 500 four-time winner, was that way. Some people, including me, thought he was just a bully but I’ve come to appreciate him for his drive and fierceness.
Which brings me to my pick, the guy who I can pull for because I believe he is one of those warriors – Marco Andretti. He won me over in 2006 not with a victory but his narrow loss to Sam Hornish Jr. He was passed on the final turn and lost by 0.045 seconds.
I remember what he said afterward, music to my ears.
“Second place is nothing,” Marco said. “They don’t remember people who finish second here. They really don’t. You gotta take advantage of every shot. How many times did my dad finish second? He never won it and neither did I.”
Love that attitude. Finishing second is nothing. He’s right.
He sits on the front row Sunday with as good a chance as any driver – or any Andretti – to win it. Five different drivers from the Andretti family have combined to make 80 starts at Indy. Mario Andretti – Marco’s grandfather – is the only one to win, in 1969, a race tainted by deadly crashes. That has generated the “Andretti Curse.” Just more for Marco to deal with.
Curse or no curse, he’s my warrior.