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The Callahan Report: The Smell of Indy is in the Air

21 May 1999

INDIANAPOLIS: The smell of burning rubber and methanol fills the air. The sun heats the surrounding asphalt like a frying pan. Shirtless, white-skinned businessmen and kids playing hooky from work and school fill the grandstands. Welcome to Indy.

They are all here for one thing. They are here for personal fun. Some find it by watching the cars and drivers. Some find it socializing with co-workers and friends. Others use it as a day to cater to that special client. Whatever the reason, Indy is a place for entertainment.

The drivers of the Indy racing league did not disappoint on this the final day of practice before qualifying for the 1999 Indianapolis 500.

Top speed of the day went to Greg Ray once again. Ray took to the track just after it opened at 11:00 a.m. He wasted little time in posting the top speed of the day at over 227 mph. He was followed by two-time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyendyk who posted a speed of more than 226 mph late in the day.

The speeds were posted when expected. Typically, the speeds rise during the traditional "happy hour" at the Speedway. Between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m, the sun sinks slowly behind the grandstands on the front straightaway. The track cools as the track darkens. The result is a fitting end to a day of fun and excitement. The speeds increase dramatically as closing time draws near.

That was not the case on this day. Many of the teams were satisfied with their cars and headed for the garage area early after a hard week of work.

It is still Indy. Surroundings and actions of the drivers change every year, but the feeling of being at Indy is still the same. It is an atmosphere that is hard to explain. It becomes a long weekend of entertaining friends for many local residents. Others fans travel from nearby states to watch their favorite drivers make the world's richest auto race.

For whatever the reason, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is like a magnet to many folks. That magnet will be stronger on Saturday as the prime seats in the grandstands will begin to fill up shortly after the gates open at 7:00 a.m. It is a tradition for many families to head out early to get their special seat. It is a ritual they perform on an annual basis.

The weather is expected to be race worthy Saturday morning after an overnight front moves through the area. The fans making their annual trek to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway should not be disappointed.

Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 begins at 11:00 a.m. and concludes at 6:00 P.m. only those drivers who attempt to qualify on opening day will have a shot at the coveted pole position and the big money that goes with it. Qualifying will conclude Sunday.

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot photos and racing art, please visit The Racing Image Galleries and The Visions of Speed Art Gallery