Before 1993 I knew nothing about racing in the United States besides it being a host for Formula One Grand Prix events, but when my fellow Brit Nigel Mansell departed to race in IndyCar, my eyes were opened; Suddenly I started to read about it in Autosport where I’d ignored it before, and thanks to Papyrus software titles like NASCAR Racing, Indy 500 – The Simulation, IndyCar Racing and IndyCar Racing II (also known as CART Racing), my attachment to racing in North America grew even more as I raced in my own home.
My daughter Suzie taking in her first visit to IMS in style back in 2013.
I now live three hours north of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and have worked in the sim racing industry since 2005. Fast forward to the present, and I’ve been lucky enough through work to experience Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a way that few have or ever will…
Indy is a very special place and one that I respect immensely. Once you form an interest in a place like this, there is such an enormous amount of historical stories to read about that it gains an almost spiritual status. Not only that, but it builds on that catalogue every year by hosting some of the greatest racing seen anywhere on earth.
I’m lucky to have a few acquaintances who work there, and I leveraged these when I licensed the track to be included in a racing simulation my company were working on. One of those has been around sim racing a long time and spontaneously calls me “Legend” as a nickname. While this name doesn’t really fit me as a name, it does fit the Speedway, and he remarked to me that I was going to be able to “feel the ghosts” when I visited to work on the track.
Deafening silence on the start/finish straight at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
When it came to surveying the track, I visited alone and literally walked every foot of the infield, roadcourse, apron, oval and outfield… I even walked up and down every grandstand and tower. I drove, by myself, around the same turns my heroes had lived, raced, and in some cases died, taking a brief second to think about the places I’d seen a car impact, disintegrate, race wheel-to-wheel or arc beautifully around the turn on the edge of control. But at the same time I worked, I felt at rest; I had this strange sense of belonging right where I was.
Many people get a sense of spirituality from visiting a historic site, going to church, or visiting somewhere their ancestors lived before them. For me, Indy is a place that gives me a sense of freedom, inspiration, and puts me at ease… That feeling only halts, momentarily, when someone has a big hit and you wait to hear news. Oddly if the news is bad, being at Indy to hear it seems to help, and I wonder if this is the same phenomenon that allows people to find solace in their religion, while dealing with grief or loss that could could easily be attributed to the very God to which they pray. Indy is a dangerous place to race, and in a way the concrete walls now draped in SAFER barriers are responsible for many deaths, so why does being inside those same walls give me feelings of rest in spite of whatever is going on around me?
I’m self-analytical, I’ve thought about this a lot, and it seems like the set of emotions that have driven me for most of my life surround the grieving process that I’ve looped through multiple times. The places I’ve felt most open, free, intimate, and personal are often the same places that have hurt me in some way. They’re the places that I either love or hate. The places I either want to be, or want to run away from. Never in-between.
He may not have qualified, but seeing Alesi (pictured) at Indy was simply amazing for me.
Indianapolis Motor Speedway is both extremes. Never in-between. Never normal. Even when the crowds have gone and the track falls cold, Indy still traps the memories within those concrete walls. The soul of everyone who has been there remains, because that’s what a soul is, and that’s what a ghost is. When I visit a place I find spiritual I think about those who lived there, and in some cases died there. For you it may be where you married, where you grew up, where you last saw someone…
I think in life you’ve got to figure out where your ghosts are, where your souls are, where you can feel free or inspired. Those are the places you need to visit, to feel, and those are the places you need to keep visiting to give yourself a richness in life that you won’t have without them. Explore yourself, travel, learn about these places, and think not just about where you are, but about the people who came before you.
I felt the ghosts at Indy.
Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.
He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.