Torque News Behind the Scenes at the Indy 500 - Day 1
It's my first time in Indianapolis so humor me as I recall the day's activities. The first thing that impresses me while approaching the airport is that this state is damn flat. There's nary an elevation to be seen, which I will appreciate in the morning if I go jogging.
Hoosier hospitality is evident right from the get go with the Firestone greeters who meet the arriving guests in baggage claim. One greeter notes I flew in from Philadelphia and proclaims, "The City of Brotherly Love!" When I tell him I'm from Hartford, Connecticut, without missing a beat, he says, "The City of Insurance." That's right. I'm from the Insurance Capital of the World and I'm darn proud this friendly Hoosier knows that!
Heck, even the bus driver bringing us into the Marriott is bursting with pride for his city. He apologizes that the airport is in the industrial section of the city because that means approaching from the ugly side of downtown. He'd rather bring us in from the Northeast, which he says is more residential. Before dropping us off he recommends heading out to the city's famous Slippery Noodle, a blues club with live music where John Dillinger used to hang out.
After registering and getting loaded down with cool swag, I run into Jimi Russell, communications specialist with Firestone, who has one of the coolest PR jobs going. He manages communications for Firestone Racing. That means traveling with the Firestone Race Tire team to manage at-track communications. He lives Indy Car racing like few others get to do. He's also a US Navy vet, which makes him even just a little bit cooler seeing as it's Memorial Day Weekend.
Jimi and I get to talking on how the Indianapolis 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world. He fills me in on the stats: 250,000 permanent seats and another 70,000 fit in the infield. I'm pumped to be here and doubly pumped by the fact we have a police escort to the track on Sunday morning. I'd hate to have to drive there.
The highlight of Friday evening has to be the reception Firestone throws for its invited guests and moochers like me. It is the only place outside of the track where all 33 drivers gather. The drivers patiently sit and sign autographs.
There's only one driver I seek out: #63 Pippa Mann who races with Honda. She's the only female in the race and I am determined to get an autograph for my two girls. After queuing up for about 15 minutes (and I say "queue" because she's British) I manage to snag her just as she gets up to leave. But, she seems genuinely excited to be signing an autograph for two young girls.
Is Pippa going to win? Probably not but she's made a new fan out of me. She finished 30th in 2013 and 20th in 2011 in her rookie start. I'll have to start following her on Twitter at @pippamann.
Lets talk a little Firestone business before completing this dispatch for Day 1. Philip Dobbs, chief marketing officer for Bridgestone Tires, outlined the tiremaker's new campaign, which is targeting females. He said they account for 50 percent of tire purchases, which is why they're launching a new ad campaign that tugs at romantic heartstrings.
Tomorrow we visit the track for a whole host of special events, including a soldout concert by Jason Aldean. I'll have to score an autograph for my sister (who had to explain who Jason Aldean is to me.) Follow along on Twitter at @indepthauto for pics during the day and on race day and check back tomorrow and Sunday for more dispatches from the Indy 500.