My parents took my son to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in his life yesterday. James, who just turned fifteen months old, stays with Grammie and Grampie (we all do the cutesy grandparents' names, right?) during the day when I have to work and my wife is on her nurse rotation.
Like my dad, he's obsessed with cars. His first word was car. Everything with wheels - cars, trucks, tractors, etc. - he calls "car". Everywhere I walk in the house, I trip over a toy car. He sort of says it more like "cah" instead of "car", thanks to my Boston native father-in-law for that genetic flaw, but he still means car.
My dad wanted to take James to the track last year, but my wife and I nixed the idea because he was so young. He's spent the last few months talking about finally bringing him out, and he's been looking forward to this week for a long time. My mom snapped this picture of James and my dad during that first trip, and although I don't want to be Twitter over-sharer dad (that's for Instagram!), I felt like I had to post this one:
I sat and stared at that picture for a long time last night. I was thinking about how many photos exist that are exactly like this one, dad and son or grandfather and grandson, together at Indy. Unfortunately, the photo with my dad during my first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn't so great.
Maybe it was because I was an assh--e, 17- year old kid or maybe I was scarred from experiencing a urinal trough for the first time (I still am), but at the time, I didn't appreciate that moment.
As a kid, I thought the Indy 500 was just cars going around in a circle. Racing wasn't really a thing where I grew up. None of my friends watched it. I didn't get why my dad wanted me to stay inside on gorgeous Memorial Day weekends to sit in front of the TV for four hours to watch a race in a city I had never been to. I didn't even really like cars. When my dad would talk about the engine specifications of 1960s GTOs or Indy 500s he had attended in the 1970s, it was like he was speaking a different language. We'd even stop at the Studebaker family burial site so he could re-tell the same story about their automobile empire every time we'd visit my grandparents at their cemetery in South Bend.
I didn't get it.
Needless to say, I came around, but it was after I had left home. I came to appreciate the Indianapolis 500 thanks mostly to my four college roommates from Lebanon, and our Coke Lot campouts during college. Shotgunning Natty Light by a campfire, and eventually, attending the race itself, became the highlight of my sports calendar. We used my dad's tickets to attend many of those races. Although he had been in Connecticut for thirty years, he had continued to buy four seats to the 500 every year - in the off-chance that he would make the trip or in case someone else in the family (<cough> his son <cough>) wanted to experience it.
I remember when I first started getting credentialed for the race, I would call him on practice days from the grandstands and put the phone in the air so he could hear the sound of the cars. As the years went on, I'd call him as I'd make the walk over from the campsite to his seats on raceday. I'd save him the morning copy of the IndyStar with the field of 33 on the front cover. He was excited that I was finally excited about it. That's how much he loves this place.
I didn't mean for a picture of my dad with my son to spark a long essay about our family's history at the track, I just found myself staring at that picture, and seeing the look on my dad's face as he held his first and only grandson at perhaps his favorite place.
I think I finally get it now.