INDYCAR Voices: IMS is our 'happiest place on earth'

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Yo! JR Hildebrand here, excited to get started doing a little writing for IndyCar.com. These columns will be coming at you every few weeks, so we will definitely be getting to know each other.

As we get acquainted, you’ll find that my interests cover a wide range of topics from the fine technical details of a current Indy car to NASA’s “Journey to Mars.” We’ll be looking at things up close, while also stepping back and taking stock of the big picture on occasion; from the past and into the future. We might even get a little weird now and again, who knows.

Rest assured, though, my friends, because whatever we talk about, it’s because I love speed, competition and the general pursuit of reaching new heights, so we will definitely have some fun.

In the meantime, before we get to any of that, let’s talk about something a little more top of mind since I just got it dialed in …

RACING IN THE GREATEST (*exclamatory expletive*) RACE IN THE WORLD AT THIS YEAR’S 100TH RUNNING OF THE INDIANAPOLIS 500.

Damn, that sounds good! Mike Hull (managing director of Chip Ganassi Racing Teams’ Indy car program, Scott Dixon’s strategist and all-around good guy) posted a tweet when cars rolled out for the recent test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, referring to it as the “happiest place on earth.” Now that’s usually reserved for Disneyland, but as it relates to those who have come to intimately know IMS over the years, I think Mr. Disney would understand the trademark infringement. It just gives you that feeling.

It’s so big, so expansive, so incomprehensibly grand; it possesses this majestic energy that tingles through your veins as you come through the main gate. On a practice day, you can sit on the pit wall and really take it all in for a moment; you can stand there and absorb every note that the lone car on track sings, knowing that with a little help from the wind it can be heard 10 miles away. You can hear the air being displaced around the car, sounding like a rolling thundercloud coming at you at 230 mph as it hurtles down the front straightaway, then blows by in a blur of paint, carbon and metal. You realize how incredible the little details of the place really are, and that in its expanse it contains some of our lifetime’s most incredible stories of man and machine.

On race day, you’re overcome by a converse sense of its size, with how rapidly the confines of the track seem to have closed in, shoulder to shoulder with other drivers and crews as now 300,000 people feel that same tingle of magic. The moment when our military’s finest airborne machinery comes into view during the closing verses of the national anthem can hardly be put into words – an emotionally charged flood of pride, nerves, excitement and conviction all wrapped in a quick surge of adrenaline.

If it doesn’t light a fire under you and make you at least for a moment think, “Yeah, that is bad ass,” then you, my friend, need to consider some form of treatment.

With all that said, you know what really makes it like that “happiest place on earth?”

It’s where dreams are made, ladies and gentlemen.

The vibrant dreams of full-grown adult men and women are crafted right around 4 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday of Memorial Day weekend every single year as a bottle of milk gets passed to the winning driver and team, igniting the spark that next year that could be you. It’s a dream that can drive you absolutely out of your mind, but the power of that dream is unrelenting. It’s why engineers spend endless nights in December and January crunching numbers, mechanics come into the shop with two feet of snow covering the roads to practice pit stops, and manufacturers spend countless hours prototyping and wind-tunnel testing body parts down to every last square millimeter. It’s why racing drivers will put their entire lives on hold and then out on the line come race day, just to have a shot at it.

That’s what it’s all about at Indy. For 364 and a half days, with that dream floating around in the back of your mind, you think about all the little things that you could be doing to give you and your team that slight added advantage when the time comes; it’s what makes the Indianapolis 500 so special. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way that the track owes you nothing, the race owes you nothing and any number of things can go wrong.

But therein lies the precise reason why I, for one, continue to come back. On any given Memorial Day weekend, it’s going to be somebody’s day. And along with at least 32 other drivers, I’ll be damned if I don’t make the most of that chance.

Now here we are, less than a month away from the beginning of practice for the 100th edition of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Is there still work (and racing) to be done between now and then? Yes. But it’ll be here before you know it and, speaking for everyone who’s getting prepared to participate, we can’t wait.

From the fans