What is so rare as a day in June? If you're a hard-core Indy 500 fan, the answer is easy: detailed information about what's going on at the Speedway in May. For the methanol and tire-dust junkies, Indy is not just a four-hour extravaganza on the final Sunday in May, but a month-long ritual of rising tension. The problem, if you're of that breed but live east of Decatur, Ind. or west of Kentland, is that there's likely to be precious little information coming your way.
Oh sure, on May 4 most papers run the traditional picture with a caption saying something like BRENT BRAVEGUY WAS THE FIRST DRIVER TO TAKE TO INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY'S FAMED 2.5-MILE OVAL AS THE BRICKYARD OPENED YESTERDAY FOR THE MEMORIAL WEEKEND CLASSIC. But after that tease, you can bet that the media will forget about Indy until the end of the month. Even agate-spewing USA Today rarely includes more than a couple of the fastest practice times in its stats.
But of at least equal importance to Indy fans is who's not going fast (A.J. hasn't been over 194 all month); who's snakebit (Mario blew up his third engine this week); who's getting desperate (Roger installed a parachute braking system). And the fans want all that Rona Barrett stuff that permeates the atmosphere when 40 or so normally nomadic race teams are camped in one spot for three weeks (What driver tried to take a wrench to what rookie's head in the Speedway cafeteria? What sponsor was seen talking to what other sponsor's star driver at St. Elmo's? What race queen fell out of her dress reaching for a canapé at last night's cocktail party?).
Well, there's a way to get in on all that good stuff. Both The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News make May-only mail-delivery subscriptions available throughout the U.S. Between them they report every bolt that works loose, every harsh word snarled and most of the juicy rumors—at least those that are rated PG-13. And not just on the sports pages, either. Society columns keep breathless track of the comings and goings of the name drivers, the richest sponsors and all the high-rolling hangers-on. Every columnist seems to have an opinion about the latest developments from what is invariably called the Track, as if there were no other. And those opinions sometimes create their own developments. A couple of years back, Star columnist Robin Miller, who is an amateur race driver himself, managed to offend A.J. Foyt with some unpleasant comments, earning Miller a noisy public confrontation the next day with the four-time winner of the 500.
April 7, 1986
Of course, with reporters swarming over Gasoline Alley desperately trying to fill up their papers' three to four pages of daily Indy coverage, the racers have found the perfect way to play an intense mind game. A crew chief will tell a reporter, on the QT of course, that the reason the Sheared Polymer Special went 2 mph faster today was that he'd changed the toe of the front wheels. As soon as that's printed, which the crew chief fully knows it will be, 32 other crew chiefs haul out their toe gauges and start twisting wrenches. Which is fine by the crew chief in question, because what actually did the trick was an adjustment he had made to the car's rear wing. By now, most mechanics know that ploy, so the really clever crew chiefs tell the reporters the absolute truth—some of the time—about what adjustments they make.
And there's nowhere else but in the pits to find the esoteric statistical minutiae on which a dedicated Indy Car technoid dotes. Stuff such as the time and speed of each of the four laps of a driver's qualifying attempt. A sudden variance on one lap tells a sharp-eyed scrutineer that the driver probably made a mistake on that lap, a precipitous overall decline could indicate the car was overly sensitive to the temperature of its tires, which is indicative of an improperly set-up suspension. The 11 o'clock network news doesn't provide that kind of information; the Indy papers do.
The cost to get in on all this courtesy of The Star—28 issues, May 1-28—is $13. For The News—24 issues, no Sunday editions—the charge is $8. Outside the U.S. the price is double. The papers share the same address: P.O. Box 145, Indianapolis, IN 46206-0145. The subscription deadline is April 23. Considering that to an Indy Car junkie, the street value for such information is almost incalculable, it's a bargain.