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  • Writer's pictureTodd Rose

Obsession Five Hundred Miles Away from Home: An Essay

Updated: May 18, 2020

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway sits quiet less than 24 hours before the running of the 102nd Indianapolis 500.

Obsession noun ob·​ses·​sion | \ äb-ˈse-shən , əb- \ An idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind.

Around twenty years ago, my Grandma had given my siblings and me an electric piano keyboard. A pretty neat thing for young kids aged 4, 5, and 6, or around there. For our parents a source of unnecessary noise, I’m sure. Until we were in school we were not the most musically inclined children. Thankfully, for us, we didn’t need to be with this keyboard, for it had a demo button. Time and time again, we would push the button to listen to the earworm of a melody on near repeat. Though the keyboard probably had the name of the song on it somewhere, we never read it. Heck, at four-years-old, I wasn’t doing much reading any way. For the next twenty years, that nameless melody would be stuck in my head. You’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with racing. I will get to that part later. ************************************************************************************************************************ The Indianapolis 500. There isn't much I can say about it that hasn’t been said already. Since I can remember, the 500 was always in my life in one way or another. While our house was a NASCAR house growing up, the Indy 500 always seemed to work its way in somehow. Whether it be when Tony Stewart or Robby Gordon did their respective doubles, or my first grade teacher and I talking about who won the 2003 running of the race, Gil de Ferran. The first 500 I can remember watching, though is the 2002 running. Oddly enough, I was watching it at my Grandma’s house. It was Helio Castroneves who won...or Paul Tracy, it still depends who you ask.

Sebastien Bourdais enters turn three during the 102nd Indianapolis 500 in front of a packed crowd.

It would be two years before I watched my first full Indy 500. Well, it wasn’t really a full Indy 500 as rains came and ended the race after 180 laps, or 450 miles. Buddy Rice was declared the winner as the sky let loose a deluge and even a tornado. That year’s race was watched in Illinois at my aunt’s house, as we had traveled there to celebrate my cousin’s college graduation. The two years that followed saw trips to camp interrupt my viewing of the 500, granted we had races of our own at camp. Our family has a yearly tradition of crafting small boats to race against one another in a creek that feeds into the Escanaba River. Both years I had to wait until I got home to tune in to Speed Report or check online to see who won - Dan Wheldon (2005) and Sam Hornish Jr. (2006).

It was around this same timeframe I received A.J. Foyt’s autobiography (the well read book can be seen above) from my 6th Grade English/Reading teacher. I can still remember the first time seeing the red cover sitting on the bookshelf next to my desk at the back left corner of the classroom. I grabbed it and began reading right away, despite what was happening in class. With a two week break for Christmas and New Year’s ahead, I asked if I could borrow the book, I was told I could just keep it! That book has been read each May, and then some. It was the first of many generous gifts that fed my hunger and quenched my thirst for Indy (see below).

I was lucky enough to receive the above race programs (9th & 11th Annual Hoosier Hundred, 42nd & 46th Indianapolis 500, & the 1960 24 Hours of Le Mans) from a friend of my dad who grew up in Indiana. Beginning in 2008, my best friend Sam and I began a yearly tradition of waking up early to watch the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 at noon, and the Coca-Cola 600 in the evening. This tradition continued until 2015 when we finally decided to make a pilgrimage to Indianapolis to witness The Greatest Spectacle in Racing in person. I read my A.J. Foyt book cover to cover in our hotel room the night before. A heated 20 lap battle to the end saw Juan Pablo Montoya claim his second Indianapolis 500 victory. We returned in 2016 and 2018 to see then rookie Alexander Rossi win against all odds on an economy run, to quote Allen Bestwick, and Will Power demand respect with his first win in the event. 2019 saw the win belong to my favorite driver, Simon Pagenaud, his first in the 500. That year I was in Illinois again. This time, I was staying at my sister’s while my family and I visited her for the weekend. My Dad and I watched the race lap for lap, on the edge of our seats for the final battle to the end between Pagenaud and Alexander Rossi.

Anticipation mounts prior to the running of the 100th Indianapolis 500. A day that celebrated history by making more of it.

************************************************************************************************************************ By autumn 2019, every extra moment I had between class, homework, work, and extracurricular activities was spent watching old Indianapolis 500 broadcasts and highlight films on YouTube. The history, pageantry, and sheer competition of Indy had enveloped me entirely. With college graduation on the horizon in December, my goal was clear. The Indianapolis 500, this time as more than a fan. Okay, graduation first, then the Indianapolis 500. Everything was Indy by this time. My Communication Capstone project was about the IndyCar Safety Team. I wore my 2015 Indy 500 Pin (below) for that presentation and wore it again during my graduation ceremony. Indy was always with me in some way.

Of course, with the current situation regarding COVID-19, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 has been put on hold, alongside all other major sporting events nationwide and worldwide. Like everyone’s plans, mine, too, were blown sky high. But I still maintain my hope of achieving my goal of reaching the Indianapolis 500 as more than a fan. I want to eat, breathe, sweat, and live everything that makes Indy what it is. ************************************************************************************************************************ As Indy cascaded every aspect of my life in fall 2019, I tried my best to keep focused on the goal of graduation. Helping me do this was my buddy Adam, who I began working out with Monday afternoons. After we finished, most weeks, I would give him a ride home. One Monday, we went through our normal routine of workout then ride home. After I dropped Adam off, I turned on the radio. I flipped through the stations, as I always do when turning on the radio, then hit my preset for 96.7 - the classic country station. Instantly, my mind knew the song playing, though I had never heard the real thing before. It was the song from the keyboard my Grandma had given us all those years ago. I grabbed my phone and opened Shazam while I sat stationary at a stop sign. The result showed up immediately. “500 Miles Away from Home - Bobby Bare”

Twenty years after my Grandma gave us the keyboard, and seven after she had passed, I finally knew the song that had frequented my mind oh so often. A week or so passed and I found myself at my childhood home in Escanaba. As you can guess, I was watching old Indy 500 footage. As I lay in my bed, I began to wonder about 2020, and the future ahead. Maybe another trip to Indianapolis in May was in the books, maybe, just maybe, I’d find a way to be working there by that time. “Gosh,” I began to wonder, “just how far away is Indianapolis from Escanaba.” I typed the two locations into Google Maps, and my question was soon answered. It was 503 miles. That was a little too on the nose for me, considering the song I had just rediscovered. There was no way it could be right. So I typed in my home address and the address of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My friends, I think the image tells the story.

With the number 500 now placed firmly in the front of my mind, I had to know more. I’m not usually a superstitious person, but I was maybe "a little stitious", to use a line from Mitch Hedberg. I decided to look up the meaning of the number 500 itself, spiritual or otherwise. Maybe that would help put things to rest…

(From AKA the first Google result): “The number 500...symbolizes major life changes related to the process of your spiritual development. It also symbolizes change of cycles and phases in your life, as well as endings of important things and situations, and making space for new ones. This number also signifies potential and new fortunate opportunities, adaptability, resourcefulness, freedom, independence, adventure, learning lessons from experience, wholeness and making significant decisions and choices.” Things, as you can assume from the above, were not put to rest. They still aren’t. However, if anything can be taken from this, it is a positive attitude. A positive attitude I have clung to during these tough times through the death of my Uncle Mark, the shut down of the world and my search for a post college life, and most recently the loss of my Grandpa. Whatever is happening, is happening for a reason, good or bad. It may not be clear now, but someday it will be. If nothing but that mindset comes from this whole 500 thing, my mind will be satisfied. But I still think there may be more to it than that. More, hopefully, to be discovered somewhere down the road. As my college advisor Dr. Pat Jerome would say, “There is no such thing as a coincidence.”

Coincidence or not, there is no place I'd rather be right now than 500 miles away from home. I think many, maybe even you, reading this have that same feeling, except instead of 500 miles it's however far you are away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Rest assured, we will all be there again someday.

By Todd Rose

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