INDIANAPOLIS -- Race Day. Finally.
We'd been in Indianapolis all week, hanging with Red Bull Cheever's team, getting an inside look at everything behind the scenes. We met various crews and drivers, saw the parade, hit some parties and soaked up all events leading up to the unique experience that is Indy. At long last, we were ready to see what the hoopla's all about.
This particular year, it meant observing what might have been the oddest race of all time.
6:45: Wake Up Call. Dear God, race day starts early. Peeking out the window, we see good news. The rooftops are soaked from overnight rain. Which means it couldn't possibly rain anymore. Right?
7:48: Seen outside boarding the celeb bus to the track: Kato Kaelin, Average Joe (so average, we can't remember his name), Michael Madsen, Patrick Dempsey, Chris McDonald, Neal McDonough, Jessie Palmer with Jessica (he may never start, but he can pick ladies. She's even better looking in person), Rupert, and Nick Lachey, meaning Miss Simpson is close by.
You could attach this entire bus to a script, and not one studio exec in L.A. would green light your picture. Not even with Charo on board.
7:52: We board the Red Bull Cheever buses to IMS, complete with traffic-avoiding police escort. It's the first time we've ever been around this many flashing sirens that didn't result in an awkward phone call to our parents.
8:07: Fifteen minutes into the bus ride. By now, we imagine the celebs are probably drinking Crystal out of Jessica's shoe, reveling in Hollywood decadence. Of course, we'll never know. The first rule of Celebrity Indy Bus? Do not talk about Celebrity Indy Bus.
8:31: Walking to the Red Bull Cheever Hospitality Tent, known in true Red Bull form as the Energy Station. In terms of starting the party, we're apparently late. Despite huge jet blowers nearby, creating more noise than a landing strip at LAX, we walk by two dudes passed out under a tree in the infield. Rock on, brother.
9:25: The rain's starting to really come down. Might as well start drinking. Beer #1.
9:39: The rain has almost stopped, but we notice the clouds moving rapidly along the sky. This worries us, until we realize we have no idea if that's good or bad. It's times like this you wish you had Al Roker on your speed dial so you can call him for an explanation. Or just to rap a little. Either or.
Later, a guy in the bathroom tells Brian, "It's all clear after this front moves through." A drunken amateur meteorologist relieving himself can certainly be trusted.
10:08: We notice every hot girl in the energy station is married or engaged, save a few of the Red Bull girls, who seem to realize we have absolutely no chance whatsoever of getting them on camera for ESPN.
10:11: The wait is really getting annoying. Why can't these wusses just drive in the rain? It didn't stop Stallone's fearless racing team during "Driven."
10:17: A guy's been asleep on a love seat for at least an hour. Good times.
10:38: Andy's fourth beer, Brian's third. Our guy on the love seat must have briefly woken up, because he's sleeping in mirrored sunglasses. Apparently, he needs to block the sliver of light that might be sneaking through total cloud cover and the energy station's tented ceiling. Or he mistakenly thinks he now looks "rock star."
11:08: Pre race festivities begin. This thing could actually happen.
11:22: Tony Kanaan walks by with his wife. Both of us want to be race drivers in the worst way.
12:17: Down in pit row behind Ed Carpenter's #52. Rupert's with us. The guy gets his own track pass: a sketched picture of him in a pirate's outfit, with his name and "AARGH!!" underneath. Seriously.
12:53: Apparently, on a hot track, a pit credential is only valid when hanging from a red lanyard, not a black one. Andy gets escorted behind a barricade by an old coot security guard. He eventually tells a younger security guard that he's writing a story that has to be done from pit row. She's eventually sick enough of him to look the other way.
1:02: Jim Nabors steps to the Winner's Circle to sing "Back Home Again in Indiana," providing incontrovertible evidence for Brian to collect from Andy from a past "Jim Nabors: Dead or Alive?" bet. Andy later realizes he was thinking of Don Knotts, also very much alive.
1:03: Another security guard asks where our red lanyards are. A vague explanation about doing a piece on Rupert buys us a little time. This won't last. Oddly enough, they seem to only notice Andy's black lanyard, not Brian's.
1:10: First sign for optimism. Simpson has performed the National Anthem without forgetting words (though some dispute exists about whether she said 'perilous flight,' instead of 'perilous fight'), and Lachey managed to drop the green flag with only a minimum of instruction.
It takes only one lap to realize how freakin' fast these cars are. It's truly awe inspiring. Jaw dropping. Pity it takes us about 20 laps to actually be able to follow the action.
1:21: Andy gets asked yet again where his red lanyard is. He finally relents and heads to the Red Bull Cheever Racing suite to watch from above. Again, Brian somehow gets left alone.
1:40ish: Rain delay again. Twenty-nine laps down. It's raining hard. Brian joins Andy up in the suite. Back to waiting, back to drinking.
2:14: The sun's starting to break. The P.A. guy plays "Here comes the Sun," followed by "One way or another." That's why he gets the big bucks.
3:15: On our way back to the Energy Station to chill for a bit, we pass dozens of fans leaning up against the grandstand looking like IMS skid row. The whole thing has the feel of a fraternity party that's gone on hours too long. People are trying to hang on, but nobody can hack it anymore.
3:29: The Race starts again. The helter skelter atmosphere is fitting, since both of us have stuck with beer from since the rain delay.
6:12: The race is over. Buddy Rice wins in a rain-shortened 180 laps. The heavens are darkening like an oil slick. The sky is dumping water like a shower on crack. People are told to leave the track immediately.
Brian heads down to the impromptu victory lane, and is stopped by security.
Brian: "I'm trying to get to victory lane."
Guard: "You can't go farther. We're trying to clear everyone out of here. There's a tornado warning. One touched down on the grounds. It might be a good time to go." Say no more. Brian bolts to the Media Center to avoid the weather (There's also press conferences going on, but that's more incidental than professional.)
6:54: An Announcement: "Attention in the Media Center, if you feel unsafe because of the weather, please move to Level 2." Brian didn't feel unsafe before. That has totally changed.
7:03: Andy bolts through the garage area to the energy station to seek shelter. Some jackass steps in front of him. Andy avoids running him over, but loses his balance, wipes out, and flies across the rain soaked pavement like it's a Slip n' Slide. We've said it before and we'll say it again: Running someone over is always the better call.
7:15: Brian faces a choice -- stay and get involved in post race press conferences and potentially miss the bus back to the hotel, or get to the bus. He learns the IRL transcribes all press conferences and posts them on the Web site. End of decision.
7:30: When we meet up at the bus, the driver won't go, fearing the bus will be swept up in the twisters and deposit us in Terra Haute. After about 15 minutes, we're loaded up and taken back to the hotel. Indiana's looking like Noah's gonna sail by. Safe to say, this has not been your typical Indy.
To the best of our knowledge, the guy on the love seat's still asleep.
Andrew and Brian Kamenetzky are frequent contributors to ESPN The Magazine, Page 2 and 3. They filed periodic updates from Gasoline Alley and beyond throughout Indy weekend for ESPN.com.