Much has changed since Tom started coming to the Indianapolis 500 42 years ago! But the race weekend parking lot gig is still in effect, and first Tom, Micah, and I needed to link up with Tink at Lake Haven RV – just 11 miles from the track. From here we would be staging an early Thursday morning get-away with a goal of reaching our parking lot as close to it’s 7:00 a.m. opening time as possible. A few minutes too early and we would be held up in a long line of RV’s waiting to enter the lot – a few minutes too late and all the good spots would be taken! We wanted prime real-estate up close to 16th Street for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500!
Thursday night at Lake Haven . . . the Silvermine had a crisis! The brand new AC (just installed 24 hours previously) did not work! Our first hint was when we woke up at 1:00 a.m. and there was no moving air, and it was getting warmer by the minute. I am not going to document all the diagnostics we went through trying to fix the system, but in the end we just opened the windows and turned on the fan and were comfortable for the rest of the night. The glitch worsened as we packed up to leave for the track at 6:00 a.m. and discovered we had no battery – it should have been fully charged after being plugged into electric all night. Sticking to our time schedule we decided to wait until we got to the parking lot to fuss with the problem.
The parking lot opened at 7:00, and there was a line up of several miles of campers waiting to turn into it. But, we had taken a short-cut that took us through downtown Speedway and moved us to the front of the line with a red-light, right-hand turn -- without having to line-butt! We drove into the parking lot at 7:03 and had our choice of spots up front, within view of our seats in turn 2!
Electrical problems continued to rear an ugly head as we chose our spots and set up our weekend conclave. The colossal generators were all up and the cords were all laid out, and Tom and I got electricity as soon as we plugged in; TInk not! The electrical crew came around and fussed with the box a little bit, and plugged her In. A puff of smoke later, her TV satellite “brains” component was fried, as well as her TV. Later we found that the converter was also smoked.
Meanwhile, Tom was on the phone to Airstream, and they were trying their best to walk him through diagnostics to our electrical issues. It was all pretty complicated over the cell phone and the final decision was to wait until Tuesday after the race to take the Silvermine back to the factory. Meanwhile everything inside worked off of shore power – except the air conditioner! After a quick lunch we located a Camping World just 15 miles away that had the equipment Tink needed to put her TV back in order, and we bought a couple fans to keep the air stirred.
Late in the afternoon we got the impression that our AC was working again! We closed the windows, went to supper, and crossed our fingers hoping for the best.
Supper was Micah’s treat, at the new 1911 Grill owned by Sara Fisher. There was an indoor go-kart track, but none of us sprung for a driver’s seat.
Back at the parking lot, we gratefully entered a nicely chilled Airstream but just couldn’t figure out why it was working again! During an evening walk around the lot we met some racefans from years past, and met some new people and saw some new sights. This motorcycle/tricycle especially caught my eye with it’s wonderful tribute of music artists from the past.
Today the rest of our crew, Calb and Halie, were to land. It was the day of the Indy Lights race and there was a lot of traffic moving into the area, but C&H arrived with no problems and moved in and set up their little corner in our 8 parking spots.
Caleb brought with him some Fuzzy's commemorative bottles of Vodka and gave one to Tink for her birthday. Then we all jumped into the truck and headed for the Speedway Kroger store where the bottles would be signed by Ed Carpenter and his racing team (Joe Newgarden and JR Hildebrand) and team sponsor Fuzzy Zoeller.
Saturday morning Caleb and Halie were sorry to have to miss the autograph signing. Tom, me and the Bruno, loaded in Caleb’s car, went searching for two new batteries for the Bruno. I walked into an Interstate Battery dealership and told the two guys: “You have a chance to be heroes today!” They accepted the challenge – had two of the batteries (rather hard to find ones) and helped take out the old ones and put in the new ones in just 15 minutes. We stopped at a gas station to put air in the Bruno tires, and at Walmart to buy a grill cover for it in case of rain – and were back to the parking lot in 2 hours.
Following sandwiches for lunch, the rest of the crew headed to the track. Rain seemed to be passing us by again today – but it was hazy, hot and muggy. With the AC continuing to work (can’t figure that out!) I decided to hang around base camp!
Not wanting to put a lot of effort into driving for supper, we headed for downtown Speedway (a couple miles away) and the new Big Woods restaurant that had opened just a couple weeks earlier. Good food, and it will be on my list to go back to next year. Then, back to the parking lot where we took Tom's annual 500 Quiz, and chose our driver's for the race. Micah bunked in the Airstream with us again, while Caleb and Halie settled in the make-shift sleeping palace in his mini van.
Some heard the cannon shot at 7:00 a.m. to announce the opening of the track – I did not! Some had plans to head to the track early – I did not. Tom, Micah, Caleb and Halie headed over at 8:00 with a plan to show Caleb and Halie where their new seats were. These seats were just built this past year and Tom managed to snag two tickets in this exclusive handicap seating just down from the start finish line – with an elevator to ride to the seats! The good news is that Micah would not have to carry Caleb to the top – the bad news was that we would not all be sitting together on the top of turn 2 after more than 20 years!
I saw the crowds had thinned out through the security gate where I would enter the Speedway, and left for the track myself at 9:00. Even with 350,000 people crowding in the Speedway, I had a pretty good idea where to look for Tom and Micah. They weren’t exactly where I thought they would be -- hanging on the fence to watch the action in gasoline alley – but close enough! Reunited, we walked on towards the track and stepped onto it for a picture. Later in Pagoda Plaza we located Caleb and Halie.
It wasn't long before we split ways again, with Caleb and Halie heading off for their seats -- and us heading back through gasoline alley, past the museum, through the tunnel under the track, and up to our seats on the outside of turn 2. Looking over our shoulder from the top row, we could see the Silvermine in the parking lot directly across the street. In front of us we had an impressive view of the track!
We made it in time for all the important pre-race ceremonies. (All of us were relieved when we didn't have to hear Florence Henderson sing America the Beautiful year!)
The drivers got in their cars, started their engines, and took off for the traditional three parade laps. Parade laps and yellow flags are about the only race pictures I can capture! I don't even try for pictures of the cars going past us under a green flag at over 220 mph.
The last 30 laps of the race, with a lot of lead changes, was exciting. We kept thinking about Caleb and Halie who were able to see all the pit stop drama and passing. It was electrifying for us to see who would come out of turn 1 leading the pack each lap. In the end, it came down to fuel strategy and, of course, good driving. Alexander Rossi won the race on fumes and was unable to take a victory lap so I could get a picture of the rookie winner. I had to settle for a picture yanked from the internet to end this story!
We don’t go camping any more . . . we go ‘streamin’ ! The “SIlvermine and His” is our 2016 23' Airstream, and ‘streamin’ is the name we use to describe our adventures. Stream along as we document everything from weekend trips to longer summer excursions and full-blown vacations. You know what they say: if you’re not in an Airstream – you’re just camping!
Tom & Ella Brown