Indianapolis – wearing green” I call in sick on carb day On the T-shirt, Rick Leppert took a swig of beer and studied a less familiar scene from his first trip to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the outbreak.

A betting lounge where bros hang out and place legal bets without bookmakers. A group of women with bare navels take selfies in Instagrammable artwork suitable for social media likes.

What happened at Indy in the name of AJ Foyt? ! Suddenly too modern for an Indianapolis 500 veteran like Lepert?

“I just hope they keep the tradition they’ve always had,” he said Friday, two days before the big game.

Well, about that. The first release of thousands of colorful balloons to kick off the Indianapolis 500 in 1947 was shelved this year due to concerns about the environment and wildlife impact.

Still, a day at Indy evoked the essence of America, from chants of “God Bless America” ​​and “Back to Indiana,” to 33 riders sprinting over a yard of bricks, and wins bathed in milk and fans The people met in the snake pit.

“In 1947, balloon launches were probably the coolest thing in the world,” said IMS President Doug Boles. “In 2022, balloon launches don’t have to be like that. To a lot of people, it means a lot of things. But it’s not as cutting-edge as it was in ’47.”

Yes, balloons, the empty Indy from the 2020 pandemic, and reminders of the dwindling crowds a year ago are all buried in the past. This year, Indy went all out.

Not only track officials – but also businesses in the Indy area – gleefully welcomed 300,00 roaring fans back to the track at full speed, double the total a year ago. The young driver couldn’t wait.

Like Dutch rider Rinus Veekay, who has only had two Indy 500s in the past two years.

“It’s been an even more interesting month and we’ve returned to a lot of normal activity that we haven’t had over the past few years,” said driver and team owner Ed Carpenter. “It’s Rinus’ third time, but it’s really his first 500. He’s never been through a parade, a public driver’s meeting, an autograph session, and just paused. Seeing him go through something he misses The thing and the energy it brings, not just on race day, but every day we’re here on the track, it’s fun.”

Jimmy Johnson has won at the Brickyard four times during his NASCAR career.

But this is Indy in May.

Johnson, who covered the race for NBC Sports last year, made his Indy 500 debut on Sunday in front of a crowded, eerie scene worthy of what has been called “the greatest spectacle in racing.”

“The energy I experienced was unlike anything I’d ever seen before, and it was half the size,” Johnson said. “I can’t wait until game day to feel the energy.”

Veteran driver Romain Grosjean tries to be “cool and quiet” in his first Indy 500.

“Obviously the crowd there was great,” he said of the 50,000 fans who showed up on Friday.

According to a pair of known Indy 500 champions, the Indy rookie has only glimpsed the future.

“You don’t see anything,” said 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan.

“It was like nobody showed up today,” added two-time Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya.

The rehearsal on the 2.5 mile highway was fantastic. Just after noon on Friday, the pits opened for cars, and the first “carb day” crowd in three years burst out cheering for the Indy 500’s final practice session. Even a light rain could not quench their spirits. Colton Herta’s horrific rollover accident only briefly cooled the mood (Herta was uninjured). They mostly stopped at the pit lane challenge, then squeezed into a concert hosted by Rick Springfield.

Country music star Blake Shelton is the grand marshal. Jim Cornelison doesn’t have a top 40 hit, but the singer who sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” with Jim Nabors will be on the chart again sixth year in a row. Even in 2020, he keeps up the tradition of singing the Indy 500’s unofficial national anthem, not much in front of drivers and staff.

“It doesn’t have that empty feeling,” he said. “Last year you’d be watching from behind the pagoda, nobody. It would be fun to have everybody back.”

Some traditions are not for revellers, such as the quiet moments in the dark of the track on the eve of a race.

“You have a truck on the track with some beer,” Cornelison said. “You just sit in the middle of the track and have a beer with Doug Boles. Well, most of the work is done. It’s on. It was a special moment the night before, having a beer in the middle of the track.”

Don’t worry, there’s going to be a lot of cold in the snake pit on Sunday.

This isn’t going anywhere.

“The negative pushback I’m hearing is less about removing the balloons, it’s more about, and that’s just the first thing, we’re going to start removing a whole bunch of debris that’s part of the tradition,” Boles said.

No way, he said. Also, Roger Penske doesn’t allow this.

Related videos: