Column: Line Drives — Curiosity reveals answers at Indy

[This is my column in the May 29 issue of The Commercial Review.]

SPEEDWAY — As a sports writer — really, any journalist — we’re supposed to be curious.

In addition to writing about how things happened, reporters write about why things happened.

Part of our job is to be curious. To ask questions.

Last year covering the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, my main goal was to just take in the entire experience — the massiveness that is the track, the size and speed of the machines, the number of working media members and all the other behind-the-scenes happenings.

During my sophomore stint Sunday at The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, curiosity started to kick in.

I was no longer an Indy 500 rookie. I had been to the track before and I had a better idea of where things were.

While in pit lane during pre-race activities, I took a ton of photos — steering wheels, actual wheels, ground-level shots of the cars, paint schemes, gas tanks, friends in the crowd.

I even took video of Alex Tagliani’s pit crew practicing replacing tires.

As cars began getting into their respective positions on the grid, I continued to take photos. But I also began to ask questions.

I approached the car of JR Hildebrand and put my hand on the back of a pit crew member to get his attention.

He turned to me, and I asked, “How much does one of those tires weigh?” as we stood near the front of the car.

The front? He — I hate myself for not getting his name — said it weighs about 35 pounds. The rear wheel, which looks like it might be about 70 pounds, is actually 3 pounds lighter than its counterpart.

Then we started talking about money.

Without asking, he told me the wheel runs about $1,500, with the tire roughly $400. I did some quick math in my head, remembering that I had seen four or five sets of tires at the pit box for most drivers.

That’s a lot of money.

It was my turn to ask another question, to which I did not expect an answer.

“How much does one of these cars cost?”

It was a lot less than I imagined.

“It’s about three-quarters of a million,” he said.

So we started to talk about the vehicles for his team, Carpenter Fisher Hartman (CFH) Racing. The two other CFH Racing cars belong to Ed Carpenter, the team’s namesake, and Josef Newgarden.

Carpenter, a Butler graduate and Indianapolis native, was involved in a brutal crash the morning of May 17 before qualifying. That crash led to IndyCar changing a rule on the fly — teams had to qualify and practice that weekend with the same car and specifications they would run during the actual race.

This particular crew member said his team had already gone through three cars leading up to the Indy 500. And, Carpenter was knocked out during the race because of yet another accident 112 laps into the 99th race Sunday.

Four cars in less than a month.

Some quick math: about $3 million down the drain.

Just the cost of doing business in motorsports.

But if I wasn’t curious — if I didn’t ask — that’s information I would have never known.

Each time I’ve gone to the race I learn more about the Indianapolis 500.

With the 100th running of the “500” is 367 days from today, I can’t wait to see what I learn next year.


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