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The moments that made us Indy 500 fans for life

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MAY 26: A view of the pagoda during pre-race introductions during the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 26, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — We are just days away from the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500.

The 2021 edition of the race marks the return of fans in the stands for the 500-mile race, which was won last year by Takuma Sato in a pandemic-delayed race in August.

The Month of May evokes a special nostalgia for all Hoosiers, reminding us of childhood memories and family members who have since left us.

We asked the News 8 staff to share their most memorable Indianapolis 500 moments.

Our panel:

  • Scott Sander, Daybreak anchor
  • Kylie Conway, Daybreak anchor
  • Nina Criscuolo, weekend Daybreak anchor
  • Brenna Donnelly, weekend Daybreak anchor
  • Marcus Bailey, meteorologist
  • Katie Wisely, reporter
  • Hanna Mordoh, reporter
  • Richard Essex, I-Team 8 reporter
  • Randall Newsome, reporter
  • Kyle Bloyd, Digital Content Manager
  • Emily Kaufmann, Daybreak producer
  • Joy Hernandez, photographer/editor

What’s your earliest memory of the Indianapolis 500?

Sander: I had an STP sticker on my tricycle.

Conway: I remember I had a friend in elementary school who went every year with her family and I always thought that was so cool. They still go together to this day.

Bailey: Early on, it was a tradition to gather with family and friends to listen to the race and grill out!

Wisely: When I asked my grandparents why they had checkered flags in their front yard.

Bloyd: My family used to get together on race day when I was a kid. We’d all meet at my grandparents’ house in Brownsburg. My grandparents had one of those big, old-style satellite dishes. It was my job to find the race on some unscrambled ABC affiliate, usually Denver. We were the only family I knew who could watch the race live on TV. The Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star would have all the names of the drivers printed out. We’d clip those and make a pool to pick a winner.

Mordoh: I am a bad Hoosier, so I didn’t hear about the Indy 500 until I was 8 or so. My husband gives me a hard time for this, seeing as his family attended the race almost every year. If they weren’t there in person, they were listening on the radio. I have since been schooled, despite my lack of racing history.

Essex: I can’t remember the race not being a part of my life. Growing up in central Indiana, the track and the race is just part of your life.

When was the first time you went to the Indianapolis 500?

Bailey: 1993 – Emerson Fittipaldi’s second Indy 500 win.

Sander: 1982. Pretty good one to start with – I’m still hoarse from screaming, “Go Gordy!!!!”

Conway: My first time going was our Indy 500 coverage seven years ago! I grew up in Southern Indiana so our Month of May was typically focused on the Derby. Over the last several years I have also fallen in love with IMS. My kids have too!

Mordoh: My first Indy 500 was in college. We camped out at IMS and dressed in our finest Indy 500 attire and survived the 95 degree weather. It was a BLAST, but I will say the bathrooms were rougggggh.

Kaufmann: 2015 with my Dad. It was also his first time. He’d been watching the race for decades and even remembers when it ran on delay in Chicago.

Essex: My first memory of being inside the track was the spring of 1971 on a school field trip.

Newsome: 2019 was my very first time covering the Indy 500 and I was on Snake Pit duty. The outfits were so outrageous we decided to turn all of my segments into a fashion show competition. I loved getting people to break down what their party attire was and how long they’ve had the tradition of partying in the Snake Pit.

Bloyd: 1999. I went with my dad and his best friend Dave. I still have the ticket with the previous year’s winner, Eddie Cheever, on the front. Being 12 and seeing everything that happens in the infield was an eye-opening experience.

Hernandez: My first 500 was in 2004. That race was ultimately called for weather and the track evacuated as tornados were in the area. Photographer Gary Gallinger gave me his key to the live truck and said, “If you feel any rain drops, run here immediately and set up the truck.” The race started and about halfway through, I felt the rain drops. I bolted to the truck and did what I was told. Gary and reporter Tony Perkins got interviews on their way out. Gary then hooked the camera up to the cables and told me to get smooth shots of people leaving. I didn’t know then, but the camera was live as WISH cut-in on the track evacuation. 16th Street basically became a parking lot and we rode the storm out under Speedway Monogramming’s awning, then chased storm damage all night. We ended up near my apartment and they let me walk my dog. I got home at 1 a.m., excited and exhausted, knowing that this was the first real taste of how my career would be.

Have you ever been to the snake pit? What’s the wildest thing you saw?

Kaufmann: I have not and do not plan to.

Donnelly: Hard pass.

Essex: I remember the “snake pit” when it was the wild. In the early 70s, my dad always told us to stay away from the snake pit, which only made it more tempting. During the 1976 race, a buddy and I found our way into the snake pit and it scared us to death. Believe me, we saw EVERYTHING.

Wisely: Probably a fan’s entire body painted in a checkered flag.

Sander: In 1983, when it was still in turn 1 and still very much out of control, my sister and I wandered over during the race. Her shirt, shorts and hair clips all had her name on them. In hindsight, that was a poor decision. (“Hey, Angela!”)

Bailey: I have seen the modern day snake pit from a distance. Best place to be for me. Was too little when the “old school” snake pit was a thing, but my parents have told me some stories.

What is the best way to watch the race?

Criscuolo: I love the radio broadcast. The team is absolutely incredible when it comes to bringing you the energy and inside information you want during those 200 laps. There’s something so nostalgic about the radio broadcast and it just seems like the only way to take in The Greatest Spectacle in racing if you can’t be there.

Bailey: In person WHILE listening on the radio. And then I like to watch the replay when I get home.

Sander: Live in the Southeast Vista with IndyCar Radio in my scanner. Then, again, the delay at home while I fall in and out of sleep.

Kaufmann: After watching it (not on delay) in Chicagoland for most of my life, in the stands is the best.

Bloyd: If you don’t have a “creative” way of watching it live on television, listening to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network while standing over a grill is one of the most Hoosier things you can do.

What Indianapolis 500 memory stands out for you the most?

Newsome: When covering the race for Daybreak in 2019, we had to record everything instead of being live to make sure nothing too crazy got on TV and I’ll never forget that we got a bunch of kids to act right for the segment after a pep talk and right before we sent it back to the anchors, the DJ let out the biggest f-bomb over the speaker. At that moment, we were all probably thinking “how in the world are we going to get anything on TV!” It was wild but I could’ve done that all day! Shoutout to everything we couldn’t un-see that day and spared the eyes of people at home!

Essex: Going to the race with my dad.

Donnelly: I attended the race one year with two of my uncles from Ireland. They were a HOOT to listen to and watch. They seemed so grateful to be in Indianapolis at the Indy 500, and it made me appreciate my own city more than I had before.

Kaufmann: While Jim Nabors can never be replaced, hearing Jim Cornelison sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” in person was incredible! Especially when he held that final note – I’m getting chills just thinking about it now!

Wisely: Probably when I was 12 or so my family woke up really, really early and we went to breakfast at Charlie Brown’s in Speedway before the race. I remember seeing some pit crew members there and thought it was so cool. They signed my napkin!

Sander: 2019 was my daughter’s first race. She picked Simon Pagenaud in the pool. I watched her instead of the race.

Bailey: 1992 when Little Al won in the closest finish ever. Also 2013 when Tony Kannan finally took home the win!

Bloyd: Emerson and Teresa Fittipaldi vs. Al Unser Jr. and his wife Shelley in 1989. I didn’t see this when it happened but when there was no race weekend in May 2020, I turned to YouTube to get my race fix. Emo and Little Al are absolutely GOING FOR IT at the end. But there’s just as much drama with Teresa and Shelley. The TV broadcast just kept cutting back to them. Every camera cut is just perfect. This moment would’ve been great enough with just the on-track action. Teresa and Shelley take it to another level. Emo took Little Al out with two laps to go, sealing the victory. And then there’s Little Al’s “salute” from the grass as Fittipaldi goes by him. Seriously, you need to watch this.

(Provided Photo/Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Who is your favorite driver of all time?

Bailey: Loved Tony Stewart when he raced the 500 in the 90s. Turned to a Tony Kannan fan after that.

Sander: Mario Andretti.

Kaufmann: Mario Andretti, mostly because of surreal “six degrees of separation”-type situation. My grandpa was a mover for New World Van Lines and was involved in several corporate moves for STP along with personal moves for Andy Granatelli, CEO of STP. For helping, Granatelli gave my grandpa all this STP gear. Unfortunately, my dad and uncles lost track of some of the items over the years but some are still hanging in their garages or hiding out in the basement.

(Provided Photo/Emily Kaufmann)

Essex: A.J. Foyt.

Conway: I love Tony Kanaan – I worked with him for the IRT’s annual fundraiser a few years ago. He and his wife are so down to earth and kind. I love that he fell in love with her hometown and brings such positivity to the sport and community.

Bloyd: Got to be Arie Luyendyk. Tell me there was a cooler dude walking around in the 1990s.

Former Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk of Holland (L) stops to sign autographs outside Gasoline Alley during practice 08 May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Luyendyk, who won the Indy 500 in 1990, set an unofficial track record earlier 08 May with a practice lap of 234.107 mph.
AFP PHOTO (Photo by ANN MILLER CARR / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANN MILLER CARR/AFP via Getty Images)

Who is going to win this year?

Criscuolo: Rinus VeeKay! He proved himself at the Grand Prix and did well on the track last year too. As a Speedway resident, I think Rinus is going to steal the record for the youngest ever to win the Indy 500. We’ve waited nearly 70 years for someone to break that record. Troy Ruttman still holds it from 1952.

Bailey: Scott Dixon. The guy is too good to only have one Indy 500 win.

Sander: No idea. The cars are crazy-close in speed, and I don’t remember a year with more drivers who have a chance.

Wisely: Marco Andretti!

Kaufmann: Ed Carpenter. It’s time for a Hoosier to win the race!

Essex: It’s anyone’s race.

Conway: I have rooted for Ed Carpenter the last decade. I’m going to say Scott Dixon this year. However, I’d love to see Simona de Silvestro win!!

Donnelly: I love rooting for Takuma Sato (part of my heart is in Japan, and I know the Japanese people are so excited to see representation in racing!) but this year I’m going to really enjoy rooting for Simona de Silvestro, the only female driver in the field of 33. I hope to see her and Paretta Autosport go far. But if I’m picking a winner, I’d go with youngster Colton Herta.

For someone who has never been – why should they go?

Donnelly: Whether you like racing or not, it’s part of our state’s identity and culture. You may go and love it or you may not. But you’ve been there. I believe that as often is safe, you should try to experience first-hand something millions of people love. You’ll better understand the people around you if you see the world through their eyes.

Conway: The energy at the track, the noise, the excitement, the grand nature of the event and the wardrobes! There’s an electricity from the moment you step foot on the track. Even if you just stay through the opening ceremonies and first few laps of the race it is a magical experience!

Essex: The first 25 laps and the last 25. There is a reason the 500 is called “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Kaufmann: The energy is utterly electric. It’s so much more than cars going around an oval. There’s just something perfect about sipping a beer, eating a fist full of chips, as the sun beats down on you all while cars zoom by you going 220+ mph.

Wisely: To experience the fans and how fascinating the venue really is.

Sander: Few things are truly impossible to describe, but the first lap is one of them. 33 cars driving into the first turn at 230+ can make you go from “who cares?” to “true believer” really quick.

Criscuolo: It’s an unforgettable experience. Even if you’ve never been a race fan, attending the Indy 500 should be a bucket list item. The venue, the energy, the traditions… there’s nothing like it.

Daybreak will be live from 5 a.m. to noon prior to the race. You can stream coverage here.