(CONTINUED FROM PART 2)
...I used every bit of personal soft good to insulate my head from sound, returning to whatever form of rest I could muster...
The next sound I remember hearing was the pitter of a merciful light rain on the tent. I noticed a more balmy temperature as well and settled my mind back to sleep. Waking with the traditional BOOM of the 5am gate-opening shells, we also continued to relax as the rain was also pittering away. I had warned the lads of the impending alarm and we lounged further into the AM.
Once I noted a rather significant presence of daylight, I was surprised to find we had slept to just a tick before 9AM. 9AM??!! Recognizing the rain had stopped, I bolted up and out of the tent, fearing we were about to need a mad dash just to make it through Gate 6 and into our seats, likely missing much of the beloved pomp and circumstance.
Hearing via the WIBC radio coverage that the morning track schedule was delayed approximately 2 hours settled me into thinking about getting to some breakfast, water, and Acetaminophen into the system pronto. The others rose as well and quickly we fired up the mini gas-grill and polished off a hearty breakfast, secured the belongings and got ready for the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.
Short of recapping the race, it was certainly memorable and the lads got to see a classic race start build-up. Enthusiasm was short-lived however as a shower came again around Lap 27 and the 2-hour red flag seriously hampered the early momentum. Fortunately, we had PLENTY of beer for just such an occasion. Reliving the previous day' events and we were happy to have the racing resume with Buddy Rice, Sam Hornish, and Dan Wheldon all hanging the top 3, but a crash and yellow and impending pits stops to be made for fuel, another ominous-looking storm approaching made the final strategies quite frantic. Seemingly there were lead changes every lap from 165 on and the thrill of the show was equaled only by the doom-like thrill of weather we faced to the west.
Buddy Rice was leading when heavy rains and lightning came crashing down for the final time of the race and the leader was declared the winner. Oh, "and by the way", it came across the PA system, "please DEPART THE STANDS IMMEDIATELY - THERE ARE TORNADOES IN THE AREA!" Ever-closer lightning strikes made us scurry from the aluminum Pit Road Terrace stands and into a concrete souvenir garage for safety. Thankfully the weather radar was on the TV but it didn't give us a very favorble overview. We passed another hour buying IMS knick-knacks for the loved ones at home (assuming we'd get to see them again), and trying to determine our next move.
The rain let up slightly and lightning seemed to subside. Some reports placed tornadoes both south and west of the Speedway area. We decided to make our dash from the concrete cover, get wet perhaps, and dash across Georgetown into our Lot 2 confines to break down camp before doomsday struck. We were teased with a decent let-up of rain and headed for camp. About three-quarters of the way back into our run to camp, we could see the wall of rain approaching from the southwest... Time was most certainly our enemy.
The wisdom of the apparent early departure of the Wisconsin boys seemed more evident. The air cooled as we knocked down soaked camp chairs, and began loading the van. The sweet smell of rain signaled the next wave approaching and we began to thrash violently to get the tents back to packed. Green-gray clouds enveloped us on all sides. We knew we were losing this race so the mashing and tossing in of anything remaining was greeted with large and very cold drops, pelting us as we ambled into the van and began our navigation away from Lot 2 and hopefully away from danger.
Clearing IMS property, we asked a police officer a recommendation for evading possible tornadoes with surprisingly little assistance. We made a path to the north and west which appeared the next clearest direction, finally winding through neighborhoods to Lafayette Road area and out to 465. We cleared the Marion county North line and were felt as sense of comfort as the sky looked slightly better to the north. Only as far as Kokomo did we make it before the trailing wall of rain hit us again and we parked at the Hardee's for some shelter and food (and mainly for our driver whose white knuckles were evident for all to see).
We set out North again with a much clearer vision behind and west of us. The passengers watched in disbelief as the east and south view still contained some very angry-looking skies. We later found out we had missed the Indy tornadoes by being a bit north of the danger but, passed only minutes behind the ones which hit east of Noblesville. By stopping in Kokomo, we also missed driving right into the second wave that bounced around Lafayette and again hit near Peru, Indiana, approximately 20 minutes north of where we stopped. Here are the tornado tracks of that day:
Needless to say we had a few beers remaining and those of us not driving all imbibed a 'bracer' for our final leg home. Our exit to Indiana 24 East found no lights at all (highway or otherwise) in Peru, scattered chunks of fiberglass insulation and siding debris in areas. We all felt as if we just missed something that would've ruined our trip in a major way. Darkness and more reasonable calm settled in the final hour's drive home and we were all thankful to arrive back home again in Goshen, Indiana, tired, thrilled, and a bit frazzled. Our mission to retrieve all personal effects and gear was graciously delayed to Monday.
I don't recall getting into bed that night. I don't recall what I said to my wife or family either. As much as I wanted to watch the replay of the race, my mind and body let slip that day, May 30, 2004, with great memories and energy spent.
I vowed to be content with the future decision these guys may make if they either never-ever wanted to try that trip again or if they dared to once again go with me to the 500.
They most certainly did.