Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Serious Freedom: Thoughts On The Carb Day Classic

What if I told you one of the most exciting races in all of motorsport was held while most Americans are obliviously plugging away at work on a Friday afternoon?
Pulse pounding side by side racing, hair raising crashes, the 2 closest finishes in the history of Indy; These all describe what it's like to enjoy your lunch break watching the Freedom 100 over the years.
And it's about time you watched it too.

Entering only its fifteenth incarnation this week, the Freedom 100 may not have the rich heritage that it's parental race has, but it has begun to carve its own special place in the sport, quickly solidifying itself as a must-watch. The list of then-future stars who have raced the Freedom 100 is enormous: Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Pippa Mann, Carlos Munoz, and current rookie sensation Ed Jones. Even stars from other forms of racing, like Sean Rayhall, German Quiroga, and Bryan Clauson have raced in the 100. And the list of names still climbing the ladder, Kyle Kaiser, Zach Veach, Santiago Urritia, is long and rich with potential.
The Freedom 100 is "all the excitement of the 500" in just 40 laps, I was told by Indy Lights Series owner Dan Anderson.
Simply put, the race is a thriller year after year and continues to introduce race fans to a cavalcade of future stars.

I saw my first Freedom 100 on TV in 2008. School always ended for the summer on Carb Day, and most years, my Mom would let me skip that last day and instead enjoy an extra day of summer. I was thrilled to see my first Freedom 100. While you could have had a sack race down pit road at Indy between drivers and I'd have been just as excited, this was a chance to start my favorite weekend of the year off right. Live racing on television on a Friday morning? 13 Year old me had no idea such a thing was possible! But boy, was it fun. My Mom baked brownies and I settled in for one of the most exciting experiences of my late childhood.
Little did I know, however, that with Dillon Battistini's victory, a tradition had been born.

Year after year, Mom and I would bake brownies and watch the race. Up the ranks came Hildebrand, Kimball, Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Munoz and more, and yet for the next several years the only things that changed were my Chia-Pet like afro and the brand of eggs Mom used in the brownies.
Things changed a little in 2013. I was deep into the pro wrestling business and had been in a massive car wreck the day before. I had a show scheduled just a few hours after the race, and I decided to save my energy and watch the race from bed, alone. Despite being dazed and hazed from pain meds due to the wreck, I'll never forget the excitement (and pain) that came from the on-your-feet, screaming at the TV thriller of a finish, Peter Dempsey taking the leaders four wide at the stripe for the then-closest finish in IMS history, and still my personal favorite.
2014 Brought with it another photo finish, the new tradition of calling up by buddy Eric out in Oakland to watch over Skype, and continued the short lived tradition of the Freedom kicking off a weekend of wrestling shows and auto races. (I had my head shaven after a match in 2014.)

It's 2017 now.  My Mother passed away in 2016, my time in the wrestling business is likely over for good, and I have no idea how to make brownies. And yet, no matter the traditions surrounding the race and how they come and go, the Freedom 100 has become a big part of the weekend for both myself and fans worldwide. It's a fun chance to take an hour or two to drop what you're doing, maybe go to a sports bar with some co-workers or go home to the family and enjoy a race seldom seen while the rest of the world takes the day too seriously. Oh, and you get to enjoy a five star show.
The home to last lap passes, photo finishes, sidepod to sidepod, wheel to wheel contact, and stars of the future sure beats any other way to spend a lunch break.
Friday, come noon EST, I know where I'll be; I'll be dialing up Oakland with NBCSN on my TV, ready for my tenth straight year of enjoying one of my favorite races of the season. 
Maybe this time, I'll learn how to make brownies.

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