Formula One. IndyCar. NASCAR.
Breakfast in Monaco. Lunch in Indianapolis. Dinner in Charlotte.
Mimosas. Bloody Mary. Beer.
It’s the highest of racing’s holy days, and it’s not even close. A harmonic convergence of motorsport that doesn’t happen every year, but more often than not. Thank the heavens for power. That perfect octane-soaked Sunday when one…two…three signature events line up like the perfect chassis setup, riding the jagged edge of speed from when those of us in the United States Unis wake up until we collapse into our pillows like it’s a SAFER barrier. You could literally start and end your day watching the race while lying in bed. And why not?
You may not care about car racing. Maybe you don’t know a wheel nut from a nut. But that shouldn’t stop you from embarking on a full fuel immersion on Sunday. Take a moment… OK, take a day, to lean into the kind of sensory overload that only real race cars – even three very different types of race cars – can provide.
So hang on to the wheel. Drop the hammer. Ahoy polloi and boogity, boogity, boogity!
Anything Tom Cruise does with a fighter jet in “Top Gun: Maverick,” or what Bruce Wayne did in his new Batmobile muscle car in “The Batman,” or all those stunts Spider-Man did with all those tricked-out gimmicks in “No Way Home,” the unreal action you paid dearly to watch this year? These runners do this stuff all the time without any special effects, and on Sunday they will do it at the same time.
The numbers: 90 runners, 678 laps, 1,267.1 miles. Three very big trophies.
It starts with the Monaco Grand Prix (8:55 a.m. ET, ESPN). Since 1929, racing cars have swept through the streets of Europe’s most glamorous adult playground, zipping past casinos, skating around fountains and blazing alongside a seemingly endless navy of yachts. , on which men and women bathe in the sun and breathe ethanol. . It’s a race that was first organized by royalty, under the watchful eye of Prince Louis II. A course was laid out in the streets of Monte Carlo nearly a century ago for Bugatti and Mercedes machines that produced 140 horsepower. Drivers in dress shirts, their entire upper bodies exposed, throwing their automobiles on tiny tube tires around the hard right-hander Sainte Dévote, weaving their way through the station hairpin and darting out of the Tunnel to hurtle down towards a vicious chicane that threatened to dump them into the waters of the Mediterranean below.
During Saturday’s practice sessions, Charles LeClerc exited that same tunnel in a 1,000 horsepower Ferrari traveling 185 mph.
Nearly 4,600 miles to the west, more than 300,000 fans will listen and watch the Monaco action as they race through the stands and infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday morning for the 106th running of the ‘Indianapolis 500. They call it the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and it’s taking place in a place they call the racing capital of the world, and there’s no hyperbole involved in either of these titles. The location known simply as “The Speedway” opened in 1909 with a balloon race, a 2.5-mile rectangle built by four entrepreneurs eager to build a proving ground that could showcase the brand new American automobile industry.
On Memorial Day 1911, a loud, smoky field of 40 machines churning out 100 horsepower sped through the first corner at speeds approaching 80 mph, battling steel Marmons, Fiats and Buicks around a cog-clattering surface composed of 3.2 million bricks. Only a dozen cars made it to the end, driven to the checkered flag by Ray Harroun in his bright yellow Marmon Wasp, a car adorned with the first-ever rear-view mirror.
In last weekend’s pole qualifying session, Scott Dixon took the same first corner in a 750-hp Honda at 241 mph.
People will sing along with the Purdue Marching Band. They will stand and cheer for the hundreds of active military personnel who descend the pit lane during the pre-race. They’ll gasp as the USAF Thunderbirds rocket overhead. They’ll weep as the lone trumpeter fills the air with a haunting yet pitch-perfect rendition of “Taps” to honor those who died in the defense of freedom.
After watching the winner douse himself with milk, a tradition that dates back to 1936 when winner Louis Meyer swallowed buttermilk to soothe his overheated belly, Indy 500 fans will return to their campsites, hotel rooms and bars to watch the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. In 1960, obnoxious future billionaire Bruton Smith and even more obnoxious future NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Curtis Turner bulldozed and blasted a 1.5-mile oval in the countryside north of Charlotte, then a sleepy southern town. . Speedways were still a new concept in stock car racing and 500 miles was considered the limit these cars and their drivers could go. So, in an effort to steal some of the hype from Indy and Daytona, Smith and Turner opted to do their 600-mile run. They called it the World 600. They wanted to run it on Memorial Day weekend to compete with Indianapolis, but the track wasn’t ready. So on June 19, 1960, an endless line of 60 stock cars churning out 325 horsepower, many fitted with cow-traps and wire netting to ward off crumbling bits of asphalt, pulled into Turn 1 at a speed of 140 mph. Joe Lee Johnson won in a Chevy, outlasting a field of Thunderbirds, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles, 42 of which failed to finish the 5½ race.
When this year’s field of 40s smash their way into the first corner, they’ll be thrust there by almost 700 horsepower and at speeds of 180 mph.
Is Monaco too old, too slow and the course too crowded? Yes. Just this week, Red Bull boss Christian Horner said so.
Isn’t an Indianapolis Motor Speedway layout designed for tin can jockeys at a time when fans still used horse-drawn buggies to get to the track exactly the best fit for today’s passenger missiles? Most likely. During Friday’s final training session, Colton Herta’s upside-down midair crash reminded us that we’re watching Earth rockets that are barely held down.
In the age of NASCAR’s Next Gen bulletproof car and ultra-durable engines driven by ultrafit drivers, is 600 miles the true measure of endurance it used to be? No chance. And does the age of combustion engine, fossil fuel automobiles meet the same fate as the dinosaurs whose remains they now burn? Absolutely.
But none of that is the point. The thing is, this Sunday is always the coolest of the coolest. So cool that when Hollywood makes movies about this day, it appeals to legends. James Garner for Monaco (the first 15 minutes of “Grand Prix” is better than most entire racing films). Clark Gable and Paul Newman for Indy (“To Please a Lady” and “Winning”). And Charlotte? He got Elvis (“Speedway”).
Monaco, Indy and Charlotte are not revered because of who they are now. They are cherished for what they have always been. And if there is an ounce of common sense inside the helmets of those who race, that will never change. This should never change. This day is a reminder of why. The greatest of days.
The day when Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton can travel in the tire tracks of Ayrton Senna, Graham Hill, Michael Schumacher and Sir Stirling Moss, knowing that their vision of Monaco is always the same as theirs. The day when Marco Andretti can follow the line drawn around Indy by his lineage, his grandfather Mario and his father Michael. When rookie Jimmie Johnson can lean on legend Scott Dixon, when AJ Foyt can shake hands with Rick Mears, who can shake hands with Helio Castroneves, and living members of the four winners club can connect the 500 of 1963 until today, in an instant. The day a NASCAR field full of 20s rolls down the same Charlotte backstretch where David Pearson, Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt all raced to victory.
Every Sunday runner – every 90 – wants to win a trophy. But more than that, they want to know how they compare to their feet-on-the-throttle ancestors. Today, those races and places are that measuring stick. Every winner. Every loser. Every runner who lost their life. This day concerns each of them.
It’s about wearing the crown in Monaco. It’s about kissing the Borg-Warner Trophy at Indy. It’s all about doing the hat dance and hugging your loved ones in Charlotte.
Casino Square. “Back home in Indiana.” Speed Street.
Mr Jackie. SuperTex. The king.
Formula One. IndyCar. NASCAR.
Drivers, start your engines. Fans, fire up your remotes. Everyone, start your memories. All. Day. Long.