INDIANAPOLIS — The Citi Market on the eastside of downtown Indianapolis has been around for well over century. In fact, the historic building opened for business in 1886. Fitting, a place like this was the host to unveil another piece of history for a venue on the far opposite side of town.
On Tuesday morning, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the annual unveiling on what the upcoming race ticket for the Indianapolis 500 would look like. Like tradition, the previous race winner, in this case Simon Pagenaud, would be displayed on the ticket for the upcoming race in May.
Pagenaud’s likeness is already on the Borg-Warner Trophy, but on a cloudy and cool January morning in the circle city, the Frenchman got to witness for the first time what 300,000+ spectators would be holding in their hands on May 24 for the 104th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
What made this ticket unveil different than from year’s past was that this one had information on it that was from a real seat that someone happens to own. His name is Steve Harkness as he’s a race fan who works in downtown Indy. Normally, IMS just uses generic numbers on the ticket unveil at these ceremonies. This year, with this being the year 2020, the IMS Graphics Team used the stand Paddock, Aisle 20, Seat 20.
This whole gathering though was something that blew Pagenaud away. This whole process does in fact. We hear it each year during these celebratory ceremonies. The defending race winner is blown away by all the things that they get to do. For Pagenaud, he’s always dreamt that he’d be in this position, but what he’s been able to do with the distinction of being an Indy 500 champion, well that’s been a surreal moment that his dreams could have never lived up to.
“More,” Pagenaud said when I asked him if this met his expectations on what he imagined went into being an Indy 500 champion. “It keeps on coming. They always say it, and I’ve always heard it, but you never realize it until it happens to you. It feels unreal. It’s surreal.
“It still feels like I’m living a dream and I hope it never stops. When it happens once you want to make sure it continues and the only way to continue is to win again. It’s incredible what this race means to the world in general, not just racing.”
Pagenaud, has been on a whirlwind tour over the last nine months. He’s been from Indy to New York to Detroit to Texas and even overseas to his native land of France on what he jokes as a wonderful “Miss Universe” tour.
By virtue of this world renowned honor, Pagenaud said his desire to win this race again is even greater.
“I want it even more now,” Pagenaud continued. “I didn’t know what to expect before because I didn’t get to experience all these special moments.”
Pagenaud gave a prime example of this as just how many awards and honors he received in France in fact. When he was there this past December, he said he was honored by the Automobile Club of France. It’s a club that’s been around since 1895, which ranks this as the oldest racing club in the entire world.
Pagenaud said that not only did they honor him, they had him right next to a big picture the last Indy 500 champion to hail from France, Gaston Chevrolet (1920).
“These are special moments in a racing career that no other races would make your experience like this.”
Some drivers say that they get jealous when they get to experience what winning at Indy means and then to not win it again after. Pagenaud, doesn’t necessarily think that he’d be jealous if he doesn’t win on May 24, but he does know that he doesn’t want this feeling to end.
“Jealous I don’t know but certainly I wouldn’t want anyone else to experience it but myself.”
Now that Pagenaud has a championship to his name too (2016), would he trade that title for another Indy win?
“I’ve got asked that question before I won Indy and I’ve always said that I would never trade the championship because to win a championship you have to be very complete and it’s a different story. It goes on for a full year – 17 races. The one who can win a championship is the most complete throughout the entire year.
“Now Indy, its got so many adverbs you can put on it. It’s the fastest race in the world. It holds the most people in one place in one day. It’s the biggest sporting event in the world. When you think about all of these things together, it’s the only trophy that has your face on it in the world too. There’s all these traditions that makes this event so special. Now though, it’s now kind of like a lottery. There’s many of times where I could have won it in the past and didn’t. Helio (Castroneves) should have won it many more times and he didn’t.
“Winning it once is already special and you should take it as a gift. You never take it for granted. What I’ve done in the past I’m proud of. I would scrap it. It’s my life and what’s done is done. But then winning Indy is very special.”
A few key tidbits from today’s unveiling too is the ‘500 is well on pace to at or exceed last year’s ticket sales which were estimated to have around 300k spectators through the gates that day. Track President Doug Boles says that ticket sales continue to get better and better each year and that this year should be even better. With that being said, what about the local blackout thats been in place for years. The only recent race that saw the blackout lifted was the 100th Running in 2016 but that’s because the race was at or very close to a sell out. Would a change in ownership from the Hulman-George family to Penske and knowing that they’re on pace for over 300k to be in attendance this year be able to see the blackout lifted?
Boles said that it wouldn’t and that the past rules will remain in place still.
He also said that they’re still working on some fan upgrades for the Month of May and will announce what those are during the 100 Day out Party which will take place on Valentines Day this year – Friday, February 14.