Wednesday, August 30
St. Louis, Missouri to Indianapolis, Indiana
245 miles today, 3422 miles since Monterey
Visiting Two Midwestern Landmarks – The Arch and the Brickyard
It's pretty much a straight shot across the corn-fed plains of America's heartland today. We started the day bright and early with breakfast under the Gateway Arch on the banks of the Mississippi, while we waited for latecomers to get their cars parked in time for the fly-by aerial photo of the 260 cars, the largest gathering of MINIs since the 300 MINIs in the paddock in Monterey.
Motoring out of St. Louis and across Illinois and Indiana, with at least one contingent heading into quaint old Vandalia, Illinois to visit a three-story fire-breathing dragon (no pictures yet), we were in Indianapolis by 2:30 pm, filing one by one into the infield of the Brickyard, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, until 412 cars were lined up in the infield. After a pleasant snack lunch and opportunity to meet and chat with the local MINI clubs and Motorists who had streamed in from all over the Midwest, and a quick turn through the Speedway Museum which had an exhibit of the cars of John Cooper that turned open-wheeled racing cars from front-engine to rear, we were assembled back in the pavilion for our driver briefing. We were excited to be told that yes, in fact we would be doing a parade lap on the storied speedway's banked curves, an unusual privilege seldom granted to a group this large.
When we got the command to go to our cars, it wasn't "Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines." Instead, we heard Jim McDowell, corporate VP for MINI USA and Chris Weiler, the Central Region Business Manager who had arranged this privilege, say: "Ladies and Gentlemen, Let's Motor."
Two graceful structures with graceful forms driven by functional requirements, the Works GP aero wing and the St. Louis Gateway Arch.
Okay, maybe some manmade structures aren't quite so graceful, but Rubber Duckie has earned his right to a picture, having been a part of our convoy since the beginning at Monterey.
Taking a picture of your friends with the Gateway Arch in the background can take a little improvising as these coast-to-coast Motorists illustrate. Or, it may simply be that after ten days on the road, we're all getting a little nutty.
The day was gray and overcast, but the bright colors of the MINIs should make this a good picture. The rumor is that the cars were lined up to form a MINI wing, but we won't find out whether that was true or not until we get the pictures taken by the small plane that slowly made three passes across the formation. What we do know is that it was the largest gathering of MINIs since Monterey, with estimates running around 250 cars.
A story we heard later when we arrived at the Speedway concerned two couples who were driving together across Illinois from St. Louis. Dave and Margie Newman, from southern California have been on the entire tour, deciding to join when Dave found himself between jobs and decided that this was an opportunity for adventure that would come only once in a lifetime. Traveling with them since Memphis are Joel and Patty Sandler, distinguished because they couldn't decide whether to drive Patty's red convertible MCS or Joel's gray and slightly hot MCS, so they bought a set of two-way radios and are driving the tour in both cars. Joel and Patty are from Florida, so their tour started there and proceeded up through the southeast before catching up with the tour in Memphis.
But the story they told was even more interesting. Like most drivers on the interstate, Dave and Margie were traveling a bit above the posted speed limit to avoid being run over by the big over-the-road trucks. Perhaps because they were traveling just behind another large contingent of MINIs, they caught the attention of an Illinois Highway Patrol officer named (we are not making this up) Cooper. Pulling Dave over, Trooper Cooper was preparing to get out of his car when Joel and Patty pulled over along with another Florida couple who had been traveling with them, thinking Dave might have been having some trouble. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a bad decision, since Trooper Cooper simply ticketed all of them, pointing out that he had clocked the entire group going about ten miles over the speed limit. It's a small ticket for them, and they were all so amused by the name coincidence, that they had him sign their official MTTS log books after he had given them their tickets.
At some point between that incident and the indianapolis Speedway, the group decided to pull off the Interstate to search out a snack and break. Needless to say, when you pass a giant cow, it seems like the right place to look for a milkshake and get a picture.
After we got into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, signed our waiver forms with the help of the Indianapolis MINI Club, and parked our cars nose to tail in preparation for the promised Brickyard parade, we had time to get our Passports stamped, check out the Motoring Gear, and look at the latest variation on the Buswords in the shadow of the Pagoda, the control tower for the Speedway track.
Among the cars in the line-up was the convertible owned by Mike and Jene McGill of Dexter, Missouri, here being signed by Tori (known in MINI web chat rooms as The Future Queen of Nebraska). It seems as if, in the excitement of getting to the race track and trying to find the right gate, Mike and Jene – standing behind the car and actually still smiling after the experience, got broadsided by a car going street speeds. The appropriate words were taken from the Bus.
However, the amazing thing about this crash, is that there was absolutely no intrusion into the passenger compartment. As this picture of the interior of the same car attests, the body integrity of the MINI is among the best in the business. Mike and Jene were completely uninjured, and were able to drive the car on the track and back home again -- though Mike did have to enter and exit from the passenger side, or through the window stock-car style until they can get the car fixed. But they're already planning to have the crunched component hung on the garage wall, as their "Door Prize" from their day at Indy.
Inside the pavilion, a light lunch and beverages were available all afternoon courtesy of MINI USA's media partners, and then at five o'clock pm we were called to order to get our Drivers' Briefing.
With the command, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Let's Motor" we went to our cars and prepared to go out on the track.
Then the 250 or so MINIs moved out on the track, though there were so many of us that the front of the line had already been ushered out of the track and sent on its way back to the hotels before the end of the line had entered the track.
None of us who had this experience today will ever be able to watch an Indianapolis 500 race again with nudging everyone in the room to tell them, "I drove down that front straight myself, in my MINI!"