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Pollock: Rain disrupts Indy 500, Coca Cola 600 and “The Double”

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A column by CHUCK POLLOCK, Sun Senior Sports Columnist

By far, my longest-running sports memory from childhood wasn’t my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers or even the New York Football Giants.

From the time I was a six-year-old, growing up first in Albany, then on a farm just outside the city, Memorial Day was always the same, listening to the Indianapolis 500. My father, hardly a sports fan, was captivated by “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

When I was a kid, there was only one option … radio.

That seems weird now as the Indy 500 has been telecast live for the past 39 years. But for me, the first 35 of those races — including a 15-year stretch when ABC broadcast an edited version in primetime that same night — AM radio provided the word picture.

I’ve listened to/watched the Indy 500 for over 70 years and, in my view, I enjoyed the audio version as much as the visual.

We’re spoiled by the sophistication of television with its myriad cameras, super slo-mo and endless graphics and replays.

Radio required only two things: ears and imagination.

The announcers told us what was happening and our minds-eye visualized it.

And the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend became even more special when NASCAR added the Coca Cola 600 at Charlotte in 2009, a race that, weather-permitting, started about 2½ hours after the Indy 500.

Every year I enjoyed watching both.

HOWEVER  hearing Indianapolis’ Sunday’s weather forecast convinced me that the race would be delayed for hours, if not pushed to Monday.

Sure enough, the Indy 500’s start was pushed back some four hours and I was left to watch a movie. In desperation, I dialed up American Underdog, the life story of NFL Hall-of-Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, arguably the most successful undrafted free agent in pro football history.

The race, once it started, wasn’t particularly engaging, though Josef Newgarden’s second consecutive victory on a last-lap pass of Pato O’Ward made for an impressive finish. Newgarden became the first back-to-back winner since Helio Castroneves in 2001-02.

But as it turned out, the 108th running produced more than I first realized. The 18 different leaders were the most in race history and the incredible 642 passes were the most in seven years.

The race ended without one-third of the 33-car field.

Three were victim of mechanical woes: Marcus Armstrong, Katherine Legge and Felix Resenquest, The other eight were from single or double contact with the wall or each other:  Marcus Ericson, Pietro Fittipaldi, Tom Blomquist, Linus Linquist, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Will Power and Colton Herta.

It’s worth noting that three of the six rookies in the field didn’t finish: Resenquest with engine woes, Blomquist and Armstrong with rookie carelessness.

Of the three who finished, one wasn’t even a rookie at all except in Indy context. Kyle Larson is a veteran NASCAR driver who was in the 500 only to make his bid for “The Double,”  running Indy and the Coca Cola 600 on the same day.

Don’t get me started on that.

OVER THE YEARS, I’ve written columns as to the stupidity of IndyCar and NASCAR letting drivers attempt the 1,100-mile double interrupted by a 425-mile helicopter ride.

Let’s start with the obvious, both racing groups boast that their races are so grueling and exhausting that it takes a special driver to complete just one of them and yet they’re OK with a single driver doing both in a span of less than 12 hours.

What about the danger to the drivers in Charlotte from a weary opponent trying to do “The Double?” Apparently the publicity is worth the risk.

I figured the four-hour delay at Indy would doom Larson’s bid.

Silly boy.

When the 500 enbed at 7:45 p.m. he hopped on the helicopter and was North Carolina-bound. He arrived in Charlotte with the race red-flagged just after the halfway mark due to a thunderstorm, put on his driving suit and was ready to jump in the car.

Happily the race never resumed

After a two-hour delay, with 249 of the 400 laps complete, Christopher Bell won while sitting in the garage and where Larson sat and never even worked up a sweat.

(Chuck Pollock, a Wellsville Sun senior sports columnist, can be reached at cpollock@wnynet.net.

Read more from Chuck:

Looking ahead at another rebuild for Coach Schmidt and St. Bonaventure basketball

• A look at the early and late schedule issues for the Buffalo Bills

• John Murphy left a legacy in broadcasting for the Buffalo Bills

• Beane assesses the Bills’ draft picks

• A look at the first three picks by the Bills

• Will the Bills regret trading out of the first round?

• A look at the Buffalo Bills going into the NFL draft

• Pollock on the Bonnies and the need for a defensive lineman in the NFL draft for the Bills

• O.J. Simpson left a mixed legacy … in the wrong order

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