Race Weekend Central

Fan’s View: Sundresses & Standing in the Track Bad Racing Combinations

As a woman, I do fall victim to the occasional bout of fashion envy. When Dario Franchitti crossed the finish line in Indianapolis on Sunday (May 30), it was with appreciation I smiled for his victory as well as Ashley Judd’s nicely coordinated ensemble.

She bounced up and down. I considered the large, violet floral pattern against the beige background of the fashionable sundress to be quite the thing. And then as she took off down pit road I noticed a pair of matching espadrille’s dangling from her hand.

Hold on! Yes, your weekly racing commentator has returned to the building.

From multiple visits to pit road over the years, I have been issued numerous lists of the required dress code, for the sake of safety.

1.) No open-toe shoes.
2.) No shorts or skirts.
3.) No tank tops or strapless tops.

I realize Ms. Judd is the wife of a competitor and exceptions are made for family and special guests, but does she spend so little time around racing that it actually seemed logical to traipse down pit road barefoot?

I’m sure I’m overreacting to a singular moment of exuberant celebration, yet watching the evening’s excitement over at Charlotte where several over-the-wall members suffered from contact with passing vehicles really underlined why all these seemingly silly pit road regulations have come into play over the years. And why a last remnant of the old days needs to be exorcised from the Izod IndyCar Series events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Let’s talk about the dress code, first.

Pit road is an insane place during any racing event. Huge rolling toolboxes are pushed around by some really big guys, and those guys don’t have a whole lot of control over those things. Lug nuts are shot out from behind cars as they peel out of the pits, becoming serious ballistic threats. Each pit box teems with about 20 people that actually sport a team logo.

Add to that some family members, a photographer and the random media member who’s walking with their nose in a notepad, and you only begin to imagine the controlled chaos that is present. Air hoses, crash carts, golf carts, stacks of tires, air tanks, porta-potties, gas cans, a fireman every 10 steps and the necessary army of racing officials. Are you getting the picture?

Your head is on a swivel trying to make sense of everybody around you and they are solely focused on their single assigned task. It is not possible to be aware of the rolling cart toting a team’s fuel that harbors a sharp edge, which clips your unsuspecting calf as it passes. If you’re sporting a pair of cargo shorts, you’ve got a nasty gash and now you must go find the first aid tent.

With a sturdy pair of jeans to protect your weak flesh, now you’re just hopping up and down as you curse the harried gas man. Closed-toe shoes equals feet that don’t suffer from random burns or cuts. And no tank tops? Let’s just say, pit road is not a safe place and it’s a reasonable request.

So, despite the fact that Dario’s wife made quite a pretty picture hopping, jumping and waving down pit road on her way to victory lane, let’s just say that the lovely beige sundress, with purple floral pattern accented by a really gorgeous pair of matching sandals and wide-brimmed hat were not at all the thing to wear to the races. Please don’t follow the example should you get the chance to enjoy a race from behind the wall.

Now for that other pit-road safety thought.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway maintains an outer pit road wall that was designed for a time when pit boards were a necessary means of communication with your team. Thus, the architects provided that neat area just wide enough for a man to stand. Flagmen, crewmembers and photographers standing nearly in the middle of the action were part of the scenery as the field rolled down the frontstretch.

The time has come for all humans to be banned from that “protected” spot.

During the Indy 500, Ryan Briscoe’s No. 6 lost it coming out of turn 4. His car impacted hard, slid down the outer wall and then turned left and headed for that pit wall. In replays, when faced with a machine that was shedding parts as fast as it was moving, you could see many of those hapless “need to stand in the middle of the track” people ducking.

Yeah, that’s right. The competitors are only running 230 mph. You’ll be able to miss a flying piece of fiberglass by following a simple rule: duck and cover. No sweat.

Who are we kidding?

There is no reason, beyond some misplaced sense of bravado that anybody needs to be out there. You can’t convince me otherwise. It needs to stop. Tradition is a sorry excuse when something really bad happens and given time, it will.

About the author

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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