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Into the mindset of an Indy 500 driver
By Scott Goodyear
Special to ABC Sports Online

The Indianapolis 500 is really two races. The first race is just to qualify for the event itself. The second one is to win the 500-mile race.

What drivers and teams are thinking about right now is how to prepare themselves for the Memorial Day weekend classic.

It's a week from the final qualifying day to race day with only a very short practice session on Carburetion Day to serve as a warmup for the drivers for the race. Although there is a week off, the drivers aren't idle because there are many sponsor functions, charity events, black tie galas, mandatory driver meetings, mandatory autograph sessions. And during that time, the driver must find time to get his mindset for 500 miles.

Scott Sharp
Scott Sharp is eager to follow up last season's Indy 500 pole with a victory this year.
In my past experience, this whole week flies by because any mistake or any failure to finish well in the event means that you have to wait 365 more days to have another shot at it. Everybody in our Indy Car industry sets their calendar for this event every May.

The other part of this week is for teams and drivers to strategize and map out their gameplan for race day. What I find out to be particularly effective for this event is to think about it as a 400-mile endurance race with a 100-mile sprint race at the end of it. And with that said, the first 400 miles are spent working with your team during pit stops to get your car set up for that 100-mile sprint.

A driver's job is to assess the track conditions on race day and how the car is reacting in traffic. He must communicate that to the engineers in the pits for them to assess what changes need to be made on the car during pit stops. In a typical race, you will have six to seven pit stops, so you can count on four to five stops to prepare your car for the final 40 laps.

The mindset of the driver alone is to be mistake free for 500 miles, including the high pressure of making pit stops. During a routine pit stop, a driver has to bring his car into the pits, challenging himself to come off the track at 220 mph and enter pit lane and obey the 60 mph speed limit, and then stop with his car in his pit box precisely on his marks to allow the pit crew to change four tires, add 35 gallons of methanol fuel and make any necessary chassis changes in 12 seconds or less.

I've always been amazed at how quick a crew can do this work, and I've always said they are the behind-the-scenes heroes in the sport.

I've always been amazed at how quick a crew can do this work, and I've always said they are the behind-the-scenes heroes in the sport. It is important to note that these guys practice and train to perfect their job as much as a driver practices on a track and trains in the gym to perfect his. This is a complete and total team effort, win or lose.

Some of the pressures a driver has to handle throughout the day include mishaps that may happen in front of him -- cars spinning, debris falling off of other cars because of other accidents -- along with trying to run laps in excess of 225 mph, which is driving the length of a football field in less than a second. The reaction time of Indy Car drivers is amazing, and it is important to note that there is no decision time for a driver. He just reacts to what happens in front of him.

For instance, when a driver exits Turn 4 at Indianapolis, there is a short amount of time before he is in Turn 1, as the length of the straight is only five-eighths of a mile. During that time, he takes the opportunity to look at his digital dash on his steering wheel to asses the engine functions, possibly communicate with his team through his two-way radio and then prepare himself for entering into Turn 1 at a top speed of more than 230 mph, while contending with the turbulent air from the cars in front of him, all while keeping an eye on the drivers who are trying to pass him. This is done each lap for 200 circuits around this track. So win, lose or draw, the driver is both physically and mentally drained at the end of 3½ hours and 500 miles.

For myself, it has been one of the most exhilarating races that I have ever competed in my life. I've had 11 starts here, and the 11th start was just as exciting as the first, back in 1990 when I was a rookie. And I am sure that in my new position in the booth with ABC Sports, I will be just excited, but I have found myself a safer place to be involved with the race.

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