Indy 500 in the books, but heat isn't a record
Fans sought shade under the grandstands and beneath umbrellas. Misting stations got a healthy workout. But Sunday's Indianapolis 500 won't go down in the record books as the hottest in the 101-year history of the race.
The temperature in Indianapolis hit 91 degrees at the end of the race, just one degree shy of the race-day record of 92 set in 1937, according to the National Weather Service. It was also 91 on race day in 1919 and 1953.
Even so, it was plenty warm for the tens of thousands of fans who carted coolers full of ice and water into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to see Dario Franchitti win his third 500.
"It was way hot but the breeze was really helping," said Susan Binder of Columbus, Ind., who watched the first 25 laps from her seat along the main straightaway before taking a break and heading to a tent for some infield tailgating.
Speedway officials had spent the week urging fans to stay hydrated and use sunscreen liberally after forecasters called for temperatures in the mid-90s with a heat index of 100. The track brought in portable misters and cooling fans and prepared to treat more than 1,000 fans at its medical facilities.
Late Sunday, track officials said fewer than 200 people were seen for heat problems and other issues at the infield medical center and low numbers were expected at other sites around the vast speedway.
The heat and cloudless skies sent John Genenbacher of St. Louis under the concrete and aluminum grandstands about midway through the race to get some shade. But he said this was his 39th trip to the race and that the hot day didn't discourage the group of about 40 people who attend the race together.
He said a steady breeze the kept flags flapping helped a lot.
"It doesn't seem as hot as it was a couple years ago," Genenbacher said. The race-day high hit 89 degrees in 2009.
Shelia and Russ Wilkinson of Janesville, Wis., have attended nearly every 500 since 1968. Shelia Wilkinson said she kept drinking water throughout the race but only left her seat in the sun once during the race.
She said she thought the weather had been more miserable in other years when it was more humid and lacked any breeze.
"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be," she said. "We know the drill."
Chris and Maggie Saunders of Toledo, Ohio, spent much of the day in the shade of the grandstands' second deck along the track's main straightaway. They helped keep themselves cool by soaking handkerchiefs in ice water from their cooler and tying them around their necks.
Chris Saunders has attended about a dozen 500s, but it was Maggie's first. Despite Sunday's heat, she said, "I'll come back."
Some fans, though, opted to sit this one out.
Paula Jarrett, 52, of New Palestine, Ind., just east of Indianapolis, has attended nearly every race for the last decade, and her husband, David Hill, has been going for about 20 years. They've sat through unseasonably cold days, heat waves and even severe thunderstorms in 2004 that spawned tornadoes in the city.
"We usually never miss a race," Jarrett said. "We've been at the track before when it's 55 and rainy and you're freezing your rear off and drinking hot chocolate and wishing the sun would come out, and we've been out there and fried in the sun."
This year, though, they decided to sell their tickets high in the third turn after seeing the forecast.
Jarrett said her husband had some "seller's remorse." Still, she said sitting this one out wasn't all bad.
"There's something to be said for staying at home and listening to it on the radio," she said.