“His eyes were big as saucers. His muscles were rippling … and I remember thinking to myself, ‘Boy! What are going to see today?”
-- Elmont, New York. June 9, 1973
Those are the words of the late journalist William Nack, recalling the morning he watched Secretariat – the greatest racehorse to ever live – waking in his barn the morning of the 1973 Belmont Stakes.
It was the third leg of the Triple Crown, with Secretariat having won the first two installments in record fashion, posting times that stand today as the fastest in the history of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. The Chestnut colt was, of course, 3 at the time, eclipsing me by 2 1/2 years.
Yes, I was only 6 months old. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, historians like Nack and conversations with my Kentucky sportscaster friend Dick Gabriel, I’ve been able to grasp the magic of Secretariat dispatching foes deep in the dust of that blistering New York dirt. Etching his name into the annals of greatness in sports lore.
Each and every winter, I watch the tape once again, and I do so with the feeling that Nack had watching Secretariat emerge for his morning jog.
It hits me each year when I know the time has come for another season of NTT IndyCar Series racing. Sports has a way of doing that, you know. Rewarding us for our patience, creating for us a diversion, allowing us to bond on the common ground of cheering for that in which we’re passionate. In 1973, it was Vietnam and Watergate that America longed to escape. Each spring with Indy car racing, it’s the doldrums of the offseason, the bite of the wintry winds we again dispatch into the rear view – knowing spring has arrived and weekends will soon be occupied by the roar of engines, the sights of competition.
The storylines are ubiquitous, for there are always things to pique one’s interest. As I watched the recent test at Circuit of The Americas, I got the glimpse of what may grip us this summer. I saw team president Brian Barnhart’s eyes as young Colton Herta flexed his muscle with another session-leading fast lap for Harding Steinbrenner Racing at the two-day test. I saw rookie Marcus Ericsson finding comfort in his new Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry. Zach Veach oozed the confidence of a tenured veteran, even though he’s just starting his second season in the series. Veterans Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi, Will Power and Josef Newgarden all spoke with excitement of the trajectory of the NTT IndyCar Series.
Secretariat ran the first three-quarters of the Belmont Stakes just two-tenths over 69 seconds, the fastest ever run to open the Belmont. “Everyone to a man is thinking,” Nack told ESPN “SportsCentury,” “he’s going TOO. DAMN. FAST.”
Fast. That’s the name of the game in racing. Strategy comes into play. Attrition comes into play. Every auto race has the potential to write a different script. Will a late race tangle allow a crafty veteran to slip past for the win? Will a pit stop mishap deny a season champion a chance at victory? Will a tap of a front wing relegate a title contender to the back of the field? One never knows in racing. It’s the beauty of the sport.
I can only imagine that was the mindset of fellow Hoosier Charles “Chic” Anderson as he called Secretariat’s run toward the Triple Crown for CBS on that June day of 1973. You can hear the amazement in his voice as Secretariat enters the track’s final quarter: “He is moving like a tremendous machine!” Anderson immortally said as viewers across the nation sat fixated on their TV sets.
Tremendous machines. Exactly what I’ll have the privilege to again call, when those Honda and Chevrolet engines roar to life on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, in little more than a week.
I’ll watch the cars in the morning being rolled from the garage areas, the sun dancing off the carbon fiber Dallaras like muscles rippling in a warmup. The chassis noses jetting from the wings like eyes bulging as saucers. The walk to the grid to start another fantastic season.
It’s my favorite part of the weekend. It’s the one time I feel the magic of those YouTube videos and descriptions of history. And I’ll inevitably think to myself, “Boy! What are we going to see today?”
(Veteran broadcaster Jake Query is a member of the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network team and offers his musings regularly on IndyCar.com.)