“Ladies and Gentlemen Start Your Engines”
State 7: Indiana - July 12, 2017
We woke up in Crawfordville, Indiana exhausted and groggy. It was another hazy, hot and humid Indiana night, and we both got very little rest. Lori and I began our day by looking for our roadside attraction in Indiana, but we were having no such luck. We narrowed our choices down to a 20-foot-tall plastic fuzzy peach, or a 12-foot diameter ball of dried paint, but neither option really got our juices flowing. Just when we thought all hope was lost, we happened to see a sign on the side of the road that said “Rotating Jail”. We were instantly intrigued, as neither one of us could figure out why a jail would need to spin. We are quickly learning sometimes the best solution to a problem is to simply look out the van window. We looked up the address online, plugged the coordinates into Michelle our GPS, and set in a course for the rotating jail.
When we arrived at the address of the jail, we were not sure if we were at the right location. It appeared to be an antique Victorian home, and not what one would expect a jail to look like. Upon entering the building, we learned this was because in addition to being the country jail of the day, it was also the home for the sheriff and his family. The sheriff's home was in the front of the house, and the rotating jail was in the back part of the home. Back in the 1800’s, 18 rotating jails were built in the US. Of the original 18, only 4 are still in existence. The Crawfordville, IN jail was the only one that still spins, and is on the National Registry of National Historic Places. The jail cells are 2 stories tall, built on a huge rotating disk and holds a total of 33 prisoners. The bars of the cell are bolted to the floor, and stay stationary. The cells have no individual doors. The only way to get the prisoners out was for the guard to rotate the entire jail via a crank to line up the cell with the one doorway on each level. The advantage of the design was it took only 1 guard on each floor to look after the prisoners. The huge disadvantage being if there ever was a fire, there was not enough time to get all of the prisoners out of their cells safely. This is why the jail was retired from service in 1931. There was a 3rd floor to the jail, which included a 2 cell infirmary, a cell for women prisoners, and a solitary confinement cell. Of course Lori and I had to pose for a few selfies before leaving, since neither one of us had been in jail before. We then left and continued trek south through central Indiana.
There was no way we could visit Indiana and not stop to see the most famous race track in the entire world: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We were very surprised to learn that the race track was not located in Indianapolis, but instead was located in the appropriately named town of Speedway, IN , which was a stone’s throw away. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the home to “the greatest spectacle in racing”, the Indianapolis 500 for the past 106 years. The race track was founded in 1909, and consists of a 2.5-mile oval that has remained unchanged ever since. At the time the auto industry was in its infancy, and the track was built as a means for auto manufacturers to test their newly designed automobiles. The track then was also briefly used to race motorcycles, and then car races. The very first Indianapolis’s 500 was held on May 30, 1911. With the exception of the years of WW2, the Indianapolis 500 has become an annual American sporting tradition in the month of May every year since.
Lori and I are not racing fans, and even we have heard of the Indianapolis 500. We love American traditions and visiting iconic sites, so the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was clearly a can’t miss attraction. There were 3 touring options, and we chose the 2nd option consisting of admission to the Racing Hall of Fame, and a lap around the track in a bus, with a pit stop at the finish line for $20 each. While we were waiting for the next tour bus to arrive, we decided to view the Hall of Fame. There were dozens of original cars on display which had won the Indianapolis 500 over the years. The most interesting display was the original car that won the inaugural race in 1911, and was a Nationally Registered Historic Car. We have seen plenty Nationally Registered Historic Sites. In fact, the Racetrack its self is such an example. However, this was the first Nationally Registered Historic Vehicle we had come across our journey, and rightfully so. To make things even more interesting, right next to the 1911 winning car, they displayed the car that won the 2011 Indianapolis’s 500. You could clearly see how the race and sport had evolved over the past 100 years.
The next tour bus finally arrived, and we walked outside to board. It was a very special moment to being doing a lap on the world’s most famous and iconic race track. The feeling is very hard to put into words. I think we set a track record for the slowest speed at 25mph. We learned from the tour guide the Indianapolis’s 500 is a race surrounded in traditions that are taken very seriously. Some of them include playing the races anthem “Welcome Home in Indiana” by Jim Nabors. Another track tradition since 1936 is the winner of the race, drinking a bottle of milk in victory lane. The 1993, Emerson Fittipadi decided to drink orange juice instead of milk after winning the race, and was instantly booed by over 100,000 people! I had the honor of partaking in another tradition during my visit, but first some background information. The original track was covered in dirt, which proved to be dangerous for racing, so the track was then covered in 4.2 million bricks earning the track the iconic name of The Brickyard. Eventually, the bricks in the track were paved over, but a 2-foot strip of the original bricks were left exposed at the finish line. In 1996 after Dale Jerret won the race, he got out of his car, got down on his hands and knees and kissed the bricks at the finish line. Therefore, the winner of the Indi 500 “kissing the bricks” has become annual tradition ever since. Our tour bus stopped at the finish line, and gave us all the opportunity to kiss the bricks on the track. At first I thought he had to be kidding! I imagined him in the backroom joking with the other tour guides with each bragging about how many suckers they got to kiss a race track that day. A quick google search revealed kissing the finish line was in fact a track tradition. Lori wanted no part of it, and I can’t say I blame her. I tried not to think about how unsanitary it was to kiss a race track driven over and smooched by thousands before me. I got down on my hands and knees gave the finish line my best lipper, doing my part to ensure the tradition lived on. After doing so, I received a pin from the tour guide that said “I kissed the bricks”. I earned that pin, and I felt proud! Lori said “Don’t even think about kissing me any time soon”.
Kissing the finish line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is by far the strangest thing I have done on my cross country trip so far. I have a feeling there are much more interesting experiences in store over the remaining 41 weeks of our trip. After departing the race track, we went to the Speedway Library to post some more blogs, and then slept in a Walmart in Indianapolis, IN. Tomorrow we explore the states capitol city, and we can’t wait!