The Indy 500: Gem of the Midwest hidden in plain sight. There is nothing quite like shotgunning a beer on a busy road at 4 am in Speedway, Indiana while your car is idling behind you, cops are all around you, and the full knowledge that all of this is alright. When the cannon fires (because of course a cannon signifies the start of the day) to signal it is alright to enter the greatest place on Earth, your heart has no choice but to fill with childlike glee and wonderment.
Some context: I’m not from Indiana. For years all the state was to me was a connecting highway between home and college. And cornfields. All of the cornfields. I don’t even give a shit about auto-racing. NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1… none of it matters to me in the slightest. In 28 years of my life, I have maybe watched 30 total laps of any race whatsoever and that was usually because I had fallen asleep watching television and when I came to it was somehow on FOX. But after my first experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, I knew I would never miss another race. All of this is thanks to the legend of Piss Pants Pete.
Fresh out of college, the day started like any other—ripping shots of Fireball whiskey while standing outside of my car at 4am while allowing one of my close friends to cut some provocative shorts out of an old pair of jeans (I’ve lived a privileged life thus far). After several hours of power drinking, horn honking, and general revelry, the cannon shot boomed through the morning sky and we began the process of driving into the infield. After an eternity, we finally found Turn 3, the Val Halla of Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Turn 3 is unlike anything I have ever experienced in my life. It’s a college tailgate, mixed with a strip club, adorned in Goodwill anything American, lit on fire, with cars speeding around you at 200+ miles per hour. Want to watch the race? Make your way to the fence. Care to ignore the race to keep drinking? Check that box. Feeling run down? Pass out on a tarp or in a chair? Care to party with underage drinkers listening to techno and probably taking recreational drugs? Head on over to the Snake Pit. It is Chuck-E-Cheese for adults.
Around 6 am, we finally break free of the vehicular logjam and park in our spot two rows off the track next to a bright red Ford F-150. As we unpack our necessities for the day: jello shots, a grill, various assortments of meats, handles of liquor, the occasional waterbottle, etc., our new race day neighbor swaggers over to us.
“Hey, I’m Pete” he slurred, looking at us and through us at the same time.
Pete seemed like a great, upstanding gentleman you’d encounter at any track in America. Really, he looked the part of the perfect race day neighbor. There was only one problem with Pete.
He was wet.
Not the normal, sweaty, late May humidity version of wet you’d expect from a man of his build and waist size. Pete had visibly pissed himself. At 6 am. While driving himself into the race.
Under any other circumstances, this would be a reason to pause and consider your life choices. However, on race day in American, this is one of those things you just have to let slide. Pete turned out to be an excellent race day neighbor—he shotgunned beers with us. He stammered through stories about Indiana sports legends that couldn’t possibly be true (but none of us were sober enough to research). When the mood struck, he even walked up to and spit game at a number of girls who may have been showing him the right kind of inviting cleveage or Daisy Duke cut shorts (they were less inviting to him than we were). He even played Louisville Chugger/Dizzy Bat (depending on what region of the United States you went to college) with us. Hell, the highlight of the day was when he took too long to chug a beer, spun 10 times, tripped over himself and fell into the hood of his truck before laying on the ground and vomiting foam into the grass (This all took about 10 minutes).
And, most importantly, he continued to piss himself throughout the day. At least 3 to 5 more times. In his own words, “Idda Wabta once, whada mat noew?” (Rough Translation: I already went once, what does it matter now?).
The rest of the day was a complete blur. All I remember were girls were out, liquor was flowing, and allegedly there was a race. Personally, I think I watched 5 of my 30 lifetime laps that day. I heard it was good, but I don’t really know what that means because racing stuff.
Finally, as the day came to a close, we began to pack up our site. Toward the end of this task, an extremely drunk Pete staggered over, worried that he had lost his keys. He was clearly unfit to drive (as evidenced by the fact that his keys were sitting in the cup holder in his truck), but we pretended to help him look. As we got in our car, we noticed that Pete had given up his search in this impossible task, given the fact that he was passed out on the wheel of his car, his keys, still hiding in plain sight a foot away.
I don’t know what happened to Pete after that day. It’s possible he sobered up and left the track. He could have drunkenly done donuts on Turn 3 of the track until the police arrested him. Maybe he stripped down, windmilling his arms as the law enforcement chased him a la Ricky Bobby. There is a good chance he was taken to the drunk tent until someone could pick him up and drive him home. We can’t dismiss the likelihood that he’s dead.
All I know is this: every Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, I’ll continue to raise a beer to the heavens and cheer to this legend of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, thanking him for making my uncomfortably short jean shorts a part of my yearly wardrobe.
God speed Pete.