Coach Frank Reich has talked about speed ever since he arrived in Indianapolis.
On Friday morning, the Colts rookies visited a place known for speed.
As part of their weeks-long rookie transition program, the players make visits to places unique to Indy. And what better way to get to know their new city than a visit to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May?
“It’s the best,” said Allison Melangton, Senior Vice President of Events at IMS. “We love it that they want to come out here, that we can show them the property, that they can be part of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, and we hope they become bigger fans the longer they live here and the more they come out.”
It’s certainly happened in the past.
“Andrew Luck is a frequent visitor out here. He was here for the Grand Prix and he’s coming back for the race. Reggie Wayne is coming. We have lot of players that keep coming back to the race and we love that,” she said.
As the players walked through the Speedway from the garages to the control center, Gasoline Alley to Pit Lane, they were struck by the sheer size of it.
“You hear 2.5 miles, but once you actually get here and see how big it is, it’s hard to really comprehend,” said guard Braden Smith.
They got to experience the oval track for themselves from one of the events cars – at more than 100 miles an hour.
“It was fast,” said defensive end Kemoko Turay. “It’s crazy. While they’re turning the corner, you wonder, ‘Oh, snap. I hope this doesn’t get out of hand!’”
Afterwards, they got a look at the 2019 Corvette ZR1 Pace Car that will be driven by Pacers guard Victor Oladipo during the Indy 500.
“He’s probably going to get one after that. It’s a nice car,” said linebacker Matthew Adams, who got in the drivers seat to test it out. “I was definitely ready to take off,” he laughed.
From there, it was out to the track where they got a history lesson from Dan Skiver, who works in operations.
“One of the traditions that isn’t that old, it started in the mid-90s, is kissing the bricks. It was a very organic thing that just happened after one of the NASCAR drivers was kind of overcome with emotion, knelt down, and kissed the bricks. And every year after that, we do a tradition called kissing the bricks,” he said. “You’re welcome to kiss the bricks.”
A few players took him up on the offer, after a demonstration by Colts Director of Player Engagement David Thornton, who Skiver goes way back with.
“D.T. and I got hooked up his rookie year. I was an intern with the Colts. So, we developed a little bit of a friendship and then when he came back to town, we got reunited and I was here at the track.”
The Colts have been bringing the rookies to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2012. It’s a tradition Skiver loves to share with them.
“I love being an ambassador for racing and the sport. You’ll find that a lot of the football guys have never even stepped foot in a racetrack, much less a facility with this much history.”
His favorite part is seeing their reaction when the cars hit the track for practice.
“When that car comes down doing 230, you see their faces light up like they’re five years old. Everybody seems to have the same reaction.”
Along the way, the players stopped to take pictures and sign autographs for fans, who were excited to get their first glimpse of them in person.
Cindy Hulen and her husband, John, have had Colts season tickets since the team came to Indianapolis in 1984. They’ve also been coming to the race since 1971.
She was glad to see the newest Colts embracing Indianapolis and its most cherished tradition.
“People have no idea, if they’ve never been here, what it means to be here,” she said. “It is the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. There is no question about it.”
The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 is May 27th.
It’s a tradition Melangton hopes the players come back to experience for themselves.
“It’s wonderful to have professional athletes supporting professional athletes,” she said. “We want them to come out as often as they want to come.”
This is Indy.
This is May.
This is home.