Car Culture / People

Celebrating Memorial Day One Race At A Time

Memorial Day weekend has always had a tremendous amount of meaning in my family. Not only is it significant because we in America remember those who have died serving our country, but in the Griot house it was also all about the racing traditions that fall on the weekend. I’m talking about the Indy 500 and the Monaco Grand Prix.

Both are larger-than-life spectacles held in vastly different environments, but the thrill of racing, the pomp and circumstance, and motorsport immortality are standard fare at each event. Both races are of monstrous importance to fan bases and offer instant immortality to the winning driver, but at the end of the day they only count towards one race’s worth of points.

For as long as I can remember I have looked forward to this coming weekend for a nice relaxing family trip with two awesome races that take place on the same day. As kids, this week would start with our dad bellowing out “Back Home Again in Indiana” in his best Jim Nabors voice. More recently, it begins with a simple text of some of the lyrics for us to understand that my dad is giddy that the Indy 500 is upon us. We have some fun traditions that revolve around that race and it’s the only Indy race we really get excited for anymore.

In the pits during the 2014 Historics at Monaco.

Before the Indy 500 we get to watch the Monaco Grand Prix, easily our favorite Formula 1 track for many reasons, the least of which is that this is such a technical track in such an incredible part of the world. Many legendary drivers have made their names with miraculous performances during this race. And up until recently, the Monaco Grand Prix was almost always good for a couple significant positional battles, even if the race winner was essentially decided in qualifying as passing is so difficult on this track.

With the advent of DVR, it would be easy to simply record the Monaco Grand Prix and watch it at a reasonable 7 a.m., before the Indy 500 festivities start, however that makes too much sense to my dad, so clearly we will be watching it live at 5 a.m. PST. Now this may sound like lunacy to many people but for us, it’s a thing.

Although I haven’t seen all of the legendary Monaco races, there have been a lot of highlights and it seems every year watching the race means a little bit more to me. As long as I can remember, I have watched this race with my dad, in my younger years, when Michael Schumacher was king, Formula 1 was compelling television and wonderful racing and it was a big deal to watch the televised race. I would love seeing Monaco, a seemingly incredible playground for the rich, getting turned into a race track.

Turn 6 Grand Hotel Hairpin on my walk about in 2005.

When I was 18 it came full circle. My friends and I were in Europe and diverted our plans to incorporate a Monaco track walk. We spent the Fourth of July in Nice, France and took a train to Monaco. We got off the train and were blown away, Monaco was everything we had imagined. Of course, traffic is quite normal when the GP isn’t taking over the town so the track wasn’t technically in place at that moment, but it is very clear that you are walking on the sidewalks of the streets that they race on. It’s a pretty special feeling.

My dad navigating the Turn 6 Grand Hotel Hairpin in the Gurney Eagle in 2014.

A few years ago I got to go to back to Monaco on the greatest trip of my life and actually witness a Grand Prix happen there, although this time, it was the Historic GP and my dad was going to race in it. No words can describe the amount of excitement that I felt that entire week. The city was buzzing with energy. When there is racing going on, you can hear it everywhere in the city, it takes over the entire town! The winners of each race group actually meet the Prince of Monaco! It is a crazy spectacle to witness and while the Historic GP is a popular event, it still isn’t quite the draw of the Formula 1 race and I can only imagine that the volume is turned up to 11 for that (even if the new cars still sound like donkey farts). I love watching this race regardless of what’s going on in F1 nowadays, it’s still crazy to think about a racing event so epically large in such a town so ritzy and small.

Even as important as the Monaco Grand Prix is, the biggest Griot family tradition relates to the Indianapolis 500. The Indy 500 doesn’t really need to be explained to most racing enthusiasts, it’s the greatest spectacle on Earth. Period. Now that’s a strong statement, but it’s quite a tradition and there is a lot to like about the race. The opening ceremony, Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again in Indiana,” the high-speed racing, the inevitable wrecks, and the winner drinking milk. It’s gone on for so long and has given us a ton of legends like Al Unser Sr., Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, and it continues to immortalize those drivers that win this huge race. It is still only one race with regards to points and winning a championship, but let’s be honest, winning the Indy 500 is essentially winning the Indy championship in most people’s minds. This makes for compelling storylines and an extra week built in for qualifying. Which makes our tradition such an awesome treat.

2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan. Getty Images.

Because you have a week between qualifications and the actual race, there is a lot of time to read up on who’s looking the best. And, every year, USA Today puts out quite a spread on the race which includes comprehensive info on how fast a driver is and how much experience they have at the race. This makes for a perfect scouting tool for how the Griot family watches the Indy 500. We take it next level. We have a driver draft and everyone present gets a chance to select a team of drivers whom they expect to collectively do the best in the race. Each person picks a driver until the entire field is accounted for.

Obviously, whoever picks first has a great chance to pick the race winner but even though the winner helps your team do better, you’ve got to build a team so every pick is of equal importance… it’s all about depth. After the checkered flag waves we tally the scores based upon where each driver finishes. The winning driver is worth 1 point, the last place driver or the first person to DNF is worth whatever the total number of drivers are. The lowest number wins. It usually ends up being a pretty close tally but we have an undisputed champion in our family. My grandpa. He is currently riding a five-year win streak and it is actually quite ridiculous. My dad and brothers and I are always perplexed at how he pulls a dark horse out of the hat every year. It’s getting unfair. After the races and all of the draft winners decided, we generally move on to an awesome family dinner and go to sleep early after the early wake up call.

I hope you get a chance to watch either of the races with your family this weekend as you relax and enjoy the holiday. I know where I’ll be at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, and you can bet that I’ll be loving every minute of it.

Have fun in your garage!

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