- Associated Press - Sunday, May 27, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Just how hot was the Indianapolis 500? Well, that depends.

Tens of thousands of fans glistening with sunscreen and toting coolers filled with ice and water descended on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday amid speculation that it would be the hottest day in the 101-year history of the race.

Track officials announced just before 2:30 p.m. that the temperature had hit 93 degrees, which would break the record of 92 set in 1937.

But the National Weather Service in Indianapolis listed the official temperature at 90, and The Weather Channel had the mercury at a balmy 89 degrees.

Official highs and lows for Indianapolis are recorded at Indianapolis International Airport. National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Dahmer said the temperature at the speedway likely was higher because of the amount of pavement, the heat generated by the cars and the number of people gathered in such a small area.

Track officials had spent much of the week warning fans to take precautions against temperatures that were predicted to reach the mid-90s and generate a heat index of 100 degrees. The speedway brought in portable misters and cooling fans, and spokesman Doug Boles said medical staff expected to treat more than 1,000 people during the day.

Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said he was glad to be in the air conditioning for his first Indy 500 - and felt for the race drivers.

“With the equipment they wear, it’s going to be tough. It’s going to be really tough,” Lasorda said. “I feel sorry that they have to do it when it’s this hot, too.”

Many fans sought relief wherever they could find it.

The heat and cloudless skies sent John Genenbacher of St. Louis under the concrete and aluminum grandstands about midway through the race to get some shade. But he said this was his 39th trip to the race and that the hot day didn’t discourage the group of about 40 people who attend the race together.

He said a steady breeze the kept flags flapping helped a lot.

“It doesn’t seem as hot as it was a couple years ago,” Genenbacher said. The race-day high hit 89 degrees in 2009.

Susan Binder of Columbus, Ind., headed under a tent for some infield tailgating with family members after watching the first 25 laps of the race from her seat along the main straightaway. She planned to head back for the final laps of her first Indy 500.

“It was way hot but the breeze was really helping,” she said. “We’re trying to stay cool down here.”

Laurie Smith, 47, of Fishers, Ind., and her 14-year-old son, C.J., weren’t fazed by the forecast.

Smith packed hats, bottles equipped with fans and misters and collapsible coolers that included plastic bags containing a damp washcloth and ice to cool down their necks. She also had a secret weapon: a black umbrella.

Smith said she’s taken the umbrella on outings to amusement parks and other places to provide shade on hot days, but this was the first time in her four trips to the 500 that she’d brought it to the track.

“It brings (the temperature) down maybe five, six degrees,” she said. “It makes it just a little cooler.”

Some fans, though, opted to sit this one out.

Paula Jarrett, 52, of New Palestine, Ind., just east of Indianapolis, has attended nearly every race for the last decade, and her husband, David Hill, has been going for about 20 years. They’ve sat through unseasonably cold days, heat waves and even severe thunderstorms in 2004 that spawned tornadoes in the city.

“We usually never miss a race,” Jarrett said. “We’ve been at the track before when it’s 55 and rainy and you’re freezing your rear off and drinking hot chocolate and wishing the sun would come out, and we’ve been out there and fried in the sun.”

This year, though, they decided to sell their tickets high in the third turn after seeing the forecast of record temperatures and heat indexes of 100 degrees.

Even on a cooler day, Jarrett said, the sun is “in your face all afternoon long. It’s just hot as Hades up there. You’re packed in with all those people up there. You can’t keep sunscreen on.”

The couple found takers for all four of their tickets. Jarrett said her husband had some “seller’s remorse” and acknowledged they would miss seeing the action in person, Still, she said sitting this one out wasn’t all bad.

“There’s something to be said for staying at home and listening to it on the radio,” she said.


Associated Press writer Jeni O’Malley contributed to this story.



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