Legends Pro-Am brings Indy 500 race day to June

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SPEEDWAY – Nothing changes for competitors – whether there are 250,000 people in the stands or 2,500.

It was much closer to the latter on Sunday afternoon when about two dozen muscle cars from years gone by made their way to pit lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, facing clockwise in preparation to run the 14-turn road course.

Willy T. Ribbs was one of those who would be jumping in one of the machines during a new June race at the speedway-the Legends Pro-Am as part of the inaugural Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational.

Over 700 vintage cars from all walks of motorsports ventured to the track as part of the festival that was part sightseeing and part racing. For Ribbs-who drove part of the 45-minute race on Sunday afternoon-it was very much like the two times he started the 500 race in May.

“You put extra emphasis on getting it handled here,” said Ribbs of winning Sunday’s race-and he wasn’t alone on a unique day.

With the competitors treating the race as serious as they would if they were running two weeks ago, a true competitive feel was generated during the Pro-Am event that saw a few familiar names end up on the podium.

Al Unser Jr. piloted his vintage Corvette to the victory while Eliseo Salazar came in second and Ribbs third.

“Anytime you win at Indy, it’s a good day,” said Unser Jr. of the victory-which came 20 years after his second Indianapolis 500 victory in 1994.

The atmosphere was authentic to May-with the pre-race activities including “God Bless America,” National Anthem along with the traditional command to start the engines. Each team had a pit-driver stop and there were even a few minor bumps as the cars made their way around the infield course.

To provide a fitting finish, the top three finishers not only were fitted for winners’ rings, they also received a bottle of milk as they would have if the captured victory in the 500 Mile Race.

“What better way to end up on the podium here and drinking milk,” said Salazar. “I didn’t drink the milk when I finished third so this is better.”

And so much more like a race day than he might have expected.