It was a typical summer weekend in Orlando, Florida, when the unthinkable happened.
The Indy 500, the marquee event of the IndyCar world, was underway. For those not familiar, the Indy 500 is the Super Bowl of motor racing. It’s the greatest show on Earth. I don’t know about you, but when I think of Florida, the Indy 500 comes to mind.
This year, the race was running behind schedule. With 110 laps to go, the race was officially 43 minutes behind. That’s a lot of time in a 500 lap race. There’s normally a safety car in there somewhere. If you’ve ever watched a sporting event where there was no action for a while, you’ll know what I mean.
While the fans were growing restless, there was still something magical about the place. The atmosphere was electric. This was a sold-out crowd of 102,000. It was the largest attendance at an IndyCar race in decades.
There were plenty of reasons why this could’ve been a disaster. The track was drying up. There was construction everywhere. And there were long queues for refreshments. But I don’t think anyone saw this one coming.
There were a few laps to go when a massive crash occurred on the backstretch. As usual in races like these, there was a lot of smoke and debris. But this was different. Something didn’t seem right. People were running in the wrong direction. What had happened?
It gradually became apparent that 11 vehicles had collided in one terrifying chain reaction. Interspersed among the mayhem, were fans, protesters, and journalists trying to capture the horrific event on camera. One car even flipped over twice. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. Just a few injuries.
The track was closed for a good couple of hours. When things finally resumed, there was a hush over the place. You could hear a pin drop. Drivers, team owners, and even the spectators were shell-shocked. It was as if someone had thrown a bomb and nobody knew where it had come from or how to put it out.
This was the first race of the ‘Dontmok’ era. We’re not really sure who or what ‘Dontmok’ stands for. Maybe it’s short for ‘Don’t Mess Around With My Kokomo’. Anyway, it was initially used as a hashtag on social media channels to mark the beginning of a new era. But for me, ‘Dontmok’ will always be synonymous with that horrific weekend in Orlando.
The Damage And Aftermath
The track was a mess. The concrete was chipping, the asphalt was bubbled, and the grandstands had been damaged. In total, there were over 7.5 million in damages. IndyCar had to cancel multiple events and indefinitely postponed the entire ‘Dontmok’ series. The next race wasn’t till August 2019. That’s more than three months away. The damage was going to take a while to fix. But the grandstands were the biggest issue. They had been built with a flat roof. In other words, they weren’t built to withstand Hurricane Irma.
The irony is that the hurricane had hit three days before the race. It was devastating. Seventy-five percent of the structures on the track had been damaged or destroyed. The hurricane had caused massive flooding. Ponds and lakes overflowed. Cars were swept away. It had been a while since a natural disaster had hit the area. The last one was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Before that, there was the 1927 San Antonio hurricane. That was the last time the Indy 500 had to be canceled. To make matters worse, the hurricane had made landfall in Florida as a Category 4. Normally, that’s when things really start rolling. But this year, it was a doozie.
The following is a list of the worst damage at the track as a result of Hurricane Irma:
- The Coca-Cola grandstand was completely destroyed.
- Five concession stands were toppled and destroyed
- The trackside terrace next to the souvenir stands was heavily damaged
- The cyclone fence surrounding the track was uprooted and damaged
- Pole 5 was snapped in two and damaged
- The start-finish line was strewn with debris and littered with trash
- The catch fence surrounding the track was flattened
- The track’s iconic historical grandstand was heavily damaged and sits partly in the pond
- Multiple flagpoles were snapped
- The trackside tunnel was washed away
- Ten percent of the track’s parking lot was covered in water
To make matters worse, the hurricane had hit during the offseason. The track was mostly empty. Most of the cars had been parked for the winter. It was extremely inactive. There were no workers, no one around. It was a ghost town. It was eerie.
Things had been building up to this point. After years of stagnant growth, IndyCar had finally found some momentum. It had launched a new era with the ‘Dontmok’ race. The energy in the paddock was electric. Everyone was eager to get back out there and put in some more practice. It had been a long winter. A lot of people were looking for some excitement. The final lap of the Indy 500 would’ve been a perfect way to send everyone home happy. But it didn’t happen. The hurricane had stolen everything. Even that last bit of excitement had been snuffed out. This was truly the end of an era. The next race would be a lot of hard work. With the foundations that were laid back in 2017, things were looking up. Then the unthinkable happened.
What Is IndyCar Doing Now?
It wasn’t just the track that was damaged. The entire sport was thrown into turmoil. The Indy 500 had been the marquee event of the IndyCar season. It was the Super Bowl of motor racing. The entire calendar was affected. The ‘Dontmok’ race had been moved to June. That’s months earlier than usual. It was disheartening for the fans. The season had been thrown out of whack. The schedule for the rest of the year was completely up in the air. It was going to be a long three months until the next race. And that’s not counting the winter months either. This had been a hard year for everyone. It was a struggle just to get by. Luckily, there had been no major injuries. But it was a close shave. The future of the IndyCar series was uncertain. Where were they going to find the money to rebuild? What was going to happen to the race? Who was going to work the tracks?
Thankfully, the IndyCar series had been saved by one man. The one man who had the power to bring life back to the series. His name was Jay Frye. He was the CEO of Jay Frye Motorsports. The man who had purchased the rights to the track from the city of Orlando in 2017. Jay Frye Motorsports had come to the rescue. The company was completely independent. It had no affiliations with other racing series. Frye had stepped in and saved the day. Without his intervention, not only would the Indy 500 have been canceled, but so would several other races throughout the season. Including the ‘Dontmok’ race. It would’ve been a complete and total disaster for the series. One big question remains: will IndyCar return to its pre-hurricane levels of attendance and enthusiasm? The answer is yes. Frye has assured the fans that he has everything under control. And as you’ll see in a bit, he does. He purchased the remnants of 2017 at a bargain price. But he also brought in new ideas. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to work for a company named after themselves?
The Future Of The IndyCar Series
After months of financial uncertainty and rumor mill speculation, we now know the exact dollar figure that Jay Frye Motorsports had to pay to save the season. The total cost of the hurricane was $26 million. Plus another $7 million in legal fees. That comes to a total of $33 million. Just to purchase the remnants of 2017, Jay Frye Motorsports had spent $33 million. The cost to repair the damage and reclaim the track was going to be at least twice that. Add in the lost revenue from the canceled races and it’s easy to see why the company had to go big or go home.
The future of the IndyCar series is looking up. There are already talks of a summer race in 2021. If all goes well, the 2021 season will be the best year for the sport in decades. The future looks bright.