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Associated Press
Race fans cross the yard of bricks in front of the Pagoda on their way to their seats before the running of the 96th Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis Sunday.

Record heat takes aim at Indy 500 fans, drivers

Associated Press
IndyCar drivers Charlie Kimball, left, Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, and Dario Franchitti, of Scotland, sits in the shade of an umbrella during the drivers meeting for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis Saturday. The 96th running of the race is today and temperatures are expected to be in the 90s.

INDIANAPOLIS — Tens of thousands of fans glistening with sunscreen and toting coolers filled with ice and water descended on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday for what could be the hottest Indianapolis 500 on record.

Temperatures were forecast to climb into the mid-90s during the afternoon's race, and track officials spent much of the week urging fans to take precautions against the heat. The track brought in portable misting stations and cooling stations, but spokesman Doug Boles said track medical personnel expected to treat more than 1,000 fans before the race's conclusion.

The hottest race day on record was in 1937, when the National Weather Service said the temperature hit 92 degrees.

Even before the start of the race, those in attendance were feeling the heat. Pace car driver Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network's show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives," said Sunday was hotter than when he was practicing in the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 pace car the last few days.

Fieri said he thought heat will be a factor in the race but that the drivers could handle it.

"I don't think I could do it -- I've got air conditioning in the ZR1," Fieri said.

Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said he was glad he was going 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."

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

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."

Smith planned to use the umbrella while walking around but said she wouldn't open it during the race unless they move to a higher vantage point where she wouldn't obstruct anyone's view.

"If I need to scoot up to the back couple of rows with my umbrella, that's an option," she said.

If that's not possible, she has a backup plan.

"If it gets a little warm, we'll just have to go underneath the stands and do a little shopping," she said.

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.

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