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Memorial Day weekend was a wild and crazy thing at our house. We did a lot, but it involved a lot of television viewing for me, too, with all the hockey and motorsports going on.
Highlights included the Indianapolis 500, which was falling on the 50th year since I attended the race for the first time — the classic 1969 Indy 500, in which a young Italian kid named Mario Andretti got a chance to drive a car for Andy Granatelli’s STP team. His primary car had some issues, so Andretti got into a year-old race car, and won the race — leading to that very uncomfortable moment when Andretti, still strapped into the cockpit, had no place to hide from Granatelli planting a big kiss on his cheek.
Anyhow, there also was the early-morning broadcast of the Monaco Grand Prix, which is a colorful race through the streets but unfortunately is on such tight streets that there is virtually no chance for any passing. Lewis Hamilton had the pole, jumped ahead at the start, and led the whole way, with young Max Verstappen chasing him to the finish with an obviously faster car. Verstappen had to absorb a 5-second penalty, administered at the end, and because Hamilton was trying to hold him off with a Mercedes that had worn, slippery mid-grip tires, Hamilton’s Red Bull Renault on hard compound tires could have gotten away and won by more than the 5 seconds, but he couldn’t get past. So he was dropped to fourth by finishing time.
We also did stuff around out rural home, with my wife, Joan, the master flower gardener, while I ran outside and mowed our large lawn. Our trusty 17-year-old lawn mower with its unbeatable Honda overhead-cam 5.5-horsepower engine, required a lot of pulls without sign of life, and then just fired up, after its long winter’s nap.
But our adventure included more. Saturday was a day that featured high school softball, but I had to get home in time to see the World Championship final when Finland shocked the world by stopping Canada 3-1 to win its first gold ever. Then there was the Gophers amazing victory over LSU to sweep their best-of-3 softball NCAA tournament series. Meantime, while I was at Cloquet for the softball games, I found B and B Market and bought some great-looking pork chops and some coarse-ground hot dogs.
The plan was to grill something on our battered old CharBroil grill, which we had fixed with a new propane hose, igniter, grates, and just about every replaceable thing. It had to be coaxed to get enough gas in the right flow to keep burning, and after several resettings of the fuel regulator, it seemed to catch well. I went back inside, leaving the grill to heat up on the deck, where Joan was fiddling with a flower pot.
Suddenly, Joan let out a yell for me to come quick. I did, and found the CharBroil engulfed in bright and enthusiastic flames, burning up from the new propane tube to the grill itself. I gambled and reached around to shut off the propane tank valve and we stomped out the blaze before it could expand plans to the house itself.
We ate stove-made hot dogs and all was well. But the grill was a goner, so we set out, quite late, to see if we could find a simple, inexpensive new one. We checked Home Depot, the closing Shopko, Walmart, then tried Fleet Farm, but it was closed, even though it was barely 6 p.m.
On Sunday, we went back out, after the Indy 500, and got a late start again. Our mission was to hit Menard’s and Target — both of which had ads in the Sunday paper that showed the exact grill we were after. At Menard’s — which no longer uses the apostrophe in an effort to cater to lowering admission standards — we couldn’t the one I was looking for, but a very helpful and pleasant fellow named Nathan, at a neighboring station, smiled and looked up the ad, then helped me look. About a hundred yards away, we found them. Eighteen of them, still in boxes.
Joan had already gone out to the car, so I thanked Nathan and said I suspected we’d be back. We headed down to Target, but couldn’t find the one we had seen advertised. A nice woman, pushing a cart of something else, somewhere else, said she’d look, so I accompanied her to near the back room. She found two of them, slightly smaller, slightly cheaper, but still in the box. I thanked her, and we left.
I was inspired to go back to Menard’s, without the apostrophe, and buy the other grill from Nathan.
“Are you a race fan?” I asked him.
“I used to be,” he answered.
“Well, the Indy 500 just finished and it was a great final dozen laps.
Simon Pagenaud was driving a bright, neon yellow car for Roger Penske, sponsored by ‘Menards.’ It was a great race, right down to the checkered flag.”
Alexander Rossi, who moved up and challenged Pagenaud as the primary challenger, made a daring pass for the lead on Lap 170 (of 200). One lap later, Simon Bourdais and Graham Rahal both tried to occupy the same inside line and crashed. The red-flagged the race, meaning all running cars lined up in the pits and waited for the clean-up.
The restart green waved with 15 laps to go, and Pageneau — a Frenchman seeking his first Indy victory, but on a hot streak that included the preliminary Indy road race and winning the pole — passed on the outside for the lead. Two laps later, Rossi repassed for first, but one lap later, Pagenaud went by him again and led with 10 laps to go. With 8 laps left, Rossi got by one more time and tried to hold off the Chevy-powered Pagenaud with his Honda-powered car.
But with two laps remaining, Pagenaud was able to pass on the outside at the end of the straightaway, and while Rossi tried to get in position for one more try, he was unable to pull it off and finished about a half car-length back.
It was truly dramatic, especially when you realize they’re going 230 mph at the end of the straightaways, and they are operating within a foot or so of each other, and 31 other speed zealots. Pagenaud presented owner Roger Penske with his 18th Indy 500 victory.
And I decided the least I could do — having covered Penske’s first Indy triumph and several others in between — was to go to Menards and buy the grill from the company that sponsored Pagenaud’s winning car.
Besides, Target, which had gained great fame in racing from sponsoring the Target-Ganassi race team for two or three decades, pulled its sponsorship. I really like shopping at Target, but this time, Nathan and Menards earned my money.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to pass as inspiration for making a decision. The same guys and the same cars race at Detroit’s Belle Isle road circuit this weekend, with twin features on Saturday and Sunday.