By Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR
I grew up in Indianapolis. If you know nothing else about Indy, you know they hold a little party there every year on Memorial Day weekend. They have dances, dinners, concerts, breakfasts and a huge parade. Then, to cap it all off, several drivers strap themselves into small jets on wheels and go for a 500 mile Sunday drive. If you've only seen it on television, try it live sometime. TV can't possibly capture it. Imagine standing just a few feet away from the fastest field of race cars anywhere, three abreast — the only major race that starts that way — as they scream by at straightaway speeds nearing 230 mph. The person standing next to you can shout as loud as possible, but you won't hear. Your body vibrates in the ruckus so that, in a way, you feel like you're touching the cars. The scent of fuel hangs in the air... you can smell the start. When you are there, you are in such sensory overload you don't just watch the Indianapolis 500; you participate.
Early on, the Indy 500 carved out a place in my brain and took up residence there. It's a part of me, and this year I will see my 40th race. I'm sometimes asked what is the best race I've seen there. I sometimes answer "all of them." There is, however, one that stands out.
That race boiled down to being a sprint to the finish. Nineteen-year-old Marco Andretti, grandson of racing great Mario Andretti, was leading in what was his first Indianapolis 500. Veteran Sam Hornish, Jr., who had started on the pole, was running second, but a long way behind. Hornish continued to close and with a bit more than a lap left, he caught Andretti and attempted a pass. It didn't work. Sam lost momentum and fell ten car-lengths behind. It was Marco's race for sure.
For about three-quarters of the final lap, Hornish stayed far behind. Then he turned on the afterburners. He came out of turn four two car lengths behind and closed in. He went right, then left and started to pull alongside. With 400 feet left in the race, Marco Andretti still led.
From my seat at the start/finish line, the two cars looked like they were fused together. Then, gradually, Hornish's car oozed out of the blur. Steadily, he continued to gain on Andretti. Then the cars roared past with Hornish ahead by a whisker.
Sam Hornish, Jr. had won what many analysts call the most exciting Indianapolis 500 ever.
But that's not what I wanted to tell you about.
Winning a great race is important; but what is more important is the character of the man. Born in Defiance, Ohio in 1979, Sam followed in the footsteps of father when he joined Omega Lodge #564 in 2001. He is also a member of Zenobia Shrine in Toledo. Brother Hornish is known on the racing circuit as a spiritual man with deep conviction, and as a fair and clean competitor. At the end of the 2006 race, he knew that pass he attempted with a lap to go was too dangerous. He knew it was likely to wreck Andretti, if not both of them and he elected to wait for a better opportunity. Asked about this in his post-race press conference, he said, "All the wins in the world don't mean anything if you can't be glad about it at the end of the day. I don't ever want to win a race like that, feeling like I cheated somebody out of the opportunity to win."
Hornish, now a popular NASCAR racer, has been an important supporter of Shriner's Hospitals for Children. His dedication to the principles of Freemasonry are reflected in the foundation he has established, which continues to support the Hospitals and other children's charities.
Something amazing was nearly lost in the breathtaking ending of his Indy win. It reflects the demeanor and Masonic background Sam Hornish demonstrates on and off the track. In addition to winning the race, he won the Scott Brayton Sportsmanship Award. In the 100-plus year history of the Indianapolis 500, it is the only time the race winner has won the sportsmanship award. Acknowledging the fact that in racing the spotlight is on the driver, he contrasted that with his work in Freemasonry, “In Lodge, it’s not about one person; it’s about working together with the whole group." He does that well.