BROOKLYN, Mich. - An hour-long deluge of rain, a delay of more than 2 1/2 hours, and oppressively humid conditions could not deter fans of area favorite Sam Hornish Jr. at yesterday's Firestone Indy 400.
But when their driver was forced out of the Indy Racing League event at Michigan International Speedway after just 61 laps, they quickly packed up their coolers and left in droves.
"A lot of people tell me they turn off their TV's when I crash out of a race or something happens to me," said Hornish, who finished last after suffering engine problems. "But I've never actually seen people leave the race that early before."
Hornish, the winner of this year's Indianapolis 500, entered this race at the top of the point standings. He also was fresh off of being honored in his hometown of Defiance with a parade that followed a trip to the White House to visit the President.
Things kept rolling for Hornish here when he qualified second and led for 37 lapslaps of yesterday's race before disaster struck.
Hornish first pitted on lap 50 and reported that his engine had begun to overheat.
Eleven laps later, Hornish went to pit row again and shut his engine down for good. He finished dead last (19th) and earned only 12 points.
Hornish said he noticed many among those who traveled from northwest Ohio head for the exits.
"This couldn't happen at a worse place for us with all the fans who came to see the race," said Hornish, who was surprisingly upbeat in the garage area shortly after his day had ended.
Hornish relinquished the points standing lead to Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who won the Firestone Indy 400 yesterday.
Castroneves now has 376 points and moved eight points in front of Hornish.
"I lost my wingman," said Castroneves, who earned 50 points for the win. "I'm not sure what happened to Sam's car, but I knew it was a long way until the end of the race."
Hornish passed Castroneves on the first lap to take the lead and held it for the next 36.
"We had a real good car at the beginning. It's just unfortunate," Hornish said.
When he pitted on lap 50, he immediately fell to 17th place. Hornish, who had led by 25 points in the standings, managed to get 10 more laps out of his car before he was forced to shut it down.
"The temperature started to come up right before the first pit stop. We don't really know what's going on yet," Hornish said. "There was nothing I could do, so I was looking at the stands, and I saw everyone ready to leave. I could understand if they were going to the bathroom, but they were all carrying their coolers."
Hornish said his drop in the standings was equally disappointing as sending the fans home unhappy.
"It still was a great week. What are we going to do about it? You win some and you lose some," Hornish said.
"We had a whole bunch of fans from northwest Ohio that were so into it. It wasn't a very good day for them, but we're still going to work hard for the championship."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6110.42.11068 -84.24795