Indianapolis 500 highlights my very special day

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Auto Racing occupies center stage this weekend as the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 takes place and then a few hours later, NASCAR’s longest race – the Coca-Cola 600 from Charlotte.

For those who really want to make it an all-day event at the races, you can get up early for the Formula-1 racing on the streets of Monte Carlo. That’s three huge events around the world taking place within a few hours of each other.

Some of my fondest memories ever have been produced on Memorial Day weekend. I love all motor sports, but that’s not necessarily the reason this weekend stands out so much. It’s more about what happens while the races are going on.

I love the fact most everyone takes the opportunity to acknowledge the weekend by doing something special, or out of the ordinary from their daily lives. We all raise our flags and recognize our fallen heroes who gave their lives so we could continue the freedoms we all know and love that sometimes get taken for granted.

Just about everyone has had someone within their family who died for their country and it’s important to keep their legacy alive on this weekend. And there is no better way to recognize them than gathering as many friends and family together and just spending some quality time together.

For me, the Indy 500 goes hand in hand with Memorial Day. I can’t remember the details of all the races, but I do know the race was always on. Whether it was A.J. Foyt or Al Unser Jr. who won, it didn’t matter. But what did was hearing the war stories of the Battle of the Bulge from my grandfather and how he met my grandmother, who he liberated from a prison camp in Germany.

Although it took a lot of coaxing to get the stories out of them, they always seemed willing to do so on Memorial Day weekend. For my grandfather, he saw some of his best friends die during the war and I will always remember the look in his eyes as he reminisced. This was a tough, rock solid Master Sargeant who rarely showed emotion, but the stories of fallen friends from the war always got his eyes watery. No tears, but it was probably the closest I ever saw him come to crying.

Among the many stories he told as the Indy 500 was going on, and just before the grill was getting started, was about his cousin, Bob Roberts, who had the misfortune of being in the Bataan Death March, a gruesome story. But then there were some happy stories as well, such as meeting his wife, and also rescuing his twin brother, which made news in the Stars and Stripes and in their Columbia, Mo., hometown paper.

Before America got involved in World War II, Braxton Roberts was so upset about everything going on in Europe that he went up north to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Before long, he was in England fighting the Germans in the air. His plane got shot down in 1942 and he was presumed to have been dead. But my grandfather always said he had this feeling that always told him he was alive, one of those sixth-sense things twins seem to have for each other.

Toward the end of the war in Europe, the Germans started fleeing and left several prisoner camps unguarded. My grandfather’s regime was finding these camps and at each one, he would ask questions of the inmates while giving them food if they had seen someone in the camp that looked like him.

Finally, one of the soldiers in his troop came running back to him and said, “your brother is over there.” And there he was, about 50 pounds lighter, but alive and happier than ever to see his brother.

I apologize for rambling. Really, my intent was to write about who might have the best chance at winning the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600, but I got caught up in my own Memorial Day memories.

The thing is, we all have people close to us who should be recognized, and this is the weekend to do it. My grandfather was the greatest American ever in my eyes and I owe it to him to keep his stories alive. I also owe it to every person who ever put on a uniform to give them a salute and thank them for all they have done.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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