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The Snakepit at Indy: You Either Love It or Hate It

June 01, 1986|United Press International

INDIANAPOLIS — The snakepit at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is something few people are indifferent about. Either you love it or you hate it.

Located inside the first turn, the snakepit is jammed each race day with mostly young people who usually appear more interested in partying or "catching rays" than watching cars zoom by at more than 200 m.p.h.

The area offers unusual sights and sounds that can either delight or disgust spectators, who stream by throughout the famed 500-mile race to see whether the snakepit is living up to its reputation for rowdyness.

There are bathing suits, tattoos and sunburns by the dozen. People sleep in cars, on cars, beside cars -- and yes, even under cars. You can also see an occasional hacky sack or frisbee game.

The most prevalent sound in the snakepit is beer cans crunching under foot. To many, the most annoying sound is young men, usually in groups of four or five, unleashing primal screams for no apparent reason.

In years gone by, the most unusual sound by many accounts has come from a platform atop a van. From there, numerous men requested -- actually, it was closer to demanded -- several women to show them a little more skin than the law allows to be seen in public. Most of the women declined, but a few did oblige the crowd.

Mike Cox, a veteran of four trips to the snakepit, has a strategically placed seat for the festivities. He sits in a lawn chair about 100 feet to the side of the platform.

Although the primary reason he gave for spending the day in the snakepit cannot be repeated here, he did say the crowd is what lures him back year after year.

"If it wasn't for the crowd, it wouldn't be the 500," Cox said. "The first turn is the heart of everything. But it's not a place to bring your kids."

James Ryan, a recent graduate of Toledo University, said he caught the snakepit bug after an "initiation" last year.

"The festivities are wild. The race does not exist," he said. "I love the people. I think everybody is down here to have a good time. The people are not here to have problems together."

Bill Clouch has dollars and cents on his mind when he goes to the snakepit, which he said features "drunks that act like crazy fools and so forth." Clouch collects cans to be recycled.

"I'm getting money for my kids and get a little spending money," said Clouch, who estimates his efforts this year will earn him $100. "It's special. There's no place else like it."

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