The Indianapolis Motor Speedway creeps up on you. On the drive from the hotel, you cruise down Crawfordsville Road, approaching the junction with 16th Street - where the circuit's administration centre is based.
The scene looks just like that you would expect from Bland Street, Everytown, USA.
To the left and right are rows of mini-malls, with side roads leading off to houses like those you've seen in every TV show from Desperate Housewives to Happy Days. It's hard to pick a waypoint. Indianapolis geography, like most of metropolitan America, is based on a trusted compass grid system though, so while you might not be able to distinguish between the myriad Waffle Houses and gun shops, you won't get lost.
Nevertheless, you begin to sense that tingle of excitement when you close in on a place of racing history. It may be triggered by a road sign, or even the racing shirt on a fan passing by the window. Whatever causes it, it's distinct.
We get closer still and the billboards, erected like towering science fiction monsters, are covered in Danica Patrick's smiling face. Chromy and ostentatious campervans occupy the grass verge, complete with metre-wide barbeque grills tended by predictably overweight owners. Even at 08:30 in the morning.
The scene is completed by a market-town of canvas-covered stalls, which you later discover sell everything from Danica hand towels to replica AJ Foyt Racing Coyote models.
Then, in the distance beyond that junction, amid this sprawl of racing hedonism, you see the unmasked, unheralded back of a grandstand. And another... Suddenly and with no fanfare, you are driving in the shadow of those famous tribunes. And as you turn into Entrance 3, you are only too happy to let the old Speedway swallow you whole.
My trip to the Indianapolis 500 this year doesn't really comprise one special memory, rather a collection that I hope never leave me.
One, for example, is standing at Turn 1 during Carb Day practice as a sequence of Dallaras flick left. Their Honda engines resonate a single, undimmed pitch, through the turn - having entered it at more than 220mph. You can feel the change in air pressure as they go by - nowhere else on earth can you experience this.
Dario Franchitti later told me he never watches from there, said he and a bunch of other drivers won't do it for fear they might see what they are up against. It's easier from inside the car apparently.
Another was standing on the grid during the build-up. The loud hum of 300,000 fans all anticipating the race. The wall of humanity in the stands, which from ground level stretch to the horizon. The stillness among them as the band plays Back Home Again in Indiana. Then the incredible roar as it comes to a close.
But there is one memory that stands out. AUTOSPORT's staff are tasked with getting 'Race of my Life' stories for the magazine whenever we're in the field, and I bagged a corker. Standing next to me in pitlane among a crowd watching the drivers' introduction to the fans the day before the race, was Johnny Rutherford III.
Now, along with Gordon Johncock and Rick Mears, he was a childhood hero. Mainly, if I am honest, because he starred in one of the few IndyCar races we had on video tape. That and the fact that an AUTOSPORT centre-spread of his yellow Pennzoil Chapparal adorned my bedroom wall!
Long-retired Rutherford is still an integral part of Indy as an official Pace Car driver. He tells me to meet him under the Pagoda after his practice laps mid-afternoon.
Later, I walk out on to the pit lane and there he is, sitting on the wall chatting to some officials. He's politely enquiring as to the whereabouts of this year's celebrity Pace Car driver, US TV presenter Robin Roberts, for whom he has been waiting a while. I begin to ask some questions, but frequently we are interrupted by updates on Roberts' ETA. Eventually this legendary three-time 500 winner tires of it, gets up and walks over to the Pace Car.
Wondering if I should follow or whether this signals the end of a somewhat disjointed interview, I watch on. Then he casually turns, waves a hand, and gestures me over to the passenger side of the Chevrolet Camaro SS. Surely not...
I'm figuring we're just going to hide away in the car so I can get the interview done, and I'm just flicking the record button on again as the engine rumbles to life. Yes! Out we roll and I'm heading down pit road towards Turn 1 at Indianapolis.
The track seems narrower than it does from the outside. And the stadium, at least through Turns 2 and 3, is much less significant when you're rolling. I look at the dash and we're doing 120 km/h. It feels like 10! Rutherford's controls are smooth, his hands move imperceptibly on the wheel.
He talks me around the track, breaking it down into the four unique Turns. Coming out of Turn 4, I finally get a proper view of that most famous straight. I'm not sure initially, because of a low lying haze that distorts the perspective, but then quite quickly it's obvious that Turn 1 is hidden behind a dip on the entry. Suddenly it dawns on me. Those cars I'd been watching were going in at 220mph... blind.
Casually Rutherford explains: "Turn 1 has traditionally been the toughie because it hides in the grandstands. You can see it coming but you are approaching it at 300-feet-per-second plus." I can't see it. Not for the first time this weekend, I'm left stunned.
We get out of the car and shake hands, and before I finally get to finish the interview, his phone rings again. "Oh, hey Bill," he says. "Where the hell are yah?" The person on the other end of the call is US racing safety legend Bill Simpson.
On any other day that might not seem normal.
To continue reading this feature, join Autosport Plus today.
Are you an Autosport magazine subscriber? Activate your online account
- Your Autosport Plus membership includes:
- Unlimited access to Autosport's news - no monthly cap.
- Read the best motorsport features, analysis and opinion.
- Explore Forix, our comprehensive motorsport stats database.
- Choose from a monthly or yearly membership.