I have been to some of the world's great motor-racing circuits-and even set foot on the track of a few..
I have walked up the Beau Rivage, down past the Loews Hotel and through the tunnel at Monaco...my feet have trod every inch of some of the most hallowed tarmac in motorsport history.
I've passed through the Nurburg forests, come within the yowl of a supercharged engine of Spa, and walked down the D338 near Le Mans (this innocuous stretch of French public road leads to the village of Mulsanne and the corner on Le Mans Circuit de La Sarthe that bears its name, and is one of the most hallowed stretches of flat-out tarmac on the planet (it's also the fastest, with a Group C Peugeot driven by Roger Dorchy clocked on it during the 1988 Le Mans 24 Hours at 252mph before chicanes were introduced, preserving the record for ever).
I have, however, never been to Speedway, Indiana. Never been on the same continent, in fact.
This, of course, means that I've never been to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - the track that told the world what a "speedway" was. The 2.5 mile oval coliseum hewn out of the Indiana plain and built for one purpose only - to see how fast humanity could go with the aid of bravery, burning rubber and an internal combustion engine.
I've never even come close to the Indy banking. Never heard the scream of an Indycar (or indeed F1) engine rounding the gently-banked Turn 4 before flashing down the 0.625 mile start-finish straight, or seen Indycars or NASCARS duel four-or-five-wide into the 9-degree first turn and through the first "short chute" while rocketing along at speeds barely thought comprehensible by its builder, Carl G. Fisher.
But that doesn't mean I don't love the place.
Listen...I'm European. Oval racing over here is a relatively new (well, recently-returned) concept. If you present British people with an oval racetrack, they think of Brooklands, which closed in 1937, or maybe Rockingham Motor Speedway. We treat racing on banking as something of a historical curiosity. Show us places like Talladega, Daytona and we view them as nice, perfectly adequate, but lacking in one key element we think you need in a racetrack...right hand turns.
Show us a place like Bristol Motor Speedway and we look at it like some sort of Wall Of Death made flesh - the 30-degree banking is foreign to our eyes in the same way landing a flying saucer on the start line at Spa is "foreign".
But Indy...Indy is perfect. The banking is visible and fairly fearsome, but it complements the cars rather than dominating the eye. When the cars tilt gently into the first turn, it looks like they're doing it as some sort of organic response to the speed and change of direction, like jet fighters peeling left in formation. They do this four times a lap and each time it's poetry in motion. Perfect, angular poetry.
Then there's the SAMENESS of it. The surroundings of Indianapolis may have changed, the grandstands spring up, the pits become more advanced, the car body shapes evolve from the Novi cars of the 50's to today's manned missiles or from the angular muscle-cars of the mid-20th century to the streamlined sleek (but still recognisable) shapes of NASCARS today, but the track hasn't. In a motor-racing world where tracks change from year to year, corners are "re-profiled" and every new track seems to look like every other, including the ovals, Indy is Indy.
Two long straights, two short straights, four fast 90 degree left-handers
Its very simplicity is a thing of beauty. Moreover, in those few simple ingredients are contained part of the soul of American motor-racing.
There are great races, and there are great circuits. It is rare to see them combined. The "Triple Crown" of motor-racing means you need to win at Monaco, Le Mans...and Indianapolis.
I've already fallen in love with two of those circuits...and walked upon them
With Indianapolis, though, even though I've never set foot on it, part of my motorsport soul resides in the yard of bricks across the start/finish line of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That's what truly great circuits do to you.