INDIANAPOLIS — Basketball never strays far from the thoughts of Indiana sports fans – even in Gasoline Alley.
The Eastern Conference finals between Indiana, where most drivers' teams are based during the season, and Miami, where some have offseason homes, certainly has caught the attention of Indianapolis 500 drivers. The Pacers evened the series at 1-1 by rallying late Friday night. Indiana hosts Game 3 on Sunday, just a few hours after the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to end.
"I'm torn because I spend so much time in Indiana and I love to see the Pacers do well," said defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "And they're the underdog, and I like cheering for the underdog because that was me last year."
Besides, Hunter-Reay's allegiances are more strongly tied to the Dolphins than the Heat.
But everyone seems to have a tie-in to the playoff series.
Panther Racing is co-owned by pace-car driver Jim Harbaugh, who happens to be the brother-in-law of Indiana basketball coach Tom Crean, who coached Heat star Dwyane Wade in college at Marquette. During last year's playoff series, Crean worked with a struggling Wade by going through game film. Miami beat the Pacers, taking the series 4-2.
Three-time Indy champion Helio Castroneves lives in Miami, and though the Brazilian star has never met LeBron James, he's keeping track of the conference finals, too.
"What a great game," Castroneves said after Miami's Game 1 victory. "It's a very odd situation for me because I love the Pacers and I love Miami. It's one of those mixed things."
One person who doesn't have to toe the line is Indianapolis native Ed Carpenter, the stepson of IndyCar founder Tony George, a Butler University graduate and a friend of Bulldogs coach Brad Stevens.
He's become such a regular at Pacers games that following his pole-winning run last weekend, Carpenter made the short trip from Indy's historic 2.5-mile oval to Bankers Life Fieldhouse to watch the Pacers clinch the series against New York with a Game 6 win.
Carpenter isn't buying into all the sudden basketball interest from other drivers.
"I'd challenge you to go interview those guys from Miami and see if they could even name the starting five for Miami," Carpenter joked.