#SPEEDWAY, IN. _ I've got to compliment everyone here at IMS on the flawless check-in and credentialing process (as usual); I think I set a new personal record with about 15 minutes total from picking up the passes to parking in the media lot. Heck, it took longer to turn left at the 16th and Georgetown traffic light than it took to get situated.

Thursday at the Indy 500 is probably the best day to just cruise the pits with impunity and get closest to the action. It doesn't have a catchy name, but all of the teams and drivers were in evidence hammering out that last bit of prep work prior to Carb Day.

And what a time to arrive, as Sam Schmidt Racing's Pippa Mann blistered the track for a two-lap average speed of 187.989 mph to claim the first pole of her Firestone Indy Lights career for Friday's 2010 Freedom 100.

Blistered being the operative word, as Lights qualifying saw with an ambient temperature of 92 degrees and a scorching track temp of 126 degrees. If the reaction on pit road was any indication, Mann proved a popular choice as the second-year British driver had to negotiate as many congratulatory pats on the back from other team crew members as she did from the trackside media and fans. In the process, Pippa became the first female pole winner in the hundred year history of the Brickyard.

“I just went out there and did my best to pedal it. This afternoon when it got hot, we went to work on speed. We found some things that really helped," Mann said. "We found some things that made my life more difficult but made the car quicker. For this afternoon, we decided to rein it in a little bit so it would come home all in one piece. Whatever they reined in, they did it perfectly."

For the sake of comparison, Mark Martin's pole winning time in another series-that-shall-not-be-named (this week, at least) was 182.054 mph in 2009. FIL veterans Wade Cunningham (187.742), Charlie Kimball (187.375) and Martin Plowman (187.209) filled out the remainder of the first two FIL rows.

Starting on the inside of row 3 is a familiar name to IndyCar fans, as veteran Jeff Simmons made a welcome return to the series after a sabbatical in 2009 in the Team E Zymol car. Although the qualifying time was a bit slower than Simmons had hoped after he posted the fastest time in the Friday morning practice, it was hard to tell from the smile on his face after the session. A fuel pickup issue was later diagnosed by the team that slowed Simmons' car noticeably on the backstraight in the second qualifying lap, but the contagious grin was there under some new facial hair.

"I'm glad I didn't forget how to drive, it felt great to be out there," Simmons laughed. "As long as nobody calls me old; I prefer experienced. Honestly, I'm having fun out there. The Team E Zymol car is fast in traffic in practice, and that means we should be pretty fast in the race."

Friday is shaping up to be a barnburner at the Brickyard, with the Carb Day festivities highlighted by what promises to be an intense IndyCar practice session as teams rush to make their last bit of track time before the big dance count, followed by the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 and last, but definitely far from least, a concert by that lil' old band from Texas - ZZ Top.

Guitar slinging ZZ mainman Billy F. Gibbons, a motorhead of the first order and a long-time hot rod freak, actually threw the green flag on the first Freedom 100 in 2003.

Speed, Indycars, beards, beer and rock - does it get any better? Best bring the sunscreen.