Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

May 18, 2010

My First Indianapolis 500 (It Took Entirely Too Long To Arrive)

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 2:22 am

In 1960, it was deemed I was STILL not old enough to attend the Indianapolis 500 with the family. This made me sad because I had become a voracious fan of most anything auto racing since the previous May. Channel 4, then a true independent, would occasionally carry Grand Prix race highlights on tape delay (weeks afterward, actually) and I was increasingly enamored with the European racing styles. 1960, I learned later, was the final year a front engine car won a Grand Prix, and the last year the Indy 500 counted as a world champion event.

A lot of people today lament the fact that Honda powers all Indy Cars these days, but in 1960 everyone ran an Offy. The chassis, however, included offerings from multiple builders, and the motors were not crated spec allotments. The sound they made when they occasionally exploded on the track remains memorable.

Aunt Mary again made sure I made it for qualification days in the first year of the new decade, and the primary excitement included flirtation with 150mph average laps led by Herk. Sid Collins brought me the race from my back yard in what was then a brand new neighborhood in Lawrence. I remember feeling ambivalent that Jim Rathmann won.

1961 was an entirely new adventure because I was FINALLY allowed to accompany the family to the actual race! My eagerness had primarily to do with finally seeing the race and it was not until many years later that I came to appreciate perks that went with being related to the golf pro at the Speedway golf course. Taken for granted at the time was the police escort from Grandma’s front door into the track and a box of seats in the Paddock Penthouse. The festivities mesmerized. The succession of traditional events, bands and ceremony that led up to the start hooked me for life. Once the race began all senses were affected. I was afraid the entire stand would collapse because the cars vibrated the entire place.

The relatives did not care too much for A.J. Foyt but loved Eddie Sachs. I thought Rodger Ward was cool, and my parents thought it odd the one for whom I cheered was the only non-American driver in the field, Jack Brabham, because I loved the Cooper-Climax. I also thought the Novi engine was special because it was exponentially louder than anything else. The driver my parents pulled from the hat for me in the family 500 pool was another driver named A.J. (Shepherd), who turned out to be a one-time participant at Indy.

The relatives did not really like A.J. Foyt any better after he beat Eddie Sachs, but I thought it was outstanding. He won the 500! It was also not until years later that I appreciated seeing all four of A.J.’s 500 wins. 1961 became the first of 45 I have had the pleasure of attending.



  1. I worked timing and scoring for USAC at Indy for the first time in 1961–I was fourteen–and guess who my driver assignment was–Eddie Sachs!

    Comment by DOUG — May 18, 2010 @ 3:27 pm | Reply

  2. Defender, have you read Carl Hungness’s Indy 500 Yearbooks–printed from 1973 to 1997? Very valuable, in fact, a real “bible” on a yearly basis, but in the 1995 and 1996 editions,when the split came, he built a powerful case against the Speedway and the IRL in their actions. As a journalist directly involved in the Speedway’s policies–and he eventually lost his credentials and had a serious heart attack because of it–he was in the middle of the storm. Very thought-provoking and perhaps eye-opening view from the “Other Side”. You two would have had quite a conversation!

    Editor’s Note: I own them all. They are fabulous. Sorry politics got in the way of health. I was disappointed when the politics screwed the fans. Still, the point of these May meanderings is that the event transcends the politics for me. I never stopped going or enjoying the month of May. Wish everyone felt that way.

    Comment by DOUG — May 18, 2010 @ 9:27 pm | Reply

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