Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

May 21, 2010

Youthful Indy 500’s: The Process of Becoming a Lifelong Fan and Doses of Reality

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:46 am

1963 was the final year I was treated like a prince on race day. The health of a great uncle who facilitated police escorts, primo seats in the Paddock Penthouse and the best catered fried chicken not seen since had deteriorated. Had I known I would be fending for myself in subsequent years I might have savored the experience a bit more.

Parnelli Jones was a fan favorite, and all the locals kept talking about ‘old Calhoun.’ J.C. Agajanian was also a very colorful character who lives on in the lore of the place. My fascination that year was not with established stars on the way out, but with the new blood. New heroes began to emerge. Dan Gurney and Jim Clark were two. I was on board with the rear engine revolution as well even though the majority of the Hoosier fan base remained firmly attached to the front engine status quo and was quite vocal about it.

Clark almost won the race with a charge at the end. ‘Ol Calhoun’ was leaking oil that year and the Lotus was catching up.  Neither Colin Chapman in the pits nor Eddie Sachs on the track were happy with Parnelli. Sachs said he crashed as a result of it and was not happy with Jones, which led to another colorful episode. Harlan Fengler was the chief steward, and his colorful persona was entertaining, especially when he would commandeer the PA system and start yelling at people. It was hard to understand at the time why people called him a ‘fairy’ and other such names I diod not understand at the time, but those answers arrived later.

In 1964, my father and I found ourselves inside Turn 2 on Race Day. There are only two really vivid memories that year. The first involved a black mushroom cloud that arose opposite the track at the start of the race. Dad had a cheap canvas covered camping stool that he tried to stand on to get a better look with binoculars. The fabric ripped and dad found himself on his rear end on the ground. I learned many new expletives at that moment.

As the fire got extinguished, bodies of heroes extracted and destroyed cars removed, the only thing that really stood out was the collective silence of hundreds of thousands of people broken only occasionally by Tom Carnegie with bad news. The race eventually resumed, but many had left and those who remained were not as enthusiastic. Dad and I easily found some empty grandstand seats. Normally vigilant track personnel did not really check grandstand tickets carefully. When A.J. won again there was happiness and a second great memory, but it was tempered.

1964 was the year I learned about the risk that goes with the reward.



  1. 1964 was the last race by dad went to until last year. I think he had a little better view of the accident. Meanwhile, on trac, A.J. Foyt walked up to the accident, turned around walked back and advised the other drivers, “you don’t want to go up there”.

    It’s times like these we as fans need to remember what these drivers face and we must not be desensitised to that danger.

    Comment by M. Miller — May 21, 2010 @ 1:00 pm | Reply

  2. I was always a fan by radio in those days. I owe a tremendous amount of what I learned about racing to the “word pictures” created by Sid Collins and the IMS network. 1964 was no exception.

    I will never forget Sid’s eloquent impromptu eulogy following the announcement of the death of Eddie Sachs. (Mr. Carnegie’s words, “It is with deepest regret…,” still ring in my ears to this day almost 46 years later. I would later hear them live at the Speedway on a couple of occasions.)

    Until that moment, the thought of racing being dangerous was totally foreign to a naive 10 year old. After that moment, I started to realize just how often driver fatalities happened.

    Comment by SkipinSC — May 21, 2010 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  3. The good old boys prevailed in 1963, that’s for sure. If it had been anyone other than Parnelli and the influential J. C. Aggie going for the win, the results would have been much different. I think I said this before as far as 1964 is concerned, but I was right there in grandstand “C” when the the Sachs-MacDonald accident occured. I had a sick feeling in my stomach the rest of the day, and I didn’t care who won. A. J.’s win, though no fault of his own, was badly tarnished.

    Comment by DOUG — May 21, 2010 @ 5:23 pm | Reply

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