This past month of May was memorable on a number of levels as every May usually is. Fans enjoyed a great 500 and were entertained all month by a re-engineered schedule of events that kept most everyone engaged. One highlight that personally touched a lot of fans involved a popular name from the past.
1973 is widely regarded as the most tragic, even forgettable 500 ever. Three lives were lost; one before the race, one in pit lane in horrifying fashion, and another a couple of weeks after the race caused not by a bad crash that looked fatal when it happened, but by the lingering effects of breathing burning fuel that seemed to spread as the emergency crew tried to extinguish it. Add to that the permanent disfiguration of another driver who pin-wheeled down the south end of the main straightaway, the injury of several fans, and an ordeal that took three days to complete and not even to the scheduled distance makes it potentially the darkest year ever at the old Brickyard.
1959 was my first time through the gates. I was there in 1964 when Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald lost their lives in a fiery 2nd lap crash. In 1966 I was feet away from a mayhem filled start. Sixteen drivers lost their lives trying to compete there during the time I have been attending and each one had a compelling and interesting career story prior to being so prematurely claimed. Every year most fans think about each one and the memories they left. The death of Swede Savage seemed pointless and incomprehensible. He survived a horrendous crash that split his car in half but died 33 days later at Methodist Hospital.
The lingering and mostly negative feeling about 1973 seemed to vanish for me this year after the track was visited by the daughter of Swede Savage. Angela never knew her father. For forty years she possessed trunks of his belongings but could not ever bring herself to explore them. She had plenty of time to wrestle with feelings of anger, abandonment and resentment. She also never got anywhere close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by both choice and circumstance. Life out west is distant both in terms of miles and culture.
Angela and her family might well have lived their entire lives having no interaction with the sphere of people who admired and watched her father. But something magic happened. A man named Paul Powell and a small group of peers reached out. The culmination of their months-long efforts led Angela and her husband to Indianapolis this May. In Indianapolis the red carpet was rolled out wherever Angela went (with the notable exception of the IPL Festival Parade folks, whose aberrant and classless behavior scuttled an otherwise perfect weekend in a spectacularly sleazy manner) and Angela bounced from place to place with eyes as wide as a child visiting Disney World for the first time.
Her personality can best be described as energetic. She is a hugger. Anyone who took the time to meet her immediately became a friend for life. Most importantly she learned all about her father mostly by sheer osmosis. The community of IndyCar fans, IMS, and those who have worked in that business is relatively small and tight, and Swede Savage was extremely popular and on his way up. His month of May in 1973 turned a lot of heads. He had a great ride and embraced the challenge enthusiastically. Most everyone had a story and Angela soaked it up like a sponge.
On race weekend fans were invited to a social event at the Indianapolis Museum of Art in which Angela, Swede’s brother Bruce and a member of Swede’s pit crew related feelings and stories. It was both compelling and fascinating. Framed art, one of Swede’s driving suits and a custom-crafted exact replica of his helmet presented by Bell Helmets also highlighted the evening.
Angela got the grand tour of IMS, met with the brass, met with fans, interacted with competitors of the day, enjoyed the race and left on cloud nine. She connected with the father she never knew through people who both knew and knew of Swede Savage. It was easily the best story of the month. See you next May, Angela!