This is an occasional series spotlighting men and women who work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Throughout its illustrious 105-year history, several generations of families have come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to attend the Indianapolis 500 and many other events, but unbeknownst to many is that similar family traditions are handed down to a number of employees working at “The Racing Capital of the World.”
Steve Weber is one of two full-time plumbers employed by IMS, and except for a two-year period when he worked for Paul E. Smith Plumbing in Indianapolis, he’s been a fixture at the world’s greatest racecourse for 28 years, where the most pressure he feels each year is when the long Indiana winters finally subside.
“Our challenges are getting the place ready in the springtime, because everything is drained down in the winter and when spring gets here you gotta put it all back together and turn the water on and get everything checked out and ready before May,” Weber said. “If the weather is cold in the springtime it can be pretty challenging to get it done on time.”
Weber remembers a particular incident during an especially cold Indiana winter where his plumbing skills were utilized to fix a major problem at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Motel, which closed in December 2008 and was torn down in 2009.
“One time a water main broke over at the motel, probably in the 1980s,” Weber said. “It happened at night and it was like 16 degrees below zero and we had to go fix that, and I remember that real well.”
While his plumbing duties keep him busy year-round, Weber is always anxious to jump in and help his fellow IMS employees with a variety of tasks.
“We’re always very busy and constantly doing something, whether it be plowing snow or other things,” Weber said. “When somebody needs help, we jump in and help.”
Steve’s father, Fred Weber, was also employed at IMS for many years and served in a variety of areas.
“He started in the 1960s and was in charge of maintenance at the Speedway Motel for years,” Weber said. “Then when the Holiday Inn leased the hotel and ran it, he came over here and was a foreman. One of his last jobs was C Stand when they built the suites (Hulman Suites on the main straightaway).”
“In the wintertime when it was being built, and we had a lot of snow that winter, so one day he called a bunch of us guys down to shovel all the snow off of the top of C Stand and it was really cold that day. I’ll never forget it.”
Weber’s brother Tim worked at the Speedway Motel for many years, and his brother Jeff was also employed at IMS for two years as a laborer, but it’s his grandfather Clarence Cagle who is the best-known member of the family who has worked at IMS.
Cagle was working as a truck driver delivering goods for Hulman & Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, when he was called to serve his country in World War II in Europe. One of his many duties during his time of service was serving as the personal driver for General George S. Patton. During the war he suffered severe wounds to his right side and lung from an exploding German artillery shell. He spent nine months recovering in Army hospitals.
When Cagle returned from the war, he worked as an expediter of raw materials for Hulman family-owned Clabber Girl Baking Powder in Terre Haute. One day his career and life changed forever when suddenly he was faced with the gargantuan task of refurbishing the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that had been completely neglected during the final three years of the war.
“When Tony Hulman bought the place he brought grandpa here and said ‘Here, get it ready for a race (the 1946 Indianapolis 500),”’ Weber said. “He told me the weeds were taller than he was when he opened that front gate. They had to redo the stands, put new wood in everything and clear all the weeds and get the track ready, and it was one heckuva job to get this place ready for a race.”
Cagle was named IMS superintendent in 1948, which was a title that placed a great deal of responsibility on his broad shoulders.
“Tony Hulman would come over about once a month with (Joe) Cloutier (former IMS president),” said IMS Historian Donald Davidson. They’d come over from Terre Haute and maybe stay the night and do some business and then go back again. So Clarence was the custodian, if you like, and he ran the place.”
Cagle served as IMS superintendent until 1978 and was dedicated to his job. “He worked all the hours of the day and took it all very seriously and didn’t stand for any nonsense,” Davidson said. “He was like a high school principal and was very highly respected.”
Although Cagle carried a position of authority at the Speedway, that never kept him from pitching in and helping with virtually any job that needed to be done.
“He was in charge of maintenance, but sometimes he’d get out and do it himself,” Davidson said. “You’d come by here and there’s Clarence on a sweeper or a lawn mower, or something like that and he’s doing it himself. He also ran the garage area and he was quite strict. He was a great guy, but some would make fun that they were all scared of Clarence, but you kind of needed that.”
“He loved this place,” said Weber about his grandfather, who hired a secretary named Gladys in 1955 prior to marrying her in 1963. They worked together at IMS for 30 years. “He would get here at 5:30 in the morning and either drive or walk around the track to make sure nothing had happened to it.”
Known for being detail-oriented, Cagle, who led the effort that replaced the old wooden stands at IMS with modern aluminum seating, was always looking for ways to make operations at the track better. That included the introduction of jet dryers at the Speedway that Davidson believes took place in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
“When they were using jets for the first time to dry the track, Clarence was very concerned that the jet heat would be too hot and might melt or destroy the surface — and where the idea came from I have no idea — but they showed up with this equipment,” Davidson said. “He was very concerned because they did not scrimp on the surface. They used the finest grade Kentucky rock asphalt — I think is what it was — the best they could get, and I remember the thing came down one day, probably on a practice day, and they did a stretch and he actually rode the board and was looking, and then they stopped and he got off and he was looking underneath and I remember there was a grin from ear-to-ear and he said ‘I guess it’s alright.’ He was just meticulous.”
Cagle’s work, which included overseeing the construction of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, will long be remembered by everyone who was associated with him during his reign as IMS superintendent, but he’s best known for leading the effort to ensure that one particular Indianapolis 500 started on time against all odds.
“Probably his finest hour was in 1956 when in the days leading up to the race they had a lot of rain,” Davidson said. “The Speedway used to flood and that was a longtime problem. The creek (in the infield) would overflow. It’s fixed now, but in 1956 it rained very heavily for several days and it looked like they were going to have to postpone the race. Clarence had pumps going and they came in race morning and it’s overcast and threatening-looking, and here’s Clarence who had been up for two days or whatever it was, and they were sucking up the final drops and they started the race on time. So the 1956 race was known as the year of ‘Cagle’s Miracle.’”
Weber has many fond memories of his grandfather, which include a special day when he was introduced to one of his favorite entertainers.
“One day my grandpa told me to come into the old superintendent’s office because he wanted to introduce me to someone and it was Jim Nabors,” Weber said. “That was great because I’d always watched his shows on television and finally got to meet him, which was neat.”
Weber, who grew up just a few blocks west of the track on Allison Street in Speedway, Indiana, is proud of his family’s remarkable history of service and contributions to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he still looks forward to coming to work every day at IMS.
“It’s pretty much been my life,” he said. “It puts a lot of energy into me when the races come around. When they play the national anthem at the start of the race, I still get butterflies to this day.”