The 70's were, for me, some of the greatest memories of the 500....1st working as a photog for Carl Hungness and the 500 Yearbook and then beginning work as a staff photographer with my best friend, Ron. The entire month of May (and, yes, it was the ENTIRE month back then.) was fun, eventful, filled with great racing and legends of the sport and a fantastic time as a member of a photography staff made up of so many "characters" and led by the biggest "character" of all!...Some of the best times of my life!
Over 4.5 million photos reside in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Photo archives at the Hall of Fame Museum. In the next few weeks, I will extract some of the most fascinating shots to share the story and provide insight to the “behind the scenes” of how they were taken.
I remember it like it was yesterday…..The buzz around the month of May and the opening of the track at Indianapolis. Several exciting things were happening around the track that year. The fact that a lap of 200 mph in qualifying was almost a foregone conclusion, Janet Guthrie was in a capable car and would be the 1st to make the race.
It was my 1st year as “Director of Photography” after being an IMS Staff Photographer for the past 5 years. Before the month started out Gordon Johncock had been clocked at a tick over 200 in March tire tests on the freshly repaved Indianapolis Motor Speedway (yes I had to check with Donald Davidson on these facts) and during the week of practice before the Qualification weekend, AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti and Johnny Rutherford all did “unofficial” 200 MPH laps.
When Pole Day came Tom Sneva was the 1st and only driver to eclipse the “magic number” during qualifying. He was greeted by local sponsor, Phil Hedback of Bryant Heating and Cooling Company with 200 silver dollars which he dumped into Tom’s upturned helmet. This had been done in 1962 when Parnelli Jones was the 1st driver to qualify at 150 MPH. Later, Mr. Hedback put 188 (her qualifying speed) silver dollars into her helmet as the 1st female to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.
How did they top all of that excitement? By AJ Foyt becoming the only driver up to that date to win the race 4 times. While Gordy Johncock ran away with the race, his car failed and AJ won the day. Tony Hulman, for the first time since he owned the track rode on the victory lap with Foyt. It would unfortunately be Tony’s last 500 as he passed away that October.
This was my first year at the track. My dad worked for WIBC and the family was there every year, but this was a first for me. I sat in turn 4 when Sneva broke the 200 barrier. My moms favorite driver was Foyt. We had an extra ticket so at 9 years old I went and cheered him on. Whe he won, I was the "good luck charm" and got to go back very year. Too bad the luck never repeated itself....
I was there that year! I was 10 years old, and very excited to see my favorite driver make history and win his 4th 500! I was also able to meet Janet that year and get her autograph which I still have to this day along with the late great sportscaster Chris Schenkel.