Although I grew up in Alabama, my father was a Hoosier. In fact, you could say that he was a Hoosier’s Hoosier. My great uncle once told me that the definition of a Hoosier was a guy dribbling a basketball around the Brickyard looking for mushrooms. Could have easily been my Dad! Anyhow, when he and my Uncle returned from WWII, they started attending the Indy 500. For many years they watched from the infield, because they could not afford bleacher seats. I remember vividly hearing of one race where they moved around the infield and everywhere they stopped to watch, a wreck happened! They definitely felt like “The Flying Dutchmen” that day!
For some years they worked on the safety crew because, by this time, my uncle was the fire chief of Bainbridge, IN. When they finally achieved some affluence they started getting reserved seats. They basically saw every race between 1946 and 1970, and missed in 1971 only because my sister graduated from high school in Alabama during race week. They were back again in 1972 but missed again in 1973, when I graduated. The two of them had practically photographic memories from races and could describe details of individual races with such precision that you’d swear you had been there yourself.
As I was growing up, attending the 500 with my dad and uncle was a rite of passage for all of us kids, and 15 was the magic number. On May 29, 1967, however, the night before the race, my dad told me that I was going to get to go the next day. I was only 12! I didn’t sleep a wink that night and watched the race get called for rain with Parnelli Jones beginning to dominate the field in the #40 STP Turbocar from Sec 20, Row LL, seat 5 in the Paddock. We were back the next day to watch the race resume and I’ve been hooked ever since. While I was in college, several times we would leave Chattanooga, Tennessee, drive all night, drive into the line to park, watch the race and then drive back to Chattanooga to go back to school! For many years, I watched from the infield and even took my new wife to the race on our honeymoon.
For the most part, the only races that I’ve missed since then were because I was stationed overseas with the army, from 1981-84, 1991-1994 and 2000-2003. I can vividly remember being on duty in Germany and listening to Rick Mears winning his second race on the Armed Forces Radio Network in 1984. When we returned from Germany in 2003 I took my son to his first race in 2004: Paddock, Box 63, Row H, Seat 1. I’m now 57, and I hope to see every Indy 500 until I die and when I’m buried, there will be two tickets to the race in my breast pocket. It runs in my family and it’s in my blood.