We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 9 days to go, we look back with IMS President Doug Boles to his first Indy 500 experience and love for A.J. Foyt.
As far back as I can remember, and I’ll admit it, some of my early adult years too, I thought and believed A.J. Foyt was more than human. “Super Tex” was my superhero. And, while I had seen him race on television, had seen him race in USAC Championship Silver Crown races and seen him practice at Indianapolis, I had never seen him race in person in the Indianapolis 500.
The rule in our house was you had to be 10 years old to go to the Indianapolis 500. So I didn’t get to see my first race until 1977. And by the way, I haven’t missed one since, so this year will be my 40th in a row. And, as a Foyt fan, what a great first Indy 500 it turned out to be.
I don’t think I slept much at all the night before the ‘77 race. The anticipation of going to the Speedway for the race was much greater than Christmas Eve. My dad and I had planned strategically: We wanted to be in our seats by 8 a.m. to enjoy every moment of pre-race, so, we decided to leave about 6 a.m. That gave us time to park on 10th Street and walk with thousands of others through the town of Speedway, carrying our coolers, heading to that famous corner – 16th & Georgetown.
Mom had packed our coolers the night before. She made sandwiches, peppercorn beef for my dad, ham and turkey for me, chips and plenty of Coca-Cola. And, for many years after my first race, our traditions did change – including what we packed in our coolers.
Walking through Gate 1 was like walking into DisneyWorld for the first time. The history. The impressive size of the back of the grandstands. The throngs of people walking, looking for their seats. Ours were in the very north section of the Paddock Penthouse. We were sitting with longtime friends, the Keltner family. I couldn’t believe the view from the seats!
I still remember purchasing the event program and how much I couldn’t wait to get to our seats to leaf through it, to see the cool racing related advertisements and read the stories about the drivers and the event I so much loved. The pre-race was spectacular. Excitement, Jim Nabors, balloons and, of course, Tony Hulman giving the famous command to start engines!
As a Foyt fan, when Gordon Johncock’s car failed him late in the race, I was thrilled. But my excitement quickly turned to worry as I waited each lap to make sure A.J. came through Turn 4 and one lap closer to that historic fourth win. When A.J. won, I think Dad and I probably nearly jumped off the Penthouse balcony, we were so excited! Seeing A.J. pull into Victory Lane, seeing him ride around the track with Mr. Hulman and walking the long way back to our car felt like walking on air because we were reliving each moment of my first 500 and our first 500 together (I think it was my dad’s 32nd at that time). They are all vivid memories that make up my Indy 500 experience.
Even today, every time I enter the racetrack, whether it’s a practice day, qualifications day, Race Day or just going to work, I think about my dad and that first trip on Race Day to the Indianapolis 500. And, as time goes by, I understand more and more, that my love for the Indianapolis 500 and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is much more than just about the race. In fact, the race is only a part of why I love this event. It really is all the other experiences that create the emotional connection to the “500.” And, it starts with a 10–year–old and an adventure with his dad!
Little did I know, that while I still really love A.J. Foyt and find myself still in awe when I am around him, the true hero in my life is the man who took me to my first Indianapolis 500 – my dad! To me, that is what the Indianapolis 500 experience is truly about – family and friends and unique experiences that connect us deeper and for a longer time than the mere 500 miles on track.