Photo Memory: The First Indianapolis 500 Million Dollar Purse

Published On February 25, 2011 » 1687 Views» By admin » Blogs, IMS Photo Digitization Project

As a long time employee of the IMS, I often take for granted the access I have during events.  It almost cost me after the 1989 Indianapolis 500.  While working the Victory Banquet, we started looking at a project to have the winning car and driver at the Yard of Bricks with $1 Million in bags around the car.  It was the first time that the track had paid $1,000,000 to the winner and everyone was eager to set up an iconic shot to mark the occasion.  Since the purse was not decided until after the race and not publicized until after the Banquet, nothing could be done to spoil the surprise of announcing the winner’s purse at over $1 million so, it had to be arranged after the announcement of the winners take.

We had shot the day after the race photos and the car was there and the driver was there.  Now all we needed was the money.  To accommodate, the IMS Accounting Department, along with the Armored Carrier service they used, brought the armored car and security to the pits and unloaded the $1 Million in bags.   Now, for those not up on the actual size of a million smackers (in bags) in denominations of $20, $50 and $100 bills, it is not as impressive a sight as one would think, especially in the bags.

As the bags were unloaded from the truck and were arranged around the car, we realized our cool photo of the money won would be lost by the fact that it was just a few bags AND no actual cast to be seen anywhere.  The photographer (that would be me) gets the bright idea to have the cash out of the bags and on the sidepod and wings of the car and without asking anyone, began opening bags of cash.  With the distinct sound of cocking shotguns, the guards for the armored cars were not understanding  the concept I was thinking.  Fortunately, with a word from IMS Security and a shout of “NO, HE’S WITH IMS” from one of our PR people, my career, freedom and possibly my well-being, was saved.

While the bags of money had to be recounted before it was taken to the bank, it was all worth it as several newspapers around the country used the photo with stories of the first $1 Million purse to the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

Emerson Fittipaldi the day after the 1989 Indy 500

Emerson Fittipaldi the day after the 1989 Indy 500


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