We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 10 days to go, we catch up with a familiar face in Gasoline Alley.
Don’t look now, but the little guy with a big whistle is sounding off once again at the mouth of Gasoline Alley.
This came as a surprise to many of his “Yellow Shirt” friends on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Safety Patrol. They thought Jerry Scott was dead.
The 5-foot-3 Speedway mainstay known by many as “Scotty” is 85 and a colon cancer survivor, but the rumors of his demise after a three-year hiatus were proven false when he showed up for work last week. The absence, as it turns out, was to help his son’s restaurant as a bartender. When that venture ended, Scott’s wife of 67 years, Pat, insisted he return for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
“It was important for me to do this,” Scott said.
On his first day back, friends kept saying, “I thought you were dead!”
“I’d been told he died of cancer a year ago,” said safety patrolman Charles Schnackel. “I asked someone I thought was his niece, ‘How’s Scotty doing?’ And she said, ‘Oh, he died.’
“When we all saw his name on the roster (for May), we thought it must be a relative or something or it was a mistake. We were happy when he walked in, to see it was the real thing.”
This is his 20th year at the post.
“I got reincarnated,” Scott said with a laugh.
He’s not rusty, either.
A regular shrill whistle means some sort of vehicle is approaching from either direction. A louder blast with a “Big Time!” scream means a race car is coming or going. Most of the time, Scott just needs to advise patrons to stay clear of the middle pathway by saying, “Find the line and get behind!”
Truth be told, the three years away, he missed this.
“I sure did,” he said.
And friends missed him.
“He’s a legend,” Schnackel said. “When I moved up here eight years ago, one of the best things about working in this spot was Jerry Scott and Rich Loniewski because the two of them controlling the traffic going through Gasoline Alley is a well-oiled machine.
“We haven’t had anybody in the time I’ve been here handle it better than Jerry.”
Much of Scott’s life has been about making noise. He was a basketball referee for 27 years and a baseball umpire for 31 years.
“I never made a bad call,” he said with a grin.
He’s from Oxford, Indiana, what he refers to as a one-horse town, home to the famous pacer Dan Patch, which Scott calls, “the greatest race horse ever.”
So there was Dan Patch from 1896 until 1916, then along came “Scotty” 15 years later.
“I’m hoping to be around for a lot more years,” he said.