Tales From The Track

Memory Lane
Stories from readers recalling days gone by at the Speedway.

The IRL's Good News
Stories of charity, community spirit and teamwork in the IRL.
Indy 500 Traditions
This page will discusses the Speedway traditions. Still under construction.

Dan's Race Pics
Trivial tales of my trackside treks.

Memory Lane
Stories From The Stands

(Send your story or annecdote to - Thanks!)

P.F. was there in '63 & '64
First attended Indy in '63 with my dad. Drove down from Detroit-stayed overnight outside of Indy & then on race day drove in. My main memory was the end of the race when Parnelli Jones was leading (leaking oil) and Jimmy Clark in the rear engined Lotus was catching Jones but had to slow down because of the oil. I remember seeing the flagman (Fengler, I think) take out the black flag to wave at Jones, But behind the flagman appeared Jones' car owner, J.C. Agajanian, and after a few words from J.C. the flag was put away. Parnelli went on to win the race, of course. It took my dad and I 4 hours to get out of the infield parking after the race!

In '64 there was the crash on lap 2--Seemed like the Speedway only had one firetruck-and several of those manual fire rigs on two big wheels - It wasn't enough to put out the fire. I remember one driver in a roadster coming through the fire- spinning 180 degrees and ending up on the inside of the track facing backwards - His head was down and he appeared unconscious and his car was on fire. Very shortly he came to-jumped out of the car just before it was fully engulfed by flames. I didn't attend a race for 20 years after that one but since '75 I have been back several times.

Tom's family is there through the decades...
I first went to Indy for the 1946 race as a 10 year old. My father got me hooked. He saw the first race finished under 5 hours. I saw the first race finished in under 4 hours and my son (first race in 1966) saw the first race finished in under 3 hours. We have had the same tickets in grandstand "G" since 1958. I live from May to May. We will be there for qualification weekend and for the race. Look for us in grandstand "G".

D.A. from California was serving his country in Korea on race day. But he didn't forget about the race...
I was born and raised in Indianapolis and have made it to almost every race since 1966 except when I was stationed overseas during a 20 year career in the USAF. I wasn't exactly at the track in 1978. I was stationed at Kinsman Air Base Korea. But, I was there in spirit.

Kunsan AB Korea is small as far as Air Bases go. At the time, I was there I think there was less than 1,000 people stationed there. It did not take long to meet just about every one. One day I was eating in the Dining Hall and met a guy that was also from Indianapolis, and, as Hoosiers always do, the talk turned to racing. We decided if we couldn't be "home for the holiday," we should make the best of it. We decided that we would go out and find anyone we could and have a picnic party on race day. The party was to commence at 11:00 as American Forces Radio Television Service (AFRTS) was to carry the Broadcast starting at 12:15 AM. The only requirement to attend was to bring: an interest in the 500, food, drink, and your own lawn chair, but not necessarily in that order.

As Race day approached, we had rounded up about 16-18 people. We had "procured" the B-B-Q grill and about a dozen of those round metal picnic tables with the big umbrella in the center. I put one of my stereo speakers the window of my barracks room and proceeded to light the fire in the B-B-Q. Just as the other guys were starting to show up, the rain clouds started to show up too. As midnight approached, the sky opened up. As AFRTS began it's broadcast, sheets of rain had almost put out the fire. We had to find traps to string between the umbrellas to keep the fire going and to try to stay a little dry. Just as the race line up was being announced, SOME POOR LILY LIVERED SISSY in the next barracks over, called the cops about a "Wild Drinking Party" taking place outside his window, keeping him awake.

The Security Police sent out a young 1 striper to investigate. We just sat there in the rain, with water coming up past our ankles, holding our soggy hotdogs and hamburgers, drinking our beer, and politely told the guy,"it is race day, we are enjoying the sun and waiting for the race to start. Grab a beer and sit down". By this time the young SP had no idea what was going on. He called the dispatch desk and said, "I think these people are either drunk or crazy or both. They are sitting here, in the rain, in T-shirts and shorts and sunglasses, eating hotdogs and hamburgers drinking beer, and listening to the radio. They think they are in Indianapolis or something, and they think it is sunny. They said they are waiting for some kind of race to start. Can someone come out here and help me ?" After a short pause, the guy on the other end of the walkie-talkie came on and said, "I'll be right there." As "Back Home Again In Indiana" was coming over the speaker in the window, a big SP showed up with bag under each arm. He told the younger SP, "take your truck back to the office, you can watch the desk, nothing is happening on base, so I think you can handle it. If you need me, I'll be on the walkie. I'll handle it from here. As the younger SP got in the truck and left, the older SP said, "I'm from Detroit and I been a race fan since forever. All I could find at this hour was peanut butter and jelly, a half a loaf of bread, a bag of chips and 4 Pepsi's,,,,,mind if I join you ?"

It rained like hell that raceday, but we never knew it, we were in Indianapolis. Hope that LILLY LIVERED SISSY got some sleep.

J.C. was looking for a 500 jacket because of an agreement...
Fred and I both graduated from Warren Central High School in 1986. He had his first beer ever our junior year in the fourth turn infield. We have an agreement that we send the other an Indy 500 jacket to announce that we are expectant fathers for the first time. I got mine from him about four years ago. I finally get to send him one.

I will return to Indianapolis this May to attend my twenty-second Indy 500. I tear up when Jim Nabors sings "Back home again . . .", get goose bumps when the Purdue Band plays "Taps" and then get a big woody when I hear "Gentlemen, start your engines".

I was checking out M.B.'s 500 webpage about her trip to the 500 this year (1998). She came from California. I was amazed that she got right into the pits and the garages after the race, got right up to the winner (Eddie Cheever) and she met her favorite driver, Arie Luyendyk and even got into the Pennzoil garage. I emailed her and asked her how she pulled that off. Here is her reply.
"IT's really weird...regarding the IRL, I seem to have this incredible luck, like I have a halo over my head or something (which resembles an Indycar tire evidently) because I have been 'blessed' ever since I made contact with the IRL. Here's the story:"

"The '97 race, as you know, was rained out two days in a row. The third day was a Tuesday, and the working class stiff that I am, I had to go to work. So, I set up the VCR to tape it."

"My rambunctuous cat, a kitten then, had the habit of getting behind things and unplugging things. Get the picture? She unplugged the VCR, so we got about 10 minutes of the race, and then BLUE SCREEN."

"My husband had gotten me into watching the race in '92 (forced me to watch Little Al and Scott make history even though I swore I wasn't interested) but I was hooked from that point on. We watched it every year on TV...until 1997."

"We were devastated, and I got on the internet desperately seeking a video. No luck. I finally called the IMS and was put in touch with marketing. The Director of Marketing said they usually didn't get things like that, but they would see what they could do, and that his assistant, Lisa Mattingly, would be handling it. "

"In September, a large, padded envelope arrived with an IMS label on it. IT WAS A TAPE OF THE ENTIRE BROADCAST, NO COMMERCIALS PLUS A PROGRAM!!!!"

"We were so stoked, we knew we had to get to the race in person. SO, I called Lisa and she explained that the tickets sell out a year in advance but she'd see what she could do. The next day, the Ticketing Director called to see where I wanted to sit(!) and arranged for two seats in the Paddock for us!"

"So, we made the 2300+ trip to Indianapolis (I'm a terrible flyer, scared to death), found the people in the area WONDERFUL and kind, and our luck continued. We went to the IMS on Friday before the race. I had this strnge feeling we'd meet Arie and so I had brought the die-cast replicas of his '97 car with me on our trip. Sure enough, he was at Fanfest, unscheduled. (See picture!)"

"Saturday we went to the parade and got soaked. Sunday was Race Day and our luck continued because it didn't rain :-) "

"We sat across from the pits which was great. Eddie Cheever's pit was directly across and one space to the right from where we sat (you probably got an idea of where we sat from the pictures)."

"The people next to us had a brother who worked there, on the Penzoil Team. He came to sit beside me and we watched the race start. I guess what happened was that the cars made their first warmup lap, and I had never heard them in person--and I broke down and cried it was so wonderful (I think there's a Jeff Foxworthy joke in there somewhere...). Everyone around us comforted me and gave me tissues and hugged me. IT was great."

"So after the race, the people next to us asked if we had to be anywhere because they were going to Gasoline Alley and could get us in too."

"IF we hadn't had to get a shuttle to the hotel by 5:30 (the shuttle service stopped 3 hours after the race), we would have stayed longer and partied with the teams...darn it. But it's a matter of counting our blessings!!!!!"

"The next day we took our shuttle ride around the track and were interviewed on Fox '59."

Rain Can't Dampen Fans Spirits!

Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (The Associated Press 05-24-1998 14:06 EDT) -- A.J. Presutti might as well have been in heaven. He stood on a grassy slope just outside the fourth turn at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a checkered flag in his hands, a beer in his jeans' pocket and 10 of his best buddies around him.

"I'm bringing them in the fourth turn, baby," Presutti bellowed, waving the flag through the air.

He was not alone in his revelry. The threat of rain and wet seats from early morning showers couldn't dampened the spirits of the thousands who flocked to the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

As the pit crews put the finishing touches on their buzzing, rattling high-horsepower toys, the crowds flowed into the stands and onto the infield through wet grass and thick mud. All the usual picnic blankets were replaced with plastic tarps, and the heavy smell of nacho cheese and pork tenderloins filled the air.

Clouds covered a military aircraft flyover that roared overhead as part of the opening ceremony, but the sun came out just as Jim Nabors began belting "Back Home Again in Indiana." The speedway then released hundreds of colored balloons that floated away as the race was set to begin.

Presutti made the trip from Chicago, staying with his Indianapolis pal Aaron Nelson. With the Bulls in town to play the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference finals, the two were living a sport fanatic's dream.

"This is incredible," Nelson said, grinning through a thick brown beard. "No sleep. That's what this is all about."

About 30 yards away, along a muddy, rock-covered path near the infield parking lot, David and Donna Strube walked along and savored the part of the race they enjoy most.

"It's just the whole atmosphere," Donna Strube said. "We love the cars, of course. But the people, the atmosphere is just incredible."

For the 13th straight year, the Strubes traveled from St. Louis to meet up with their seven kids. The family is originally from Indianapolis, so going to the Brickyard is something of a tradition.

That tradition includes assigning two of the kids to cart along all the burgers, pickles, buns, beers, sodas, sandwich meat and salads. That allows the others to walk around unburdened.

"We've got it down to an art," David Strube said.

Others didn't think that far ahead. There was about one plastic cooler for every two people, some carried cases of beer, a few brought beat-up red wagons to carry kids and containers. Modifying the races motto, it's surely the greatest spectacle in tailgating.

Along the track, huge dryers inched along, removing all traces of the rain with a jet-engine roar. In the pits the Indy cars, ranging in color from subdued black to in-your-face neon green, received their final checks.

Back in the infield, the excitement mounted. Presutti gripped his flag and waited for the engines to roar to life. David Strube marveled at the event he never gets sick of.

"There's nothing in the world like the start of this race," he said.

The call was made for the engines to start.

And they're off.

J.C. was kind enough to forward this story to me about his first 500
"My first Indy 500 was in 1964, although I had been going to quals' since '56. (I was born in '54) My father was a member of the safety patrol at the track and for years track employees could bring their families to the track for free. After begging to be allowed to attend the race for two or three years I scraped up the money needed to buy a ticket in Grandstand G. Dad relented and said I could go with him. Going to bed that night was hard, and getting to sleep was harder. I still wasn't sure that Dad wouldn't "forget" to wake me."

"My first of many racedays dawned clear and bright and as we walked from the Coke lot down the outside of the track my head seemed to be mounted on gimbals. When we got to the grandstand, my father took me half way up the stairs on the west end of the stand and pointed to a steel I-beam that stuck up through the concrete. That, I was informed, was my seat. The I-beam had been topped with a board to prevent someone from hurting themselves and proved to be a perfect seat. There was no one in front of me, and I could stand up without blocking anyone's sight line."

"As I'm certain you know, the '64 500 was NOT a picnic in the park. The death of Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald on the second lap and the column of smoke alongside of the tower is something I will never forget. I have never since that day heard the track so silent on race day. Even now when they are going through the the "Honors" part of the pre-race, you can hear noise. Not that day. Tom Carnigie was speechless and when he was able to talk his only comment was "There has been a very bad accident in the front straight". Sid Collins (radio voice of the 500) was on the mike and described the crash live then broke down on the air. I had seen cars spin and crash, applauded as the driver climbed out to wave to the crowd before the trip to the infield hospital, But I had never experenced the death of a driver."

"Eddie Sachs made it an annual tradition to march with the Purdue Band on race day and had signed an autograph for me as he came past. I still have that autograph and will never forget my education that day. Indy is fast cars and crowds, but it is also 33 people risking death in the pursuit of a dream."

The following tales come from J.D.
"I grew up in South Bend and was at IMS for the first time when Parnelli Broke the 150 mph mark. I didn't see my first race in person until I had lived in Phoenix for many years. After that it was attend every year. Fly in from Phoenix, hook up with my pal in Carmel and rent a motorhome for race day. Rented a driver for the rig, too! My pal always obtained Penthouse tickets - the highest outside T1. Once you've been there, no other seat will do. But, they're not for everyone, he paid about 400 bucks apiece. Those were the good 'ol days. (Up 'til about 3 years ago!) He would arrange for police escort for the motorhome. We would be in the parking lot directly S of the short chute in plenty of time to cook breakfast for 8. Bloody Marys all around, radio blasting. God, this must be what heaven is like for traditional Indy 500 fans. No more. He's in Atlanta. I'm in Ft. Myers with bad heart. But I've got TVs and lots of video tape. Gentlemen, light 'em up. I still get excited even with all the politics and BS. It's still THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 MILE RACE. Nothing else like it in the world. I'll be back one of these days. Enjoy the race. Show us your . . . ."

The following was gleaned from J.S. :
"My first trip to the Snakepit in the infield occurred in 1974 - the Year of the Streaker. During rain delays that year, streakers took to the track to air all their hair. One man - an obvious drunkard - climbed a fence, descended to the track pavement, dropped his drawers, and with the advent of a first stymied step quickly found his nose snuffing the greasy asphalt.

"But that was nothing compared to the Snakepit, somewhere between Turns One and Two. My first venture there brought me to a mob gathered three and four people deep, all chanting. Once a sightline was gained, the discovery was somewhere between Joni Mitchell's Woodstock poolside garden and the smudgepot fires that marked the rolling, hellish mayhem of Altamont. There was a partially dressed man and a nude woman screwing in a mud pit. Others were lining up. To my knowledge, there were no arrests.
"Twenty years later, I would have observed that this was not safe sex. In '74, my jaw simply dropped.

"My friend Dan recalled a rainy day in the Snakepit back in the 80's when a lack of action on the track found the gathered race vipers diving into mud pits, some leaving with massive cuts and contusions, thanks to submerged brick and glass. Beer spilled into the collected brainpans and a fight broke out. At first it was a fist fight. 'Then I saw a guy take an ax and throw it at the other guy. The second guy picked up the ax and threw it back. I knew it was time to leave when I saw an ax fight.'

The craziest thing we saw on Pole Day '97 occurred at the beginning of our journey...As we passed 16th Street Speedway all six of us jerked our heads to the left at an amazing sight: A sheriff cop was standing on the seat of his motorcycle, gunning his machine to the tune of at least 40 mph. He nearly picked off another officer on the sidewalk, who had to arch his back during a quick skip to miss this official projectile. The motorcycle cop then spread his legs, his butt hitting the leather of his seat just in time to stop the bike from streaking out onto 16th Street."

From Deputy Chief Bart McAtee:
"They used to burn cars on race day every year. Nothing really amazed me."

(Here is a photo of one such car from around 1985:)
Burning car in infield

Once he got called to the White Castle restaurant on 16th Street. When he arrived there, he found a female under arrest -
"Her top was on crooked and she was extremely intoxicated. Her hands, elbows and knees were all scraped up because she had had sex with about 20 guys in the White Castle parking lot. She was distraught. She kept saying 'My husband is going to kill me.' That was interesting."

Rocker Ronnie Haig relays this story from his website
It's May 1955. I get an idea from a friend of mine it would be neat to sell newspapers at the 500 mile track. So (after getting permission ) I get up at 4am, go downtown, board a special train, and we modock toward the track. Upon arriving, we are given a certain number of papers in exchange for the money I had to pay for them. I watched the sun come up that morning and as I recall froze to death, as I watched the cars start their entrance into the track-all racing to get to their favorite spot to drink - I mean watch the race that would begin at 11:00. I had never been inside there before and to tell the truth, the whole thing was a little overwhelming. Sixteen years hadn't prepared me for some of the things I was seeing.

After the lengthy pre-race activity,The race was on. Since I had the freedom of the track, I was bound and determined to go everywhere I could. It wasn't too long before I sold almost all my papers. During my last sale -I was making change for this guy when an announcement came over the loud speaker. I was right! The firey accident I had just seen from directly accross the track on the backstretch was in fact Bill Vukavich, my hero. The flames were terrible,and the smoke drifted accross the track into my face. I kept wiping my eyes trying to see what was going on. I could hear everyone yelling, and screaming including Bill. Someone jumped up on the side of the wall and with a long pole, reached down into what was left of his Blue Crown spl. They pulled out a helmet with a hole burnt through on side. The loud speaker came on again saying we had lost a great race driver today at Indy. It was then I remembered what Bill had said just before the race. They were doing an interview with him. No one had hit 150mph as of yet - and when questioned about it Bill said: "I'll hit 150mph or die trying" He was clocked on his last lap at 149.728mph. I'll never forget that. Recently Susie and I were guests of USAC at the track for qualifications. We went all over the place and had a great day. We could've gone to the race itself, but didn't. I have never been back to a race since that day in May.

Short Stories

From Ron H
A couple of years ago, some drunk got out on the track in a pickup truck and tried racing around the track. The cops chased him down and made him crash!

Back in the 80's I think, some guy was thrashing around the infield in his Jeep, flipped it upside down and killed himself!

I remember back in the early 80's in the Snakepit, surrounded by all the craziness, I saw this biker dude driving down through there on his bike, but he was sitting on it backwards.

People used to erect tall scaffolding within the infield, to see the track over the crowd. These were banned after one collapsed in 1960, injuring people and killing 2 men.

I remember back around 82, we were partying big time in the Snake pit during qualifications. About 3 hours went by without any action on the track. We hardly noticed, there was so much going on in the infield. Then they made the announcement that Gordon Smiley had died at the other end of the track. That was shocking.

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Dick Ralstin's Homepage - Hoosier journalist who has been involved with racing for a good part of the 20th century, shares photos and stories, mainly Indycar.

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The Ultimate Man-Machine Interface - An article by a writer who covered Jacques Villeneuve in 1995. He talks with an oldtimer who thinks the drivers were better years ago because they did not have so many driver aids.

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