Tales From The Track IV

Stories From The Stands

Indy or Bust
My son goes (went) to a private high school, here in Northern California. As I read the Senior Calendar, I noticed that Senior Finals were scheduled to end the Friday just prior to Race day. A note on the bottom of the calendar says, "Seniors are expected and, required to take final exams as scheduled. No early or, late test taking will be permitted."

Well, these people in California, really don't understand about MY family's DNA. It is Hoosier DNA, and it as been passed on to yet another generation. School systems in Indiana understand Hoosier DNA. "...was at the track", was an excused absence, in my day.

As I took down the 2004 calendar and replaced it with the 2005 calendar, and as my son's Final Semester began, I hit the internet. I managed to locate a pair of "cheap" seats on a Northwest Airlines red eye flight from San Francisco to Indianapolis, via Minneapolis. The flight leaves SFO, just after midnight, and the connector out of MSP arrives into Indianapolis, just after 9:30 AM, Saturday before the race. "That is our flight, I say to myself, "have a little time to talk to mom & dad, buy some stuff for lunch, go to bed, wake up, and go to the track. PERFECT!

Not willing to take a chance on some travel agent screwing things up, or a glitch in Internet bookings, I went to the Northwest Airlines counter at the San Francisco Airport to purchase passage personally, and in cash. No chance of Credit Card companies messing things up here. Cash always clears on the first try.

The agent, as she is typing in our information, tells me, "Well, you are in luck, these are the last two tickets on this flight out of SFO, and, on the flight to Indianapolis, I only have 4 seats. I wonder why?" I smile back at her and say, "Memorial Day Travelers." She looks at me and says, "Yeah, but this is January, we usually don't sell out flights 5 months prior." I just shrug my shoulders and say, "I dunno---I do have confirmed tickets, right." She says, "Yes", and hands me my receipt.

My son is in a band, with guys he has been hanging out with since the 4th grade. His band has developed a following around town. As part of "Senior Week", the school hosts a party, where the schools' unofficial garage bands perform. My son's band agreed to do the show. The school party is traditionally held on the night of the final day of school for the Seniors. He assured me, "We are the third band to perform, we go on at 7:30, we are off at 9:00, I'll be home at 9:15. We can leave as soon as I get a quick shower, and be at the airport by 10:45, 11:00 at the latest."

Friday, before race day, everything goes as planned. My son comes home from school, packs his bags, puts them into the car, grabs something to eat, and goes over our last minute travel plans. Just before he leaves to pick up his girl friend, he assures me, "I'm all packed and ready, I'll be home at at 9:15, I promise. My suitcase is already in the car. Bye."

My wife and I watch TV and wait for my son to come home. At 9:10 PM, we hear my son's car drive up in the driveway. It takes him a little longer than normal to come into the front door. As he hops into the house he says, "Someone spilled water on the stage, I sprained my ankle pretty bad. Let's go to the airport."

My wife, the nurse, and not having "Hoosier DNA," took one look at his ankle and said, "We have to go to the Emergency Room." A short "discussion" followed. I finally said, "To sit and wait in the emergency room, takes about 3 hours, minimum. We'll have more time to sit in the Emergency Room in Indiana. If we stay here, we miss the flight." While my wife taped up my son's ankle. I dug some crutches out of the garage. We arrive at San Francisco Airport pretty much as planned.

When we arrive in Indianapolis, my dad met us at baggage claim and, took us to his house. We stay just long enough to tell my mom, "We made it. We are going to the hospital."

St. Vincent's Hospital is less than a mile from my parent's place. My son was taken into the back as I watched TV in the waiting area. About an hour later, my son emerges from the back room in a wheel chair, and wearing a soft splint on his ankle. The doctor explains everything to me and, what to do until the swelling goes down.

At that point, I looked the doctor dead in the eye and say, "Is he going to be all right to go to the race tomorrow?" The Doctor said, "Look, you took an overnight flight from California, just to go to the race. Seriously now, if I told you, 'No, you can't go to the race', would it make any difference? Would you listen? No, I don't think so."

She then turned to my son and said, "When I was a High School Senior, exactly the same point in my life, as you are now, I fell and broke my wrist on Race day morning. We were just leaving the house to go to the track. I wouldn't let my mom and dad take me to the hospital until after the race. I know what this is all about. Be careful, and enjoy the race."

1977 Race - Bergy Almost Didn't Make it

Saturday May 28th dawned bright ans sunny in Northern Kentucky. Afternoon temperatures rose into the mid 80ís and as always since 1964 I was filled with anticipation for the next days 500. Well, the usual routine was a nice dinner with my neighbor and an early bedtime for the 5:00 A.M wakeup. Well, that night all plans went out the door.

Kentucky experienced itís worst fire disaster in history.Shortly before 9:00 P.M fire was discovered in one of the banquet rooms at the Beverly Hills Supper Club in Southgate Ky. It didnít take long for this to evolve into a major fire. At the time of the fire over 2,500 people were in the Club for wedding receptions and other private parties. But, the majority of the people had come to the Cabaret room to see John Davidson. Our fire department was first called to send an EMS unit. Moments later a call was made for an engine company. Upon arrival we were assigned search and rescue. After a number of trips in and out of the building with victims the ominous sound of the blasts on the appartus air horns signaled an evacuation of the building. Well, I grabbed my last victim and realized Iíd gotten turned around and lost my way out.

Well, at that point I said a prayer to the Lord that if I died I was not going to be a happy person to meet him because I was going to miss the Indy 500. I moved around a bit and saw some light where firefighters had knocked a hole in the wall and made my exit.

Well at that time I rooted for two Texanís, Johnny Rutherford and A.J. Foyt. Well I arrived back home to shower and head to Indy. My day was special. A.J. Foyt became the first 4 time winner, and as we learned later that was the last ride Tony Huhlman took with the winner.

So, my wife and I are anxious for May to arrive as we make our weekly trips for practice and qualifying then the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

(Note: Bergy is now a member of the Kentucky Speedway Safety Team!)

Who Is That Standing By The Wasp?

We got to the track first thing Friday morning on race weekend in 2003, intending on spending the whole day there, walking around & soaking it all in. We walked to the museum and stood in line to buy tickets, a little surprised that there was already a line at 9am. We then got on the bus & took the one-lap tour of the track. Then we put off going back into the museum to walk thru the Chevy displays around the east side of the fountain. We took our time, grabbing all the posters & keychains that they were giving away. After buying programs, we were already carrying too much stuff, so we went back to the truck to unload a little. then, finally, back to the museum.

If we hadn't done all this dilly-dallying, the rest of this wouldn't have happened.

We took our time going through the museum. I noticed the Marmon Wasp just after walking in, and made the decision to save that for last, and so, started with the opposite side of the museum. My nephew was really getting into the spirit of things, asking me all sorts of questions, and so we had this very long conversation that my father and brother apparently grew tired of, because they pushed on ahead while nephew and I lagged behind.

We were just getting around the corner where Johncock's '82 car sat, when I heard someone calling my name. I looked up and through the glass wall to see my brother standing in front of the Marmon, motioning for me to come over. I thought that he had just then realized that the very first winning Indy car was on display, and wanted me to come see it - well, I already knew it was there, but I headed over to him anyway... though I kinda took my time doing so. all the while my brother is waving more & more frantically.

So I pick up the pace, walk thru the opening in the glass wall & over to the Marmon. My brother and dad are standing in front of it, along with an elder couple whom I had never seen before. All four of them are looking at me. I asked my brother "what's going on?" he gestured towards this unfamiliar older gentleman in front of me, and introduces him as Ray Harroun Jr.

I don't often get speechless in my life, but I sure did at that moment.

I shook his hand and said hello, absolutely amazed that he and his wife would be there, and even more amazed that my brother figured out who they were - he had struck up a conversation with Mrs. Harroun in front of the Wasp, where she confessed that that car belonged to her father-in-law. she went on to tell him she married Harroun's son, who happened to be taking a picture of the AJ Foyt cars just behind my brother at the time.

I did manage to push past my excitement and have a small conversation with Mr. Harroun. We talked about the first race and the controversy surrounding the finish. I also learned from him that his dad attended all the races until '64 when one of his good friends died at the track. I also learned that he had tickets to watch the race from the Celebrity floor of the Pagoda (4th floor)... though I imagine if your last name is Harroun, you can pretty much sit wherever you want to.

Finally, I pulled out my Garage pass, borrowed a Sharpie from a fan standing nearby, and got his autograph.

I was awestruck by that event for the remainder of the day, and still love to tell the story. We've attended the race every year since, but haven't seen Ray Jr. again. People attend the museum to make some kind of connection with the history of Indy, but I never counted on meeting the son of the first winner of the race. You can't make much more of a connection to Indy's earliest years than shaking the hand of Ray Harroun Jr.

Why Stand in Line for a Week?
by Mark H. from St Louis [5/16/2006]

I grew up in Indy, northeast side, and went to Arlington, Class of '76. In fact, I'm the only guy I know that went to "Senior Cut Day" three years in a row..... guess I got an early start.

The stuff on your site is amazingly accurate. Really brings back memories from the good ol' days. Man, those days are gone and the thing has become nearly sterile. I remember when they used to easily get 200,000+ on Pole Day, back when USAC ran the show and you could hear the Goodyear blimp grind through the Indianapolis sunset most evenings in May.

I remember how some of the bikers and other early birds started lining up in the North Forty the weekend prior to Race Weekend, so maybe more than a week early. They were pretty gamey by Race weekend! Here's how we beat them to our pick of the Infield on Race Day.

We would drive two vehicles out to the Track on Friday evening before Race Day, first leaving one as close as possible to the North Forty across 30th Street, then drive the 2nd vehicle (usually a pickup truck) over to the North Forty, park it, party for a bit, and then lock it up and leave. It's Friday night and our Race Day ride is in position, so we bail and head back to the Northeast side. Our position in line is less than 50 yards from the front of the line where the early birds are.

Saturday evening, Race Day Eve, we would head back to the Track and park a car in the neighborhood across 30th Street and walk to the parked pickup with our coolers and all the usual stuff. Party time in the North Forty! Some years, if the weather was good, this would have been our second Saturday trip, having been there in the afternoon for brews, Frisbee, and fun in the sun.

Anyway, we would party like everybody else Saturday night, maybe get a couple of hours of shuteye until the big boom, then get ready to go in. Here's the kicker... we had a friend who delivered 7-Up to the infield concession stands starting at around midnight, so he's already in. Around 2:30 AM, after he finished his deliveries, he drove his 7-Up truck over to Turn 4 and roped off a 20'x20' piece of paradise against the fence with those checkered pennants. We were in! All we had to do was survive the mad dash when the gates opened (a wonder nobody ever got killed) and head for the 7-Up van over in Turn 4. So much for arriving a week early!

James Garner Got Nailed
by JP [6/03/2006]

Heading over in 2 days for the 2006 F1 weekend.....things have changed in my 40 years at the Speedway! Now I look forward to staying downtown, dinner at St. Elmo etc. which was not the case in '66!

I guess there are a lot of good stories out of 40 years at the track.....sneaking into the Granatelli/Chapman garages after all the turbines dropped out, even had my date thrown out for flashing! One story I remember takes place somewhere around the 69/70 500. In those days it was feast or famine. I had free Penthouse tickets or was relegated to the infield. This time I was in the first turn infield. Track activities were gearing up to the start of the race. A race fan next to me was expounding about the excitement that leads up from the track opening till the start your engines command. I agreed, the build-up of excitement was incredible and that what draws me back to the Speedway each year. He said, you know, before the start of last year race he saw James Garner walking towards turn 1 to watch the start. He threw a beer can to get his attention and got to chat with the Maverick/Grand Prix star. Well its deja vu all over again as James Garner is heading up to his favorite position to watch the beginning of the race.......well, to get his attention he picks up a beer can and heaves it towards Jim. This time it got more than his attention as the can hit him in the head. Needless to say Mr. Garner was not pleased and had more than chatting on his mind. He climbed to the top of the fence with fire in his eyes and pointing to the hapless fan. He decided not to pursue this poor guy through the tangle of blankets, coolers, cans and passed out spectators. I think it was far safer for him to drive the pace car!

I had the desire to go to the 500 for as long as I can remember. I'd have the radio on during the Memorial Day cookouts, listening to the excitement but could not get my parents to go to the track! I had to wait till I had my own car....soon as I was out of High school, had a summer job, bought a car, then it was the start of many treks to the Speedway. If I only knew that a high school classmate had the same desire, his name is Ron Hemmelgarn. He didn't have a ride over either so he hitch-hiked to Indy!

It wasn't long after seeing Jim Garner in Grand Prix that I was camping at Watkins Glen......but that another story!

Please send your interesting tales to:

Track Tales 1
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Track Tales 3

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