News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Top Story

May 29, 2011

It’s a dream come true for long-time Indy 500 fan (See VIDEO)

INDIANAPOLIS — Roaring at high speeds around the track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May is a race fan’s dream.

For Joe Claretto, thanks to a surprise Christmas gift from his son, Greg, that dream came true last week — less than a week before the May 29 scheduled running of the Indianapolis 500, which is the 100th anniversary of the race.

“Everyone in my family knew what was happening except me,” Claretto, 78, said as he stood next to the pit exit at the IMS on Monday morning. Dressed in a black racing suit and holding his black racing helmet, Claretto was waiting for his first of three rides around the track in a two-seat Indy car as part of the Indy Racing Experience.

Greg Claretto wanted to give his father, a retired pharmacist from Terre Haute, something very special for Christmas last year. The Indy Racing Experience seemed like the perfect gift for a man who is attending his 55th-consecutive Indianapolis 500 today.

“This is a ‘thank you’ for bringing us to all these races,” Greg Claretto said when asked why he chose this gift for his dad. Joe started taking his three sons to the race in the early 1970s.

Last Monday was a “Legends Day” for the Indy Racing Experience, meaning the drivers piloting the two-seater Indy cars were some of the biggest names in the history of motor racing. In this case, the drivers all were former Indy 500 champions: Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford and Arie Luyendyk. This came as a big surprise for Joe, who assumed the drivers would be much less prominent.

“I had no idea,” Joe said while waiting in the warm May sunshine for his first ride. “It blew my mind.”

Mario Andretti — because of a shared Italian heritage — is a special favorite of Joe Claretto’s. At the Indy Racing Experience, Joe got several opportunities to talk to his long-time racing hero. During one of those conversations, Joe mentioned all the times Andretti, the 1969 Indy 500 winner, had run well at the Brickyard without capturing the checkered flag. If the May classic were 400 miles in length instead of 500, Andretti would have won the event six times, the long-time driver told Claretto.

In addition to his Indy 500 victory, Andretti, 71, also won the Formula One championship in 1978 and the Daytona 500 in 1967. He is the only person ever to have won the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Formula One title and the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) title in his career.

Greg, 49, was the first of the Clarettos to take a ride in one of the two-seaters last Monday. His driver was Andretti.

“Mario got on it,” said Greg, who grew up in Terre Haute but now lives in Bloomington, after emerging from his speedy two-lap trip. “I couldn’t imagine doing that for 200 laps.”

Those getting rides in the Indy Racing Experience awaited their turns at the exit to pit row. Andretti, Rutherford and Luyendyk would bring their racing machines to a stop at the end of pit lane, open their visors for fresh air and wait while their passenger climbed out and a new rider was helped into the back seat. Once the helmeted passengers were secured in their seats by Indy Racing Experience officials, the drivers would hit their accelerators and the two-lap rides would begin.

Joe Claretto’s first ride was with Luyendyk, 57, the winner of the 1990 and 1997 Indy 500s. Unfortunately, Luyendyk’s car experienced gear box problems on Claretto’s ride and was unable to get up to speed. It was the only mechanical problem all day and Claretto was given an extra ride later in the day with Luyendyk at full speed to make up for it.

Claretto’s next ride was with Rutherford, 73, who was sporting his “Lone Star J.R.” helmet. Rutherford, who won the Indy 500 three times, took the elder Claretto around the two-and-a-half mile track in about 1 minute, including accelerating, making an average speed of about 150 miles per hour. Then, Claretto rode with his favorite driver, Andretti. Mario’s quick lap — including accelerating from a standing start — lasted just 50 seconds, making an average speed of 180 mph.

“Mario drove just like he always raced,” Joe said after the ride. “He doesn’t have an intermediate speed. It’s gung-ho and go.”

After all of the approximately 60 Indy Racing Experience riders were finished with their trips around the track, the long day, which had included meals and photograph sessions, was drawing to an end. Each participant received a plaque, a cap and a shirt, and they also got to keep the helmets they wore on their rides.

“They all signed my helmet,” Joe said of racing legends who escorted him around the famed oval. During the autograph period at the end of the day, Claretto found himself with a few additional seconds to speak to Andretti. By that time, the two men were calling each other “Compaesano” — the Italian word for fellow countryman.

“I’ve been blessed in my life,” Joe told Andretti, who was seated at the autograph table. “I’ve always said there are five days in my life I will never forget.” Those days were the day Claretto married his late wife, Martha Jean; the day he found Jesus; and each of the three days his sons were born, he told Andretti.

“Now, I’ve added a sixth day,” Claretto told a visibly pleased Andretti. “I will never, ever, ever forget this day. It was just fantastic.”

Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or


Text Only | Photo Reprints
Top Story
  • firstcarphotoforweb copy.jpg Remember Your First Car?

    Tell us about it! Your memories could be part of an upcoming story in the Tribune-Star. Click on this story to find out how.

    April 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mushroom2 (2).jpg Morels: Foragers can now go off-trail

    Rain that pounded Brown County State Park in early April dampened the number of hikers and mountain bikers in Indiana’s largest state park, but foragers of the property’s 15,000 acres of forest welcomed the weather.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • APTOPIX California Bu_Ter (2).jpg 10 killed in California school bus crash

    ORLAND, Calif. (AP) — A FedEx tractor-trailer crossed over a grassy median on a Northern California freeway and slammed into a bus carrying 44 high school students in an explosive crash that left 10 people dead, authorities said.

    April 11, 2014 2 Photos

  • Ukraine_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, April 8:

    April 8, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET 040714 SEX HOTEL.jpg Where we house released sex offenders

    A convicted sex offender who reportedly grabbed a 5-year-old child last week and allegedly molested the child at a Terre Haute motel faces multiple felony charges.

    April 7, 2014 2 Photos 1 Story

  • Fort Hood_Tayl.jpg UPDATE Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.

    April 2, 2014 4 Photos

  • barbour No shows escaped death by Craigslist killer

    Miranda Barbour says other central Pennsylvania men responded to her Craigslist ad before murder victim Troy LaFerrara of Port Trevorton, but they dodged death when they failed to appear for her promise of female companionship.


    March 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malaysia Plane_Ter .jpg UPDATE: Relatives sob as Malaysia confirms plane is lost

    BEIJING (AP) — Relatives shrieked and sobbed uncontrollably. Men and women nearly collapsed, held up by loved ones. Their grief came pouring out after 17 days of waiting for definitive word on the fate of the passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

    March 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Chicago Train_Ter .jpg Train derails, climbs escalator at Chicago airport

    CHICAGO (AP) — An eight-car Chicago commuter train plowed across a platform and scaled an escalator at an underground station at one of the nation’s busiest airports early today, injuring 32 people on board, officials said.

    March 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Film Casting Jesus_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, March 7:

    March 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • US Obama Ukraine Russ_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, March 4:

    March 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • 86th Academy Awards -_Ter (2).jpg ‘12 Years a Slave’ wins best picture at Oscars

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Perhaps atoning for past sins, Hollywood named the brutal, unshrinking historical drama “12 Years a Slave” best picture at the 86th annual Academy Awards.

    March 3, 2014 2 Photos

  • Planet Bonanza_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 27:

    February 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Nets Lakers Basketbal_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 24:

    February 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Protests_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 21:

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Winter Weather Michig_Morg.jpg After short break, winter returns to central U.S.

    CHICAGO — After a brief respite of sunshine, winter returned to much of the nation's midsection on Thursday, bringing a chilly mix of rain, sleet and snow, and at least one tornado.

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • ice sign.jpg Sheriff's deputies reporting several accidents due to 'black ice'

    Vigo County Sheriff's deputies have responded to several crashes due to icy road conditions this morning.

    February 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Switzerland Plane Div_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Monday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 17:

    February 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • TeenKiller.jpg Teen admits killing Craigslist contact, claims to have slain at least 22 more

    A Pennsylvania woman who is charged, along with her newlywed husband, with killing a man they met through Craigslist admitted to the slaying in a jailhouse interview with a newspaper and said she has killed more than 20 other people across the country, claims police said they are investigating.

    February 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Obit Shirley Temple_Ter .jpg Shirley Temple, iconic child star, dies at 85

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Shirley Temple, the dimpled, curly-haired child star who sang, danced, sobbed and grinned her way into the hearts of Depression-era moviegoers, has died. She was 85.

    February 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET100214igloo allen.jpg VIDEO: Rosedale igloo

    Keaton Allen checks one of the rooms in the snowy structure he and friends Noelanie Loomis, Gabe Whitford and Isaiah Bowman are building at the park in Rosedale.

    February 10, 2014 4 Photos 1 Video

  • 107518.jpg Church presents ‘Love Languages’ author’s video seminar on Valentine’s weekend

    Gary Chapman wrote the original edition of “The Marriage You’ve Always Wanted” in 1979.
    Now a nationally known author and relationship counselor, with a radio program heard on more than 100 stations across the United States, Chapman first published the book under the title, “Toward a Growing Marriage,” 35 years ago.

    February 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • gold 1 OLYMPIC ROUNDUP DAY 2: Grim talk turns to gold for now at Olympics

    All the gloom and grim talk leading to the Sochi Olympics at last gave way to more uplifting things.


    February 8, 2014 5 Photos

  • SPT 020514 ODUM LOSS.jpg UPDATE: No. 4 Shockers hold off Indiana State 65-58

    The deal was on the table for Indiana State. The stakes? The chance to end Wichita State’s perfect season and to earn a signature win that would earn national notice and possibly more.

    February 5, 2014 10 Photos 2 Stories

  • MET020514snowzimmerman.jpg Vigo schools on 2-hour delay Thursday

    Vigo County students will be back to school Thursday.
    According to Vigo County School Corp. Superintendent Danny Tanoos, schools will be on a two-hour delay on Thursday.
    Due to inclement weather, schools were canceled today in Vigo and surrounding counties.

    February 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • CVS Caremark Tobacco _Ter .jpg Obama praises CVS for pulling tobacco from shelves

    WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is praising CVS Caremark for its decision to stop selling tobacco products at its drugstores.

    February 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • SPT010114ISUgeneral odum.jpg Odum, Van Vleet two of Valley's best playmakers

    Point guards do so many things for a basketball team, but the most important thing the best of them do is embody grace under pressure.
    That grace is tested when the shot clock gets below the 10-second mark. Every decision they make takes on more urgency. The good decisions have a high reward, the bad ones can carry the weight of sinking their team.

    February 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Winter Weather Pennsy_Ter .jpg 10 Things to Know for Tuesday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about today, Feb. 4:

    February 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Prisoner Escape-Michi_Ter .jpg UPDATE: Indiana State Police nab prison escapee

    A convicted killer who peeled a hole in two fences with his hands to escape from a Michigan prison before abducting a woman and fleeing to Indiana was captured Monday evening after a chase, authorities said.

    February 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Deadly Sugar_Ter .jpg Sugar tied to fatal heart woes; soda’s a culprit

    CHICAGO (AP) — A big national study says too much sugar could be deadly, at least when it comes to fatal heart problems.

    February 3, 2014 1 Photo

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Admirers Flock to Dole During Kansas Homecoming Raw: Obama Plays Soccer With Japanese Robot Raw: Kangaroo Rescued From Swimming Pool Raw: 3 American Doctors Killed in Afghanistan Ukraine Launches Operation Against Insurgents New Pictures of Ship That Sank in 1888 Raw: Obama Arrives at State Dinner in Tokyo Colleagues Mourn Death of Doctors in Afghanistan Time Magazine Announces Top Influencers List Raw: Angry Relatives Confront SKorea Officials Raw: Car Crashes Into San Antonio Pool Yankees' Pineda Suspended 10 Games for Pine Tar Scott Brown Announces Run for U.S. Senate in N.H Yankees Pineda Ejected for Pine Tar US Proposes Pay-for-priority Internet Standards Raw: Girls Survive Car Crash Into Their Bedroom Raw: Kerry Brings His Dog to Work Alibaba IPO Could Be Largest Ever for Tech Firm Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Bigger Riders Means Bigger Horses Out West
NDN Video
Grumpy Cat Not Impressed at "Idol" Is Shaquille O'Neal the World's Best Ex-Athlete? Raw: Obama Plays Soccer With Japanese Robot Behind The Tanlines Jersey Strong Part 2 BASE Jumpers Set World Record Screaming 2-year-old gets psyched at Penguins game Pineda: Put pine tar because he didn't want to hit anyone Beyonce on Her Biggest Influence Michael Strahan's First Day on "GMA" Clerk catches on fire after man throws Molotov Cocktail into Brooklyn store Amazon's Deal With HBO Leapfrogs Streaming Rivals Stephen Colbert Tells David Letterman His Plan for 'Late Show' Georgetown police officer filmed tripping students Viral: It's Not Pitbull - It's Amy Poehler! Recycling Highlights for Earth Day Lupita Nyong'o Named People's 'Most Beautiful' Peeps Launched into Outer Space NYPD's Twitter Request For Photos Backfires New HBO Go Commercials Capture Awkward Family TV Watching Raw: Leopard Bites Man in India

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010