It’s the month of May and in the motorsports world that means Indianapolis, Monaco and Charlotte. We all know now there’s a different script being played out for one of the biggest and most prestigious time periods in racing.
Yes, COVID-19 has turned our world upside down. Whether a fan or a competitor, there is little sense of normalcy. We now know we’ll have to wait till Aug. 23 — if then — for our 500.
The absence of race activity outside of NASCAR has led many to look to the past to solve their need for speed.
Of course, no racing event in the world offers a better opportunity to dwell in memories than the Indianapolis 500. Whether just a casual observer or avid follower of the race, we all have treasured memories of the show.
Having been fortunate enough to be a part of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing “ for the better part of 60 plus years — like many others in the Terre Haute area — this writer has accumulated a share of memorable and not so memorable moments at 16th and Georgetown Road.
What better year to be a “rookie” in the 500 than in 1964. The race presented the best and worst in racing. A.J. Foyt won his second 500 on that day. His win was overshadowed by the tragic accident that claimed the lives of Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald.
I vividly recall seeing the towering cloud of smoke and not knowing the seriousness of an accident until late in the race when a vendor went through the crowd with newspapers featuring headlines telling of the deaths.
The event left the indelible impression how cruel the sport can be and the enormously of the track
Then, there was the month of May in 1982. A 500 that took forever to start and even longer to end. Over a long and damp three-day stretch, the show tested the nerves and patience of racers and fans alike.
Gordon Johncock won on that occasion, but like Foyt’s win several years earlier, it was clouded in tragedy with three deaths during the month. It was proclaimed by many as the worst year in 500 history.
Who can forget Mario Andretti’s win in 1969, Foyt’s fourth in 1977 and Danny Sullivan’s spin-and-win checkered flag run in 1985. Recent finishes have only added to the lure of the 500.
From a personal standpoint, time spent with drivers who offered an insight into what it was like to compete at the Speedway provided special moments. I will never forget the time spent with Jochen Rindt.
Garages were open in the 1960s so the drivers did not have the privacy they enjoy today. Many were sharing their daily experiences at the track. Rindt was pretty much a recluse, but on this occasion, the young Austrian was not hiding his distaste for IMS.
Repeatedly in broken English, he would mutter “Those Damn Walls”. It took awhile to fully understand the point he was trying to make. Like many of his fellow Formula One counterparts, he had the fear and dislike for concrete walls. It was an element few revealed or made public — at least not to USA media.
Little did he know or care his complaints were falling on the deaf ears to a sprint car follower who watched his heroes tackle concrete walls with frequency. Still interesting to hear the soon to be World Driving champion surrender his thoughts of running at the Speedway.
Then in 1978, I was fortunate to be the first invited into the garage of Action Track favorite Larry Rice following the race. Larry sported large blisters on his hands during an afternoon in which he stormed from a 30th-starting spot to a popular 11th-place finish.
One that earned him Rookie of the Year honors. In a tinge of controversy, Larry had to share the award with fellow racer Rick Mears, who finish a distant 23rd. Guess if you had to share the limelight in the 500, it was with a future four-time winner.
Then there was the day when fellow writer Ron Lemasters and I were among a group invited to lunch with Emerson Fittipaldi. It was the right place, right time. To this day, we never figured out what was served on the menu that day.
Ron and I both summarized that if it was good enough for a Formula One and Indianapolis 500 winner, what was it for a pair of guys from Munice and Terre Haute to question what was on the menu.
Besides, we both had probably digested stranger delicacies during our Navy days while serving in the Orient.
Time spent at IMS can indeed generate its share of memories. Even how minuscule they might be, we all share them. Just won’t seem the same without them this May.