It is the first week of May, and as it’s been for 100 previous “months of May,” preparation is beginning for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race This is a special, important and significant racing tradition that has meant so much to so many people all these years including the person who is writing this blog item that will serve as the Publisher’s Page for the June issue of PRI magazine.
My first real recollection of the Indianapolis 500 was a very hot Memorial Day weekend in 1953 when my father took me to Corona, California, known then as the “circle city” to attend a vintage car race using the original circle around the city track. We watched the old race cars speed by as we listened to Sid Collin’s radio broadcast of the Indianapolis 500. It was on that day that Fresno, California’s hero Bill Vukovich won the Indy 500 in grueling heat, and from that moment on I was hooked. In fact, I was not the only person who became “hooked” on Indy car racing. Because of the wonderful voice and wisdom of master broadcaster Sid Collins, it is my belief that thousands upon thousands of young aspiring race drivers had dreams of racing someday at the “Brickyard.” So much of the racing “industry” was developed to support the desire of men with dreams of either driving at the Brickyard or building chassis, engines or components for the race cars as a whole.
A few years later I attended my first URA midget race at Orange Show Stadium in San Bernardino, California, where the future stars of Indianapolis were honing their skills driving the little Offenhauser and Ford V8 60 midgets at the tight, dusty 1/4-mile Orange Show track. I also imagined that many of those drivers were dreaming of someday racing at Indianapolis, which eventually many of them did. That night I saw Troy Ruttman, Rodger Ward, Don Edmunds and Bob Cortner all of whom went to “the speedway.”
My first trip to the Indianapolis 500 came in 1960 when my father surprised my brother and me by purchasing four tickets on the special JC Agajanian flight to Indianapolis and off we went for the most amazing 24-hour experience I’ve ever had. We left Burbank Airport on Saturday evening and arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday morning. We took a quick bus ride from the airport to the track and had enough time to get some hot dogs, then sat down and watched one of the greatest races ever. This is the one featuring the great duel between Rodger Ward and Jim Rathmann, when in the end Rathmann took the checkered flag and won the race.
After a few minutes wandering through Gasoline Alley after the race it was back on the DC-4 and away we went back to California. What a wonderful weekend and what wonderful memories I have today of the Indy 500 because of this special trip. I believe the Indianapolis 500 did play a key role in the development of the racing industry. So many companies were started just to service the Indy car program that are still in business today.
I am going to travel to Indianapolis later this month not only to go to the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, but to participate in the Night Before the 500 midget race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. I am excited to go and I am excited about the buzz in the industry and spectator fan base about attending this year’s Indy 500. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway, along with Randy Bernard’s IndyCar series, has done a tremendous and spectacular marketing effort to draw attention to this very important event. There is energy developing for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 and just think of the thousands upon thousands of young kids who will be going to the race, watching the race on television, listening to the race and reading about the race who WILL BE INFLUENCED—just like many of us were—and then formulating their dreams to someday be a part of this wonderful, special race.