Race Day Memories

Normally, I don’t re-post things I’ve already written. It seems sort of like a re-run. I originally wrote this in 2009 – the first year of this site. I re-posted it a couple of times but figured that was enough. Last weekend, I spoke with someone who remembered it and asked if I would put it up again on Race Morning. Keep in mind, it was written in 2009, so I edited a couple of things to bring it up to date. Since there are many who have never seen it before, I figure I would put it up on the site to have something sort of new up here until I get to the track a little later. Please check back then. – GP

It’s Race Day, so allow me to be a little selfish and discuss what this day means to me. The Indianapolis 500 mile race means different things to different people. The track is now well over one hundred years old, and the event itself celebrated it’s 100th Running last year. An event this old has had time to develop many traditions over the years. Some of these traditions involve pre-race ceremonies; others are carried out throughout the Month of May. However, individuals and families that have been attending the race for generations have their own traditions. It may be as simple as parking in the same lot every year, visiting with friends they see annually, in the seats next to theirs, or like my own…dragging out my Marlboro Team Penske polo shirt that I wear once a year on Race Day only.

Why do we cherish this event? If you ask twenty different people you will hear fifty different answers. For myself, the reasons are many. I wouldn’t say that I immediately fell in love with the Speedway during my first visit for the 1965 race. I was six years old and didn’t know much about it, except I knew I either wanted Parnelli Jones or AJ Foyt to win. Neither did, although Jones finished a distant second. He had a good-looking, gold car that is still one of my favorites. Our seats were down low, in stand J, coming out of the fourth turn. Being short, I had a very good view of nothing but helmets going by, as the cars approached the outside wall exiting the turn. But when it was over, I knew I wanted to go back.

By the time I returned in 1967, I was eight and had a much greater appreciation for the event—plus, we had much better seats in stand A. We went as a family every year, my mother and father along with my two older brothers and myself. My mother didn’t really enjoy the crowds and the noise. Somewhere along the way, she quit going. She still doesn’t enjoy it all that much, although she makes a point to read this blog every day. It’s nice to know I have at least one reader.

But this was an event that our entire family enjoyed together. We all had our favorite moments. As a kid, I liked the releasing of the balloons. My brothers enjoyed the mechanical aspect of the race—they both grew up to be engineers. For my father, it was an annual tradition to watch him tear up when Tony Hulman gave the command to start engines. It was something we all loved for different reasons, but it was something we all shared. In this era of dysfunctional families everywhere, I feel almost apologetic for saying that I had a very happy childhood. But I did, and the Indianapolis 500 is a big reason why.

We stopped going after the 1972 race, for reasons that are still unclear. My brothers were both in college by then, and I was becoming an unruly teenager. For whatever reason, I didn’t go back for twenty years, until 1992 — when I was grown and had kids of my own. When I got there, it was as if I had never been away. It looked and smelled the same. It even sounded the same. Tom Carnegie was still on the PA and several of the names were the same. That race still had the drivers of my childhood – Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock, Gary Bettenhausen, Al Unser and of course…AJ Foyt.

The following year in 1993, I took my father to the race. A friend of mine got us into the garage area on the morning of the race. As the race morning hustle flurried around us, my father just stood there in awe, looking out toward the track and simply said, “I never thought I would ever stand in Gasoline Alley”. We sat together for the race, and again he teared up for the command. It was a good race and we had a great time. I was glad we had gone together. A year and a half later, he passed away.

The following year, I took my own young children to qualifying. My son was into it, but not so much my daughter. It was becoming a family event all over again. My tastes had changed. Jim Nabors singing “Back Home Again In Indiana” had replaced the balloons as my favorite moment. The older drivers had retired, but we had new favorites. Again, the Indianapolis 500 was a major part of my life.

Soon after that, The Split took place and I stopped going. I still watched on television, but I couldn’t see spending the time and money to go watch Racin Gardner battle it out with Fermin Velez and Jim Guthrie. It tore at my heart to see what the one event that bridged my childhood and adult life had become. It had the pageantry and still called itself the Indianapolis 500, but it wasn’t the same. But as the old teams from CART started returning, so did my interest.

I returned in 2003 and haven’t missed a race since. I have four tickets in Stand A, very close to where we sat when I was growing up. One of my brothers has four more tickets with me, but he only goes every two to three years. My oldest brother sits about three sections over from me and goes to the race every year with his son and son-in-law. Amongst all of the hubbub going on around me, I’ll pause for a moment in  Stand A and reminisce about the memories of a lifetime…growing up in the sixties at IMS. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be today.

Enjoy the race.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Race Day Memories”

  1. Dave from Mukwonago WI Says:

    Still a great read. Thanks George. It was a pleasure finally meeting you yesterday.

  2. Awesome George! I just got parked and it’s race day morning!! Now the “no rain dance…

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