“Beyond the Bricks”

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Like many of you, I was saddened when I learned that Donald Davidson was retiring from his position as IMS Historian. I held out a small sliver of hope that he would still do his nightly radio program in May, The Talk of Gasoline Alley (TOGA). As it turns out, that was one of the main things he wanted to get away from. He explained earlier this week that he did not enjoy the way he had to do the show last year and he did not like a lot of the changes that would likely stay in place for this year. Therefore, he decided that he would step back and do the things he wanted to do in May, but not all of the things that he had to do. I have to say, I’m jealous.

TOGA has been part of my May ritual for a while. I remember listening to Donald on the radio during qualifying and after the race, when I was a kid in the sixties. When I returned to the race in the nineties after a twenty-year hiatus, I was pleasantly surprised to find he was still on the airwaves.

I suppose it was the early-to-mid 2000s, when I began listening to TOGA on a nightly basis online. Dave “The King” Wilson was host of the program, then. Soon, they started carrying the Network Indiana version, which was another hour that Donald did solo. When Wilson and the station parted ways before May of 2008, Donald did both hours completely solo for two years.

I always preferred Donald by himself because he could ramble on and no one was there to keep him on track. It was then that he went off on his best tangents. Unfortunately, I think the radio station didn’t appreciate the tangents as much as the listeners did, so they put him with Kevin Lee as the host beginning in 2010.

I have every TOGA episode ever broadcast since 2006, loaded onto my phone. There are about fifty more random broadcasts I have dating back to 2000. My friend Paul Dalbey even alerted me to two more that I’ve downloaded, but not loaded into my phone – from 1980 and 1981. While others listen to music through their headphones, I listen to episodes of TOGA; whether I’m going for a walk, doing yard work or when I go on a trip.

But it all came to a halt after last year’s race that was run in August. It just doesn’t seem a fitting end, but it’s not really up to me, is it?

This week, a new program started with a slant toward years past. Beyond the Bricks debuted this past Monday night on 107.5 The Fan – the same place as Trackside and TOGA. It is hosted by IndyCar Radio veteran Jake Query, who has always had a passion for the history of the Indianapolis 500. Alongside Query is Mike Thomsen, former curator for the IMS Museum and another walking encyclopedia of IMS knowledge.

When I first heard of this new show a week or two ago, I wasn’t pleased. I had not heard of the format, nor had I heard of the name. My fear was that they were going to continue TOGA right where Donald left off. My thought was that they were about to mess with a classic. You don’t re-make Gone With the Wind or Casablanca, and you sure don’t replace Donald Davidson.

Fortunately, both of them realize and understand that. In Monday night’s episode, Query went out of his way to make sure the audience knew that also.

To give the show added authenticity and credibility, Donald Davidson was on the line and chatted with both of them for more than half the show. It was good to hear Donald essentially give his blessing to the show, in case some listeners were a little skeptical at first. Donald appeared to be in good spirits, and his voice sounded strong.

Donald also wanted listeners to know that this was his decision to retire, and his alone. He stressed that he was not eased out by IMS management, the station or anyone else. He had just reached that point in his life where he wanted to step back. Donald gave the indication that he would join the show from time to time this month, but in pure Donald fashion – he did not want to make it about him.

I have listened every night this week. Since it immediately follows Trackside, that makes it kind of easy. I have found the show very entertaining, light-hearted and informative. The best thing is, they are not trying to replicate TOGA. They are charting their own path. It is more like a couple of friends in a sports bar doing some bench racing, and reminiscing about old times. The show comes across as completely spontaneous and unscripted, yet they have the technology to miraculously produce an audio clip of just what they were talking about quite seamlessly. They also have a new twist – clips of vintage commercials. We’ve already heard a Johnny Rutherford Pennzoil commercial and an ad featuring Sid Collins and Troy Ruttman.

For a brand new show, Query and Thomsen mesh well together. There will be a few hiccups along the way, but I can see this becoming an integral part of my Month of May for years to come. And those who know me, know how much I detest change. As much as we want Donald to stick around another fifty years, we know that’s not possible. Jim Cornelison did not try to be a Jim Nabors clone, and he has become the new standard. I think Beyond the Bricks can do that, as well. I just hope fans will give them a try. The show is on 107.5 The Fan and on the station’s app each weeknight from 8:00 to 9:00 EDT.

Jake Query said it best on the first night, when he made the self-deprecating analogy that they were a spin-off of TOGA…sort of the Joanie Loves Chachi version. If you remember that bad spin-off of Happy Days, trust me – Beyond the Bricks is a lot better than that.

George Phillips

5 Responses to ““Beyond the Bricks””

  1. Patrick Says:

    It was insulting to hear that Donald Davidson had to endure “performance reviews” when he worked at the museum. I wonder who the corporate nitwit was that deemed that necessary for someone of Donald’s stature? Mike Thomsen said he had to conduct the reviews and he was embarrassed about it because Donald is his hero. I wonder if anyone ever did a performance review on Tony Hulman?

  2. Mike Thomsen Says:

    Thank you for such a kind review. I am having a great time with Jake on the show. As I mentioned on night one, Donald is truly irreplaceable, a gem of a man who was my hero when I was 12 but has turned out to be so much more to me. It’s impossible to overstate the impact he has had on my life, I just hope to make him proud with the show. I hope the loyal Talk of Gasoline Alley listeners give the show a chance and understand my participation is to honor Donald at all times.

    • Patrick Says:

      I think Jake and Mike are having a competition to see who can say “Right?” the most. Other than that I am enjoying the show a lot, especially the old radio clips. I loved Mike’s story about Freddie Agabashian.

  3. I have only had the chance to listen to two episodes and I think Beyond the Bricks is great. I love the clips of Sid Collins. Your review is spot on, George.

  4. billytheskink Says:

    Count me in agreement, I’ve had a blast listening to Beyond The Bricks so far. Now if you all could just tell us more about Jigger Sirios…

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