My Most Memorable IMS Moment

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As I’ve been making pilgrimages to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1965, I have built up a lifetime of memories. Between going to Pole Day and Race Day every year through 1972, some of the greatest and most vivid memories of my childhood took place on the grounds of IMS. As an adult, I returned to the race for the first time in 1992, with my first wife who never enjoyed it, nor did she understand my fascination with racing. The "watching cars go around in a circle" scenario was thrown up in my face way too often. There’s a reason we got divorced in 1996.

In 1993, her lack of enjoyment in the race worked out for me. I had two tickets, but she chose to stay home. I took my father instead. He was the one that got me into racing in the first place almost thirty years earlier. I felt honored to repay the favor. A friend of mine with USAC got us into the garage area on the morning of the race. I will never forget seeing my father stand near the entrance of Gasoline Alley with tears in his eyes saying "I never thought I would ever be standing in Gasoline Alley". That was a memorable day for me. As it turns out, he passed away eighteen months later. I walked over that exact spot where he stood just last weekend. Each time I walk by it, I think about that day and smile.

Before my first wife and I split, I took my then five year-old son to the track for Opening Day in 1994. That was a very memorable day for me.

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Although he had a ball that day, he did not become a lifelong racing fan like the old man. He went to the 2003 and 2005 races with me, but has shown no real desire to ever return.

Most of you know that I first met my second and current wife, Susan, while we were both freshmen at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville back in the spring of 1977.

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June 1977

Tennessee was on the quarter system back then, and our school year stretched into June. Susan’s first indication that I was a racing fan came on Memorial Day, when I chose to spend a sunny warm Sunday in my dorm room, listening to AJ Foyt win his fourth Indianapolis 500, rather than go to the pool with all of our friends. We dated for almost a year, into our sophomore year, before breaking up and going our separate ways. Our last chance meeting from those days was when we bumped into each other in 1981. After that, we never saw each other again or had any form of contact for the next twenty years.

In March of 2001, we reconnected. She had forgotten about that Memorial Day in 1977, until that May when I turned my attention northward to Indianapolis. I had stopped going to the race, due to The Split. From 1996 through 2002, I chose not to go to the Indianapolis 500. But I still always watched on television. When I returned to the race in 2003, it was with my son and my middle brother. Susan stayed behind and kept my daughter, who has special needs.

But in 2004, Susan attended her very first Indianapolis 500 along with her oldest son, Eric and my daughter. My son was with his mother.

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If you recall; it rained before the race, during the race and rain finished the race early. As we headed to our car parked in the infield, we heard the announcement that a tornado was in the area and to take cover. This was not a good day for first-timers. My fear was that Susan and Eric were miserable and would never come back again. While my daughter truly was miserable and never came back – Susan and Eric loved it, and have not missed an Indianapolis 500 since. Next weekend, they will be attending their eighteenth consecutive Indianapolis 500 together (not counting 2020). Eric is now thirty-two and has his own life. But he and Susan bond together each Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis.

Susan’s love for IMS will never rival mine. But for someone who was not a race fan at all until twenty years ago, the place was developing a special place in her heart also.

Although we reconnected in 2001, we were in no hurry to get married. I had custody of my kids, and she had her two sons. We had no desire to do The Brady Bunch thing, so we just kept things status quo for eleven years. Why mess up a good thing by throwing a lot of variables together? But by 2011, my son and her oldest were grown and out of the house, my daughter was in a group home and her youngest was in high school. We decided to get married sometime in spring of 2012.

Through this site that I started in May of 2009, we had become good friends with one of the major sponsors of the series. To this day, they would prefer to remain anonymous. We had been to their IMS suite in May of 2011, that they only entertained in for race weekend. Without Susan’s knowledge during the fall of 2011, I asked them if it would be possible to use their suite during qualifying weekend, for us to get married in. They immediately and enthusiastically said “Yes”.

Not only did they let us use their suite, but they paid for the catering and the champagne. I officially proposed to Susan, giving her my grandmother’s ring on Sunday March 25, 2012 – which was the day of the season-opener at St. Petersburg. When I told of her of the IMS wedding plans, she loved it. We chose to have the ceremony performed right after Fast Friday around 6:30 pm. The date was May 18, 2012 – ten years ago today.

Very few people knew about the wedding plans. Everyone knew we were engaged, but we kept the date sort of nebulous. It was very low-key. Neither of us had any family present, which I think sort of miffed my mother. She was 88 at the time and could not have done all the walking involved for that weekend, and neither of my brothers was able to take her. My One Take Only cohort, John McLallen, served as my best man. Susan’s best friend in Nashville was her maid of honor. Paul Dalbey of Fieldof33 was our photographer. A longtime friend of Susan’s, who had become a Methodist minister, officiated the ceremony. An oversized checkered flag served as our guest book, which everyone in attendance signed. We took all of our small group to Dawson’s after the ceremony.

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During the actual ceremony, someone was towing Ol’ Calhoun, the winning car of Parnelli Jones in 1963, through the pits so that Parnelli could drive it the next day on Pole Day. I would be lying if I said it didn’t distract me from whatever the minister was saying.

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With the bulk of the Month of May still in front of us, we didn’t go on our honeymoon immediately. We returned to the track the very next day for Pole Day, when it was still run on Saturday. We left for our honeymoon in Florida on the Tuesday after the race – for a week long dedication to sun, food and relaxation.

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That day ten years ago, started the happiest ten years of my life. Some people portray a fake fantasy life on social media, but are actually miserable. Ours has been a storybook marriage, with so many more ups than downs. There are so many wonderful things I could say about Susan, but one that many race fans will be jealous of is that she has embraced my passion of IndyCar racing. She has never once complained if I wanted to go across the country to go to a race. Paul Dalbey and I made a couple of trips to Pocono without taking our wives. A lot of men I know were jealous because their wives would not have allowed that – reminding me a lot of my first wife.

Instead, she has embraced my passion and does everything she can to make things even more memorable. She is my constant sidekick at race tracks, making race weekends even more memorable.

2018

As everyone knows by now, Susan’s health has not been good lately. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on July 7, 2020, and was given approximately twelve months to live. We are coming up on the two year anniversary of that horrible day and she is still here. She appears to be in that small 8% to beat pancreatic cancer, but her chemo has triggered an autoimmune disorder that has caused her health to deteriorate since this past January – causing mostly fatigue and a few other issues.

We went to seven races last year and she gained more strength back for each one. This year, we’ve been to St. Petersburg and Barber – but it has been a struggle. She was dragging at St. Pete, but that was nothing compared to Barber. In hindsight, it was a mistake for her to go to Barber. She did not attend the GMR Grand Prix last weekend, in hopes of resting up enough for her to go to qualifying this weekend and then the race next weekend. The plan, for now, is for us to leave tomorrow morning. We’ll be there for most of Thursday’s practice and all of Fast Friday; knowing that I might need to run her back to the hotel at any time.

It’s not ideal, and we are hopeful that the doctors can get her feeling better – but she’s still here and that’s a huge blessing from where we were almost two years ago. None of us are guaranteed anything in this life. Given the fact that she is still among us after what she’s been through for the past two years, I consider every day with her a gift.

What are we giving each other to mark the occasion? A brick with our names, the name of this site and our wedding date – to be permanently placed in the Pagoda Plaza at IMS.

Since 1965, I have had so many memorable moments at 16th and Georgetown – but none can compare with the moment Susan and I shared there, ten years ago today.

George Phillips

10 Responses to “My Most Memorable IMS Moment”

  1. I loved reading your story again. Very up lifting. Congratulations!

  2. Talon De Brea Says:

    Happy anniversary to both of you! You’re a very fortunate (if lowly) blogger!

  3. Maurice Kessler Says:

    That is so cool !

  4. OliverW Says:

    Good to see you both living each day fully and enjoying your favourite pastime.

  5. kheriadmin Says:

    beautiful memories.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Happy anniversary Susan and George!

    10 years? Where does the time go? I remember reading and commenting on your post about the wedding back then! Wow!

    So many great memories for you all and what a blessing each one is.
    Here’s to many many more.

  7. Patrick Says:

    That’s a wonderful story. Congratulations and best wishes.

  8. Bruce B Says:

    George, you do realize you outkicked your coverage?! 😉 Blessings to both of you!!

  9. You shared your divorce story a while back, and I shared that I just went though a divorce that I didn’t want and didn’t see coming. You said your friends told you, your divorce is going to be one of the best things to happen to you b/c you’re going to meet someone really special! You gave me that same advice and you were right! The divorce was painful but I finally met “THE ONE” and I couldn’t be happier! THANK YOU for the advice!

  10. John C. Says:

    Wishing both of you the best in Indy during May and going forward. Loved reading your post today.

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