How to Spend a Rainy Day at IMS

I learned long ago to have a few backup plans ready, when there is scheduled track activity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. As early as 1967, rain has become a part of my personal Indianapolis 500 experience. We like to blame it on Indianapolis and the ever-present “window over Terre Haute”, but April (and May) showers are pretty common throughout the eastern United States.

I knew before I took a couple of vacation days to travel to Indianapolis, that there was a not-so-great forecast for Friday. Throughout the glorious 8.5 hours of practice I got to watch on Thursday, the chances of a rainout on Friday continued to increase. I slept in Friday morning. After waking up at 3:00 am the day before and experiencing a very full day at the track on Thursday, capped off with a tenderloin at Dawson’s on Thursday night – I slept in on Friday morning. I awoke around 8:00 am to dark skies and rain. While that was perfect sleeping weather, I figured I’d better get moving just in case the rain subsided. Shortly after eating the obligatory waffle-iron breakfast at my hotel, I went back to my room. Just before my shower, I got notification that Friday’s practice had been cancelled.

I already had my Plan B ready. I showered, checked out of my hotel and headed to the track. I wanted to check out the IMS Museum and their latest exhibition Second. My second goal was to check out a place for lunch that the late Robin Miller had been touting for years – The Workingman’s Friend. I figured that would check off some boxes and I could head home and arrive at a decent hour. Keep reading near the end, for my take on this unique establishment

At the museum, I met up with a longtime friend to this site – Mike from Vernon Hills. Many of you will know Mike from his almost-nightly calls to Donald Davidson, during the heyday of The Talk of Gasoline Alley. Mike really knows his stuff – much more than I do. He has proven that over the years, by winning the annual Trivia Contest on this site, multiple times. Mike will not be playing this year, since he contributed a few questions for this year’s quiz. Mike and I toured the museum together on Friday. It was almost like having a personal guided tour of the museum with Donald, himself.

I love going through the IMS Museum. I usually go at least twice each May and any other time of year I happen to be in town. My race weekend tradition is to meet whichever of my two older brothers happens to be in town that particular year at Charlie Brown’s on the Saturday morning before the race, and then go to the museum. This year will be the first year since 2016 that all three of us will be in attendance at the same time – so we will all be going to the museum on that Saturday.

If you’ve been to the Barber Museum or any other major motorsports museum, you already know that the IMS Museum is too small and is not really up-to-date with interactive touch screens that the more modern museums have. They have done a good job in recent years, by having screens next to several exhibits, showing the same cars on display, in action on the track. It is still an impressive collection of cars on display and the IMS Museum has done an excellent job of putting together special exhibits in recent years.

This year, the special exhibition is called Second – a collection of cars that came in second, driven by drivers that never won the Indianapolis 500. I won’t go into that excellent exhibit now. I will save that for the Month of May, when I will be posting daily. But I can tell you it is worth seeing, and you will see cars you’ve never seen displayed at the IMS Museum before.

On the east side of the museum, the current display is a collection of cars that all won the Indianapolis 500. There is not a single car on the east side of the building that did not win. So on the east side, each car came in first. On the west side, each car came in second (except for one, which won one year and later came in second). No car currently on display in the building finished worse than second.


If you’ve been to the museum before, you’ve seen most of the winners on display. But there is one unique twist this year – on most of the front-engine cars, the hoods are open to allow you to peer in and see those fascinating power-plants inside. I am not a gearhead by any stretch of the imagination, but I still found the open hoods to be quite interesting

There were two open-hooded cars that I found most fascinating. The first was the Marmon Wasp. In 2008 I remember seeing the hood open on Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp, the car that won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. It was a massive set of six cylinders, that had been cast in pairs. The engine appeared to be coal black. I didn’t know if that was the original color, or if oil and soot had collected on it over the years, giving it that grimy appearance. There is a different engine in there now, because the old one blew up in 2011, when Parnelli Jones was driving it around the track in pre-race ceremonies for the 100th anniversary of Harroun’s win. This was the first time I have seen under the hood since then, and the engine has obviously been replaced.




The second open hood that attracted my interest was the Belond Special. The car was driven to victory twice by two different men – Sam Hanks in 1957, and Jimmy Bryan in 1958. Many times, I’ve heard Donald Davidson say that this is his favorite car in the museum. It was a revolutionary design by George Salih, because he took the famous Offenhauser engine and tilted it 72° on its side. That lowered the center of gravity on the car and made for a lower hood in front of the driver. I had never seen inside the hood of this car.


The Boyle Maserati, perhaps the most successful individual car in the Indianapolis 500, was driven to Victory Lane twice by Wilbur Shaw, in 1939 and 1940. He seemed to be on his way to a third straight win in 1941, when a wheel hub broke, sending Shaw into the wall. After the war, Ted Horn drove the car to two third=place finishes and one fourth-place finish. Bill Vukovich even took his rookie test in the car, Until Friday, I had never seen the engine that powered this beautiful car.



The 1946 winner driven by George Robson also had its hood up. One bit of trivia that I was reminded of by Mike from Vernon Hills was that this six-cylinder Sparks engine, was the last six-cylinder car to win the Indianapolis 500 until Dario Franchitti won with a Honda V-6 in 2012.



Here are a few other shots I took of the exposed engines on the front-engine cars, including my personal favorite in the museum, Ol’ Calhoun in the 1963 livery, when Parnelli Jones drove the historic car to victory.









Of course, there are the rear-engine cars from the 60s and early 70s that are usually on display. What I personally like about these shots, is that I was present when each of these cars shown in the photos won. I also found where the likeness of Marcus Ericsson was added to the Borg-Warner Trophy, as the most recent winner of the Indianapolis 500…for now.






The fee for the museum is $15, but unfortunately for me – I was able to get in using the posted senior rate of $14. And no, I’m not too proud to say I am over their posted age of 62 for senior status. I was hoping they didn’t believe me and would ask for my ID. They didn’t. The museum used to be a lot cheaper just a few years ago, but I still consider it a good deal, considering all of the interesting cars on display.

Mike and I spent over two hours gawking at the cars. By the time I realized I was getting hungry, it was after 1:00 pm. I told him of my intention to finally check out The Workingman’s Friend. He said he had never been either, so we both piled into my car and headed that way. I didn’t plug it into my GPS. I had looked at the map earlier that morning and found what I thought would be the best way to go. It wasn’t. Fortunately Mike took over as navigator and we finally got there.

If your idea of a good burger is a flavorless patty at Applebee’s on an artisan bun with guacamole, situated across from a strip mall; this is probably not the place for you. The Workingman’s Friend is in an old part of town, that would probably not be on a Chamber of Commerce tour. It has been in business since 1918, although I don’t know if their current location is the original venue – but it looks like it could be. The building is unassuming, inside and out. There are no frills. There are no ferns, brass rails or ceiling fans.

What it does have is a very unpretentious charm about it. We sat down at a table that looked like one my parents bought for a kitchen table, when they were married in 1948. We were immediately greeted by a very friendly waitress (not server – save that term for the fern bars). She asked if we had ever been there before, and we both said No. Her next breath informed us that they were cash only, with no exceptions. I had been told that, so I was already aware. She was also kind enough to let us know that what they were really famous for – their double-cheeseburgers. She took our drink order (Coke for me, Sprite for Mike), but I did notice they had a full bar up front.

I’m weird, in that I don’t care for American cheese. Consequently, I never order cheeseburgers – just hamburgers. We both took her suggestion on their most popular item and I ordered a double-hamburger with fries. She quickly brought our drinks – an unopened Coke can with an old-school glass with ice cubes. The only thing that could have improved on that would have been for the Coke to be in a glass bottle.

About as soon as we poured our drinks over ice, here she came with our food. It looked and smelled spectacular. The fries were fresh, hot and non-greasy. The twin burgers under the bun were like nothing I had seen before. They were thick and seared all over the outside, while fully cooked, but still juicy on the inside. I’m not sure if the meat was seasoned or if it was just a seasoned grill, but the flavor was outstanding. My photo does not do it justice.


I’m not usually one for hyperbole (OK…maybe sometimes), but I truly think this may have been the best hamburger I’ve ever had. Their was no grease, but tons of flavor. Robin Miller did not lie. This was an excellent burger in an ideal setting, one that would’ve made Jim Hurtubise smile.

I wish I had thought to take pictures other than of my food, while we were there. I snagged these two photos below from Google, just to show how genuine and unpretentious the place is, inside and out. What’s the best ringing endorsement I can give it? It’s a place my ex-wife would have refused to go into.



I can tell you that Susan will enjoy it, because she loves a good burger and enjoys places like this. We may try to go there on Fast Friday before we get to the track. The Workingman’s Friend is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 2:45 pm. It is located at 234 N. Belmont Avenue Indianapolis, IN 46222. As a reminder, it is CASH ONLY!

Now the only question is for Saturday before the race. With my brothers in town, should we all try to go to Charlie Brown’s for breakfast as usual before going to the museum, or should we forego breakfast and get an 11:00 am burger at The Workingman’s Friend? Decisions…decisions…

As you can tell, I had quite the two days-off from work. I got to experience and entire day of running at The Speedway on Thursday, with a visit to Dawson’s on Thursday night; but I did not let Friday’s rain-out ruin my trip. I had another full day on Friday and never saw a car turn a lap.

When Mike and I returned to the track, I went in and got Susan a gift and bought myself an IMS coffee cup that is new for this year. Just to finish the perfect rainout day, I went to Long’s Donuts on my way out of town to grab a dozen donuts for Susan and me to enjoy when I got home Friday night. That is how you spend a rainy day at the track.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “How to Spend a Rainy Day at IMS”

  1. Jack Phillips Says:

    George, I can help you answer your question. My vote would be to go for the burgers at Workingman’s Friend on Saturday followed by the IMS Museum and dinner at Dawson’s. While Charlie Brown’s is good, the lines are very long.

  2. Rick Johnson Says:

    I’ve been going to Workingman’s Friend for years and love their burgers. Be aware, George, unless they change there schedule this year, they are normally closed Saturday through Monday of race weekend.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    A rainy day at IMS is better than a sunny day at a lot of places.

  4. Talon De Brea Says:

    Thanks, George, for the shots of the cluttered but amazing museum — it would be difficult to ever find it boring. Thanks also for more great food porn — now I want a smash burger, and that place looks like a classic. The limited hours of operation are interesting …

  5. Doug Benefi Says:

    Glad you made it to Workingmans. I’ve been going there for about 50 years. That is the original building and has been owned by the same family throughout. I agree the Jumbo
    Double CheeseBurger is fantastic. They also serve a tremendous tenderloin that I highly recommend. Next time you’re there if they aren’t swamped, ask for Becky the owner. She and Robin were good friends. I’m sure she would share some stories. Like Robin, she is a great character. I’ve enjoyed your blog for a long time. Thanks!

  6. I’m glad that you enjoyed Friday. Imagine telling your uncomprehending, uncaring coworkers about it. 😁

  7. Thanks for the heads-up about Workingman’s Friend being cash only; I’ve been meaning to stop there sometime. I think it’s the only Miller recommendation that I haven’t eaten at yet.

  8. What a perfect day, George! Thanks for sharing.

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