Trauma From Under the Grandstands

Like everyone else, I am always very happy to share stories of my childhood that involve the Indianapolis 500. Many longtime readers know my story. My father took my two older brothers to the 1964 Indianapolis 500, but he left my mother and me at home in Tennessee. She didn’t really care anything about going, and he figured I was too young to go at the age of five. By the time the 1965 race rolled around, I had pitched such a fit, he ended up taking all of us. I fell in love with the place and the race, and the rest is history.

There was something magical about that day. The sun was bright, the sky was blue and the air was filled with more cigar smoke than I ever thought possible. To this day, whenever I’m around an overly smelly cigar – my mind goes back to the 1965 race. As bad as those cigars smelled, they contributed to those magical images that make up those early years of going to the Indianapolis 500 in the 60s.

Not all parts of my childhood days of going to the Indianapolis 500 were quite so magical. In fact, there was one part that was downright traumatic. No, I’m not talking about going through the infield when the 1967 race was rained out on the first day – although that day left a lasting impression. We had left our seats in Stand A, in a torrential downpour and I was holding my mother’s hand as we walked in what I later realized was the original snake-pit inside Turn One. I was not yet nine years-old. I’m not sure what it is about alcohol, mud and rain – but it brings out something unusual in people. I saw things that no eight year-old should ever see that day – up close and personal. Keep in mind, I wasn’t scarred from what I saw. It was just, well…different than anything I had ever seen before.

While what I witnessed in Turn One in 1967 was memorable, it did not traumatize me – unlike the sights I saw in 1965, when I realized I needed to go to the restroom. I was six years-old. My father and brothers didn’t want to miss any of the race, so it was up to my poor mother to guide me through the throngs of people and find the nearest restroom that was under the grandstands. My mother found the facilities, although she could have just followed her nose – the pungent odor emanating from the door was that bad. She pointed me toward the door marked “Enter”, and I was on my own from there. What I saw is as clear in my memory today as it was when I experienced it fifty-eight years ago.

IMS Restroom

What you see in the photo is exactly what I saw when I walked in, with one clear exception. It was filled with men – big burly men – most of whom were sitting down, all in a row with their pants down around their ankles. In case you can’t tell from the picture, those so-called “toilets” were nothing but several holes in concrete. To do your business, simply drop your pants and sit down over one of the many holes. All I had to do was pee, but I was way too short as a six year-old to stand up to the trough on the wall, so I had to stand and aim into one of the few empty holes in the concrete, that was situated between two of the biggest burliest men in the small room.

This was a whole new world for a kid who had never been to a sporting event before. Leaving the security of my mother just outside the door and walking into this olfactory nightmare with grown men sitting side by side, staring into space, so as not to be accused of staring at each other – was a scary sight, and one I was not prepared for.

Although the lighting in the room wasn’t that great, I could see that this was not like our toilets at home. This had no bottom to it. I could tell my pee was streaming about ten feet into the abyss. I had no idea where it was going and at the moment, I didn’t care. I just wanted out of there and I couldn’t finish up fast enough. When I bolted through the door marked “Exit”, I saw my mother standing there waiting on me. I could not think of a more welcome sight. I grabbed her hand like I would never let go.

Once we had gotten a few feet from that gruesome dungeon, and I was gathering my thoughts, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that disturbingly answered the question that briefly ran through my mind while inside the restroom. I noticed a creek under the grandstand and saw it was running directly under the horrible confines I had just left. Suddenly it all made sense. Those holes in the concrete slabs that those grown men were sitting on, were placed directly over the creek. That’s where it was all going.

Through those years growing up and attending the Indianapolis 500, I learned that if I wanted to use the restroom on Race Day, that was my only choice on the outside of the track.

Most also know that after the 1972 race, my father inexplicably gave up his tickets. I went twenty years without going to the Indianapolis 500, until I went as an adult in 1992 with my first wife. I had told her about the evil slabs of concrete with holes in them, where people’s business just plopped directly into the creek. She didn’t believe me. On Race Morning, I took her over to where I remembered those restrooms being and they were gone. In their place were more contemporary restrooms, with normal toilets and stalls.

Fortunately, those disgusting restrooms from yesteryear are now a thing of the past. I have told people about them and like my first wife – they don’t believe me. Fortunately, this picture has been making its way around the internet for proof. And I can say from my own personal experience – that is exactly how they were.

Many baby-boomers and older generations who witnessed those restrooms are no longer with us. Each year that passes, loses more and more people that experienced those gas chambers under the grandstands. Eventually we will all die off and there will be no one to tell these personal experiences. All that will be left is this disgusting photograph that no one will believe. A Gen Z person will just look at it in total confusion and be triggered. But we who lived through them know they existed. We bear the traumatic scars, to prove that not all about the good old days were really that good at all.

George Phillips

13 Responses to “Trauma From Under the Grandstands”

  1. Maurice K. Says:

    Hope you took the time to use the sanitary wash basin as you left – NOT!!

  2. idididone Says:


    I too have experienced a similar trauma, but mine occurred in 1973. During much of that year, my sophomore year at Butler, I spent most of the month of May at IMS. While by that time there were some improvements to the toilets under the grandstands, if you were unfortunate enough to respond to the call of nature in the infield, particularly in the original Snake Pit, you were no doubt reminded of that photo. Even as a college student, well-versed in the consumption of cheap beer, the scene was shocking and disgusting. More than one buzz was killed by the stench.

    Fortunately, most of those shameless outhouses are gone now, as am I from the infield, but I have to wonder what Mr. Hulman would have said had he experienced “Man at trough.”

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Folks really and genuinely don’t believe these restrooms existed? Haha, that’s ridiculous, even if you don’t buy the Graham Hill story.

  4. aoliphant99 Says:

    Great post George…hilarious! I was traumatized as an adult attending my first 500 in the 80’s. Great memories!

  5. northeastvista Says:

    I remember these “restrooms” very vividly in the sixties and seventies. And, do you remember the stenciled signage on the walls that proudly proclaimed “Supplies courtesy of the management”?

  6. northeastvista Says:

    The “facilities” at Anderson Speedway employed the same architect as IMS in that time period except they saved money by deleting the roof from the “restroom”. This kid was bewildered to say the least! Great nostalgia George!

  7. Bruce B Says:

    Freaking awesome description George!! I’m sure many youngsters looked at their parents and said “I don’t think I have to go anymore”. It makes “back home again in Indiana” even more personal!

  8. Wow! And I thought nothing could be worse than the time I had to take a crap at Wrigley Field 30 years ago. Little did I know! haha

  9. Just remember… no matter how bad you think something is (or was), there’s always something worse!
    I can remember being at some large beer fest in West Germany back in the 1970s walking through the mud and puddles on the way to the rows of porta potties… took me a few days to figure out why my muddy shoes and socks smelled like pee….
    Lots of people + lots of beer = a big mess!
    So there’s always something worse!

  10. Gruesome dungeon indeed!!! I don’t think even in penitentiaries you would find something like that.

  11. Hahaha, your best post ever! “olfactory nightmare”, “gruesome dungeon” kinda reminds me of the the old bathrooms at Wrigley Field lol!

  12. mark hamilton Says:

    Oh man, do I remember those shit holes! When I went to Indy for the first time (1967, 17 yrs old) I thought I was at a holy place, a temple, a fantastic other worldly location. Loved the sounds, sights, etc. Then I had to pee. THAT brought me back down to earth RIGHT NOW. Sorta took the edge off and I remembered it every year I went to Indy, for 25 years.

  13. This post has drawn more comments than many posts that tell of racing.

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