Greatest Spectacle in Memories


Today's entry is from the racing enthusiast, historian, and journalist Joel David Thorne. We are now well into the month of May and the historic Indianapolis 500 is fast approaching. Joel reflects on his personal commitment to the great race and the track where it is staged. I am certain many readers will resonate with his heartfelt emotions.
The Greatest Spectacle in Memories - by Joel David Thorne
For many, the month of May is the fifth month on the calendar, the beginning of another season of warmth.....picnics, vacations, yard mowing, and the usual house updates, repairs and.....well, you fill in your blanks.
For others, May represents dusting off the hibernation state of mind and focusing on the desperately needed Vitamin D that the long-awaited sunshine (at least in Indiana) mercifully provides.  Of course, allergies come along with Spring.....but, that's another story.
For many of us, however, May breathes a new life into our very souls, with a rush of new expectations and renewing friendships, while basking in memories of many years spent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, aka "The  Greatest Spectacle in Racing". 
For those who are not racing fans, and enjoy a hotly contested game of curling or blindfold laser bowling, well...I don't understand you, either.  You will never understand the smell of racing fuel, burning rubber, or the roar of 800+ horsepower screaming in front of you at over 230 mph.  But, that's ok.  If that was all you would be missing, no harm no foul. But, there is much more......much, much more than the obvious sensory overload to this spectacle that is called the Indianapolis 500.
As only one racing fan, I believe that I might speak for many others.  Let me explain. You see, Indy (IMS.....Indianapolis Motor Speedway) has been a bank of memories for yours truly since 1963.  At the tender age of 12, my brother, Tom, took me to the first day of qualifications, when there were roughly 250,000 in attendance. Watching Parnelli Jones wheel "Ol Rufus" around our turn 3 perch, with the gold leaf #98 glistening on the pearl white, red and blue roadster, my eyes were opened to a whole new world as a soon to be a teenager.  As the Novis screamed towards me on the backstretch, goosebumps covered me.  I was hooked.
In 1966, Tom took me to my first race, and I watched my hero, Jim Clark, finish second, after a first lap melee that we witnessed from the front row, across from the exit of pit plane.  AJ Foyt clearing the fence a few feet
from me, the concrete wall shaking under my feet, and the fuel spewing everywhere brought whole new dimension to the reality of the sport I loved.
My brother was 25 years older than me, and as our IMS trips slowly counted down, I came to cherish our time at the track.  Sure, there were the cars, speed, etc.  Much more than the race cars and the track itself,  Tom taught me patience, dealing with impatient folks, trying to get out of the infield parking (before the GP). He would nudge me in the stands, and point out how a father would speak to his young son, or how a mother would deal with a screaming, tired, sunburned toddler.  And, he pushed me out of my comfort zone a few times. As we were walking up to Scott Brayton's pit one carb day, he told me that I should tell Scotty about his head movement in the cockpit, as compared to everyone else.  Reluctantly, I walked up to Scott and explained what we had observed.  I will be forever grateful for that.   My favorite memory still has to be when he stepped into mud hole up to his knee, in his new white jeans.  He didn't find that funny.....
In 1981, I had the opportunity to work in sales, and we attempted to field an Indy car, with Cliff Hucul, as our driver, but we fell just short financially. However, I managed to get Tom and me primo seats for the race, and I felt like the circle had been completed.
As we worked to field an Indy car in 1981, I ate lunch next to Danny Ongais, who would later suffer a horrendous crash in turn 3 in the race.  I met Jerry Sneva, Cliff Hucul, and Cliff's friend, Pat Jesmore, as well as race car builder, Grant King.  And, one rainy day, as my friend and sales associate, Fritz Vogel, and I were waiting to speak to a possible sponsor, Cliff took us around the track in the 1981 Buick Regal....5 130 mph!  I knew I was going to die at IMS, and I was quite okay with that.   
When our older son, Matt, was 12, I thought he was ready for the big time, and we trekked to our usual perch, high up in turn 3.  I HIGHLY encouraged him to make his own 'pit stop' before we went to our seats.  "Don't have to, Dad".......alrighty.  Ten minutes later, as you have guessed, we were making the long trip down to the facilities.  "I CAN'T Dad".....which I never understood when my bladder was overwhelmed.
As we climbed the seemingly 40,00steps back up, I fatherly advised him that, he would either have to grin and bear it, or he would stand there until something happened.  Ten minutes later,  we found ourselves loitering in the men's room.....again.  Eventually, the inevitable happened, mercifully. Another timeless memory from my hallowed turn 3.
As our other son, Chris, came to appreciate fast cars, we went to Indy and were fortunate enough to have pit credentials.  I felt like what I thought my
brother must have felt, in 1966 as I sat wide-eyed the whole day.  I watched my boys' faces more than I watched the track action that day, and I felt my brother's presence in a very surreal way.  In a  few years, as a co-manager with Marsh Supermarket, Matt treated me to the Marsh suite experience, and my heart smiled and I felt another circle yet completed.
Of course, my grandchildren really had no choice, right?  Seeing my oldest, Dylan,  in the arms of his dad, as we walked by the pits, brought me back again to my first time at the famed oval.  Matt's two were introduced to IMS at the 2014 Grand Prix.......the year of the first lap accident at the start.  Kind of ironic, I thought.
When a friend of mine asked me if I would like to co-host a local racing radio show, I couldn't say no. Over the past few years, IMS would become much, much more than 'just a race track', and even more than I could have ever
imagined.  I met Paul Powell and Scott Gauger in January of 2014, the month before my wife suffered a traumatic brain injury.  My new found Indy friends quickly became my extended family, at my greatest time of need.  Through them, and our radio show, I have met people that were my bucket list material:  Bob Jenkins, Al Unser, Jr. (who drove me around the GP track in the rain), Willy T.  Ribbs, Josef Newgarden, Sam Hornish, Jr., Angela Savage, Todd Brayton(Scott's brother) and many more. In 2014, I met and spoke with Jay Signore, who developed the International Race of Champions (IROC) series, along with his late wife, Barbara.  We had an instant bond, as we spoke of our loved ones. ( I lost my wife just two weeks prior to the GP)  Another memory that makes May much more than just a race month.
While I truly understand how blessed and fortunate I have been to have experienced all of the above, at my emotional home away from home, I have heard many stories from friends, listeners and racing fans that echo the same sentiments. "Indy" is surely 'hallowed ground, where the world's greatest drivers have driven and died, and legends were born and dreams faded.  But, as thousands upon thousands can attest, "Indy" much, much more than just another race, just as May is more than flower planting time.  IMS is truly....... the Greatest Spectacle in Memories.