Family and the Indy 500

 

If ever there was a time I wish I wasn’t a jaded teenager, it was when we went to the Indy 500 for practice one year. My grandma turned to me as we settled into the grandstands and said, with a huge grin on her face, “I know it’s not sophisticated, but I just love watching these cars go so fast.”

I knew she was right, I loved her, but being a teenage boy, I just nodded, maybe grunted in agreement. (I should also point out she raised three boys, so I figure she had to know that a grunt and a nod was the teenage boy’s equivalent of “YOU ARE SO RIGHT!” … which is what I wish I’d said.)

Anyway, we went there because my Mom and Dad took me out of school after we’d moved to Ohio. It was a rough move for me, but mostly my parents and grandparents thought that “not all learning takes place in school. You have to experience life outside the classroom.” So, off we went.

The first time I saw a car going through the short-chute between Turn 3 and 4, I physically startled. I’d never seen anything move that fast and I was convinced there was about to be a colossal BOOM as the car slammed into the wall. But it didn’t. And the rest of the day was awesome.

It’s a singular memory and one I hope I always keep. 

Just like how, when I was a boy, we’d bet on the 500. Everyone would get three drivers except Mom (I’ll explain), we’d put in a nickel and whoever’s driver finished the highest would win the pot. I’d study the Indianapolis Star with the grid, look at the driver’s pictures and pick who I liked. 

(Mom got more than three drivers because she loved Mario Andretti, and since the Andretti luck at the Speedway wasn’t great, we gave her all the Andrettis, plus two other drivers, to sort of make it even.)

Funnily enough, I won most of the time. I picked Rick Mears as one of my drivers the first year he won, mostly because this girl I thought was cute thought Rick Mears was cute and so … well, it made sense at the time (and I won four 500 betting pools with him.) Then one year, I picked this guy Emerson Fittipaldi, and won a few more times.

Then the year that Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear by a fraction to win? Well, I had Goodyear. My ex-brother-in-law picked Little Al. The ex-brother-in-law was an [REDACTED]. I’m glad my sister dumped him.

But, anyway, when I was really little and would win, I really didn’t comprehend money, so I’d get all the coins, take them to Dad and ask “Is this enough for a Matchbox car?” 

And he’d make me give him the coins, count them carefully, kind of furrow his brow and say “I … I think so. It’ll buy one Matchbox car, I’m pretty sure. Let’s go to the toy store!” 

At the store, I’d pick out my car and give it to him, and he’d go pay for it, making a big show of handing over my winnings. (And of course, he never told me that my winnings were never anywhere close to paying for what I wanted. How he managed to sneak the rest of the money to the clerk without me seeing, I’ll never know.) It was always great. 

A final memory is one that I kinda feel sad that folks won’t experience anymore: The race used to never be broadcast live on TV. The only way you could know who won “as it happened” was by listening to the radio. So, most Memorial Day memories are of working in the yard, playing with Matchbox cars, or washing the family cars with Dad while the sound of the race boomed through our little house in Georgia.  Then I’d stay up as late as I could to watch the race on TV. 

I’m pretty sure our neighbors thought we were a little strange — just like folks at races today must think it’s a little strange that the big bald guy whispers “you are so right, Grandma” with a huge grin on his face when the cars hit the track. But I wouldn’t change a bit of it. 

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  1. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    BillJackson: At the store, I’d pick out my car and give it to him, and he’d go pay for it, making a big show of handing over my winnings. (And of course, he never told me that my winnings were never anywhere close to paying for what I wanted.  How he managed to sneak the rest of the money to the clerk without me seeing, I’ll never know.) It was always great. 

    They must have been expensive where you lived.  When I was a kid, we got a quarter a week for allowance, and could buy two Matchbox series cars with it.  It was on the BX.

    • #1
  2. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    BillJackson: At the store, I’d pick out my car and give it to him, and he’d go pay for it, making a big show of handing over my winnings. (And of course, he never told me that my winnings were never anywhere close to paying for what I wanted.How he managed to sneak the rest of the money to the clerk without me seeing, I’ll never know.) It was always great.

    They must have been expensive where you lived. When I was a kid, we got a quarter a week for allowance, and could buy two Matchbox series cars with it. It was on the BX.

    You may be older than Bill Jackson. When I was a kid you could get a candy bar for a nickel, and a 1:72 scale single engine aircraft model for under a buck. By the time my oldest was that same age (he is now in his 40s). both were considerably more. 

    • #2
  3. Nohaaj Coolidge
    Nohaaj
    @Nohaaj

     A few years back, I went as an adult leader with the local Boy Scout troop and one of my college age sons.  We got to walk the track in the pre-race parade, and then were allowed to enjoy the race as we wanted.  We had grilled turkey drums, played Can Jam and drank adult beverages (out of uniform, of course) in the pits, and had a marvelous time. We even watched some of the race.  They advise you should wear hearing protection, because when the cars come flying down the stretch, “thunderous noise” is an appropriate understatement.  New appreciation for me, for an event that never really held my imagination before.  

    • #3
  4. Bunsen Coolidge
    Bunsen
    @Bunsen

    Thank you for this post.  This will be my 30th and my father’s 58th.   My grandfather, a John Hancock Life Insurance salesman out of Decatur, IL send chocolates to Tony Hulman’s secretary letting her know he was going to call Mr. Hulman the following Tuesday.  “I will put you right through”.   Mr. Hulman invited Pop to the track to discuss where he should buy tickets.  As they walked the track, Pop thought the Paddock was the best place.  “Yes, those are nice but I want to show you what I think are the best seats”.  To this day our family has those 6 seats in Stand E (first turn).  Before the “improvements” we could see the from the short chute between 3 and 4 all the way around to the end of turn 2.  We drive down and return to Chicagoland same day.  White Fence Farm fried chicken, deviled eggs, chocolate chip cookies and prayers that there are no accidents on the first turn (have been hit by debris multiple times).  The only race my dad missed since ’62 was 2009 when the light of his life passed away 4 weeks earlier.  2020 officially didn’t count per the Speedway.

    I LOVE the Indy 500 and all the memories over the years.  Nothing better in this world.

    • #4
  5. BillJackson Coolidge
    BillJackson
    @BillJackson

    Bunsen (View Comment):

    Thank you for this post. This will be my 30th and my father’s 58th. My grandfather, a John Hancock Life Insurance salesman out of Decatur, IL send chocolates to Tony Hulman’s secretary letting her know he was going to call Mr. Hulman the following Tuesday. “I will put you right through”. Mr. Hulman invited Pop to the track to discuss where he should buy tickets. As they walked the track, Pop thought the Paddock was the best place. “Yes, those are nice but I want to show you what I think are the best seats”. To this day our family has those 6 seats in Stand E (first turn). Before the “improvements” we could see the from the short chute between 3 and 4 all the way around to the end of turn 2. We drive down and return to Chicagoland same day. White Fence Farm fried chicken, deviled eggs, chocolate chip cookies and prayers that there are no accidents on the first turn (have been hit by debris multiple times). The only race my dad missed since ’62 was 2009 when the light of his life passed away 4 weeks earlier. 2020 officially didn’t count per the Speedway.

    I LOVE the Indy 500 and all the memories over the years. Nothing better in this world.

    Now THAT is a great story. I hope it’s a wonderful 500 for you. Thank you for sharing that!

    • #5
  6. Bunsen Coolidge
    Bunsen
    @Bunsen

    BillJackson (View Comment):

    Bunsen (View Comment):

    Thank you for this post. This will be my 30th and my father’s 58th. My grandfather, a John Hancock Life Insurance salesman out of Decatur, IL send chocolates to Tony Hulman’s secretary letting her know he was going to call Mr. Hulman the following Tuesday. “I will put you right through”. Mr. Hulman invited Pop to the track to discuss where he should buy tickets. As they walked the track, Pop thought the Paddock was the best place. “Yes, those are nice but I want to show you what I think are the best seats”. To this day our family has those 6 seats in Stand E (first turn). Before the “improvements” we could see the from the short chute between 3 and 4 all the way around to the end of turn 2. We drive down and return to Chicagoland same day. White Fence Farm fried chicken, deviled eggs, chocolate chip cookies and prayers that there are no accidents on the first turn (have been hit by debris multiple times). The only race my dad missed since ’62 was 2009 when the light of his life passed away 4 weeks earlier. 2020 officially didn’t count per the Speedway.

    I LOVE the Indy 500 and all the memories over the years. Nothing better in this world.

    Now THAT is a great story. I hope it’s a wonderful 500 for you. Thank you for sharing that!

    It was, thank you.  325,000 of our closet friends (record is over 400k), Thunderbirds with 3 flyovers, loads of military in the track vehicles videotaping all those fans cheering for them.  Can’t wait until next year!

    • #6
  7. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    What a wonderful post! Thank you so much.

    • #7
  8. Kelly B Member
    Kelly B
    @KellyB

    BillJackson: A final memory is one that I kinda feel sad that folks won’t experience anymore: The race used to never be broadcast live on TV. The only way you could know who won “as it happened” was by listening to the radio. So, most Memorial Day memories are of working in the yard, playing with Matchbox cars, or washing the family cars with Dad while the sound of the race boomed through our little house in Georgia.  Then I’d stay up as late as I could to watch the race on TV. 

    I grew up listening to the Indy every Memorial Day weekend, and at some point in late high school/college, started doing projects around the house with it on the radio. I’ve done that same thing nearly every year since – and as it’s become harder to find a station broadcasting it, I’ve turned to iHeart radio streaming one of the sports stations from Indianapolis. I won’t watch it on TV; it’s not the same. This past Sunday, I painted the kitchen with it on. It’s just not Memorial Day weekend without an Indy project.

    • #8
  9. BillJackson Coolidge
    BillJackson
    @BillJackson

    Kelly B (View Comment):

    BillJackson: A final memory is one that I kinda feel sad that folks won’t experience anymore: The race used to never be broadcast live on TV. The only way you could know who won “as it happened” was by listening to the radio. So, most Memorial Day memories are of working in the yard, playing with Matchbox cars, or washing the family cars with Dad while the sound of the race boomed through our little house in Georgia. Then I’d stay up as late as I could to watch the race on TV.

    I grew up listening to the Indy every Memorial Day weekend, and at some point in late high school/college, started doing projects around the house with it on the radio. I’ve done that same thing nearly every year since – and as it’s become harder to find a station broadcasting it, I’ve turned to iHeart radio streaming one of the sports stations from Indianapolis. I won’t watch it on TV; it’s not the same. This past Sunday, I painted the kitchen with it on. It’s just not Memorial Day weekend without an Indy project.

    That’s great! And, yeah, somehow, the 500 actually gains something by being on the radio. 

    • #9
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