May 23, 2012
I would like to invite you to attend an auto race with me this weekend. But first, let me tell you a quick story.
It was 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning and I was tired of job hunting. Since graduating from college the previous spring my time was consumed with courting my lovely bride-to-be and finding a job. But thank goodness, this particular Saturday was set aside for fun.
The date was September 13, 1986. I was looking forward to spending the day with the greatest man I’d ever known – my father. We’d had so much fun at the Hoosier Hundred the year before that we’d decided to go again.
It was a daytime race with a 2 pm start. As avid racing fans, we had no intention of missing qualifying. The people who didn’t care about qualifying were amateur hacks. But Dad and I were pros. We were the die-hards. We didn’t miss a lap of anything for any reason.
So the pressing issue at hand was making sure we had plenty of Dr. Pepper in the cooler (remember the pull-off tabs on the old aluminum cans?), sunglasses, seat pads, an appropriate motorsports-related baseball cap, and all the other sundries necessary for a day at the races.
And my camera. I dearly loved my camera. In the days before digital photography, my wonderful mom had spent weeks searching for the best 35mm camera to purchase for me as a college graduation gift. They decided on a Minolta X-370 complete with an adjustable zoom lens and I had spent the summer shooting everything I saw with four wheels (that camera would serve me well for the next 20 years).
Going to a racetrack without a camera was like showing up half dressed. So I checked my batteries, took plenty of 200 and 400 speed film, and met up with Dad for what turned out to be a truly great day of auto racing. All the photos in this article were taken with that Minolta X-370 on Saturday afternoon, September 13, 1986.
Stop for a moment and consider what I saw that day.
I saw the late Larry Rice, an Indianapolis 500 co-Rookie of the Year who would later become a good personal friend when we entered television broadcasting together. Larry was in the prime of his career and would finish a close second in the race to another all-time open wheel driver, Jack Hewitt.
I saw Jeff Bloom and Steve Cannon, two great drivers that I would later meet on the racetrack in competition. I am not ashamed to say that both were better than me. That puts me in good company. They were better than a lot of people.
I saw Indycar drivers Andy Hillenburg and Steve Chassey escape a fiery crash in Turn 3 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds legendary one-mile dirt oval.
I saw Warren Mockler fulfill his lifelong dream of driving racecars as a full-time living. It would be another ten years before I saw Warren again, this time as a restorer of classic cars operating his own shop.
I saw Bob Cicconi and Sheldon Kinser, who need no introduction to anyone who has ever followed open wheel racing.
I saw Rick Hood (#39), who ran the high line at Paragon Speedway in a sprint car unlike anyone I’d seen before or since… and I’ve been going to Paragon since I was 11 years old. Rick was super nice and autographed the photos I brought him on pit road at the Hoosier Hundred that day in 1986. Rick later tried for NASCAR but never made it big time. I’ve often wondered what happened to him when he hung up his helmet. I still have a circular pin-on button of his sprint car hanging on my garage wall today. He was my favorite driver when I was a kid.
I saw Indy 500 veteran Tom Bigelow (#3) in the twilight of his magnificent career.
I saw Johnny Parsons, Jr. who had scored a top-5 finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the year before. Johnny attended the same church as my sister and I got to know him a bit while he was rehabilitating after his horrible 1987 Indycar crash.
I saw George Snider, Steve Butler and Gary Bettenhausen, whose individual stories would take up volumes in themselves.
By attending the Hoosier Hundred I saw racing history in the making. I saw an entire generation of truly great drivers. I saw a historic racetrack that was built in 1892 and remains the oldest continuously operated automobile racetrack in America. I saw the most prestigious open wheel dirt track event in the world. And I had a wonderful time with my father that I still cherish 25 years later.
I saw all of this because I took a few dollars (about the price of two fast food meals) and spent it on something genuine. I invested it in one of the sport’s premier events, and in time with my Dad.
It remains one of the best investments I ever made.
The 59th running of the Hoosier Hundred will be held this Friday, May 25th. NASCAR’s Ken Schrader will be there. So will Indycar’s Brian Clauson. And USAC champ Levi Jones of Tony Stewart Racing.
You get the idea.
This is your chance to see the great oval drivers of this generation. It’s still at the dirt oval at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where it’s been held since 1953. Bring your kids. Bring your camera. See something authentic; something that doesn’t require a screen and an electrical outlet.
I’ll be there with my two sons and I hope to see you.
Oh yeah… my dad will be there, too.
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions
#21 Packs Racing/Boschett Timepieces/McGunegill Engines Chevrolet