Monday, May 16, 2011

May just isn’t the same in Arkansas

After more than six decades in Indiana, the month of May seems strangely empty here in Arkansas.

Like most Hoosiers, I have a personal bond with the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.stp_turbine_print

My first Indy 500 was in 1964, the year Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald were killed.

Those were the days when the race was held on Memorial Day, May 30, instead of the Sunday races of recent years.

When I joined the staff of The Indianapolis News, I quickly learned that the race was our day to show what we could do. We had nearly all of our reporters and photographers at the track with all of the accoutrements of mid-century newspapering including a photographic darkroom and courier service from the track to the main office downtown.

My first 500 at The News saw me tasked with arranging for taxicabs to get all of our people to the track. I also had the job of listening to the race on the telephone as Sports Editor Wayne Fuson at the track and I at the News city room hammered out a running story of the race as it unfolded. That also involved compiling a list of cars out of the race and other details.

We trucked several editions to the track during the race with updated front pages and our final edition, with a photo of the winner in Gasoline Alley, was in the hands of thousands of race fans before the left the track.

The 1967 race saw the debut of the STP turbine, brought to the track by STP CEO Andy Granatelli. We could borrow pit badges from the sports department on our days off in May and hang out at the track with total access to the pits and garage area. I thought the turbine car was about the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I was disappointed when Parnelli Jones coasted the turbine car to a stop with mechanical failure after 490 miles.

Granatelli fielded two turbine cars in 1968, driven by Art Pollard and Joe Leonard. I had Leonard in the office pool and was sure I had a winner. My hopes were dashed when Leonard, who was leading the race on the 192nd lap (of 200), pulled off of the track with a broken fuel shaft.

I hated it when they changed the race to Sundays, because we were a Monday-Saturday evening paper and had no Sunday edition.

I still miss the excitement of Indianapolis in May – the 500 Festival, the parade, qualifications and the race – and I still watch the race on TV.

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