Memories of Racing & Memorial Day Weekend
My father and I would spend the week's leading up to Memorial Day Weekend preparing the pickup truck... He was big on lists... and he always error'd on the side of being "over-prepared"... Put the cap on the back of the truck... C-clamp the metal framed bunks to each side inside the bed... sleeping bags.. cooler... electric heater just in case... boots.. (always with the green rubber boots... everywhere we went... had to have those boots with us...don't think we ever used them... but we had them just in case.)... adjust headlights up and down.... new fuel filter, new plugs, air filter... cap rotor wires... and yup, "points"... Install the CB radio under dash and put the antenna on the roof... Stock up the smaller cooler for inside the cab of the truck with some sandwiches, Pringles, sodas.. so that we wouldn't have to stop...
We'd head out to Indy on Friday Night after he got home from work.... drive through the night, and if everything went according to plan, we'd make it to Greenfield, Indiana the next day... (about 720 miles). We'd park in the yard of these really nice people that that owned a motel (its a long story), and we'd basically catch up on sleep that afternoon by sleeping in the back of the pickup (with a cap on it).
(If you're wondering why we didn't stay in the motel, it goes back to 1967 when my dad and some friends had driven out to see Indy for the first time... When they got near Indy, they couldn't find a hotel/motel for miles and miles...nothing... nowhere... Finally they stopped at this motel outside of Greenfield on old Route 40 and the Inn Keeper (who lived with his family in part of the main part of the facility) told him that he was sorry that he had no vacancy, but that my dad and his friends could park outside on his lawn... and spend the night in their car since it was so late....He even offered to leave his garage open for them to use the bathroom! Since it was so late, and there was nothing else available... my dad took him up on the offer.... That started the tradition of us "rough'in it for the next 15 - 20 years... All the years I went to Indy and not once did we stay in a motel! He'd park in the Hedrick's yard from then on, every year, until we stopped going in the mid 80's. We watched their family grow... They became almost like part of our extended family... that just happened to live 720 miles away.
Like I said earlier, we were usually pretty tired when we first got there so we'd usually take a nap... my dad in the front of the truck, and I'd crawl up in the back of the pickup and layout on one of the bunks.
Later that evening, we'd take the Hedrick's kids for dinner and ice cream downtown (kinda cool when you’re a kid from NJ to be able to meet and talk with kids from another part of the country)... Later that night, we'd play pool and trade stories in their garage... And then it'd be time to turn in... and I'd fall asleep in the back of the truck, knowing that the Indy 500 was only a good night of sleep away!
We'd get up early on Sunday Morning (like 5am early...) we'd leave a little something in an envelope for the Hedricks. and a note saying thanks and we'll see you next year!.... and then we'd get breakfast at the local diner named Cryder’s (not sure why I remember that, but that was the name...) in Greenfield - First time I every had Biscuits and Gravy! We'd buy a paper (Indianapolis Star?) and the headline would always say something about how much the purse for that year's race was... (to me it seemed like a gazillion dollars... more money than I had ever heard of in my whole life...) and it'd have a section that had all the driver's, row by row... hometowns... type of car... type of engine... wife's name, kids name... I'd study it all.
Then we'd drive about 30 minutes to downtown Indy... Park the truck... We'd hurry to get in line for one of the 100's of buses that the city had in service to get the 300,000 - 400,000 plus spectators from the downtown area, out to the fairgrounds....
I'd ride the bus... looking out the windows the entire route... I remember that they had what were kind of rivers... but that the sides were angled concrete... with lots of graffiti... (Later in life, I'd see the same kind of a set up in the movie "Grease" where Travolta and the good guys race the bad guys....) The bus would let us out on 16th Street right by the track... 1000s and 1000s of people... More people than I'd ever seen in all my life..., all there for the same thing as us..., to see the big one... to see the greatest race in the world... The Indianapolis 500...
Fourth turn... 3rd turn... Southwest Vista... we sat in many different places throughout the 70's and into the 80's. Jim Gardner... Johnny Carsen.... Jim Nabors.... The Purdue Drum in the back of the pickup truck... The balloons... We saw a lot of good... and we also saw the not so good.... Indy can be a cruel place.
On the way out, we'd "herd" along with the masses... all trying to do the same thing which was to get on a bus... any bus... just as long as it was heading back downtown... But I hadn't had enough racing yet... The whole time I'd was listening to the World 600 from Charlotte on my little transistor radio.
Eventually we'd get back to the truck and begin our long journey back to NJ, with one goal in mind: To get to Flemington Speedway in time for the races that began around 1pm the next day (Memorial Day). One day we're watching Foyt, Andretti, Johncock, The Unsers... Then later that day I'm listening to Petty, Pearson, Yarborough... the Allisons.... Then the next day I was watching Ploski... Osmun... Beavers... Grbac... All heroes to me.
That's what every Memorial Day weekend and "racing" was like for me from 1970 up until sometime in the early 80's.... Pretty lucky kid....
That's why the other day when somebody was asking who was going to be watching this years race... I realize that setting time aside to watch that race kind of connects me to all that I just wrote above... Its like an old friend reminding me about something from the past... something that meant everything to me... Something that I don't want to ever forget.
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