The International Association of Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers was founded in 1961 in advance of the 50th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The idea for the association stemmed from a conversation between Tom Carnegie, then the sports director at WFBM and the chief public address announcer at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and AAA Contest Board publicity director Art Wright. They sought to gather those men with the deepest ties to the Indianapolis 500 to promote the race and the sport.
The association settled on a mission of “providing guidance for the younger generation, bringing about recognition of persons outstanding at the Indianapolis 500, promoting fellowship among members and furthering the interests of automobile racing generally.” Those founding principles made the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers one of racing’s finest organizations.
One of the association’s first events was a reunion barbecue held during the week of the 1961 Indianapolis 500. Keeping with the mission of honoring outstanding Indianapolis 500 contributors, the inaugural “Golden Race Car Award” went to Al Bloemker, who had written the book “500 Miles to Go.” That award is still presented today, although it is now given in honor of longtime track superintendent Clarence Cagle. Several other awards are presented annually at the barbecue held before the race.
Of course, much about the Indianapolis 500 and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have changed over the years, but the mission of the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers has not. Eligibility for membership continues to be based on at least 20 years of service to the Indianapolis 500. Those who qualify and wish to be considered for membership should contact an active member to sponsor their application.
It’s worth noting that when the association was formed in 1961, not even track owner Tony Hulman was eligible for membership. After all, he had purchased the facility less than 16 years earlier.
My Favorite '500' Moment
By Greg Elliff
I had the pleasure of being the crew chief of Gordon Johncock’s Indy cars during his last two Indy 500s. He is such a great guy and surely is the calmest race car driver I worked with, even when it wasn’t looking good for him to make the 1991 race.
It was during the last two hours of qualifying that year and judging from his practice laps it wasn’t promising that he’d make the show. Then Gordy told the Hemelgarn-Byrd Racing crew, “Don’t worry, there’s still another three or four miles per hour in the car.”
As Gordy only had time to get in one more qualifying attempt, we all looked at him as if to say, “It’s time to show us!” But, we also were thinking to ourselves, “Sure, Gordy, we’ve heard that from other drivers in the past and few can pull off a feat like that.”
Well, sure enough, Gordy was true to his word and ran four much quicker laps than he’d practiced. He made the race in the 33rd starting position.
It got even better for us in the race. We installed another V6 turbo Buick engine in the car. Up to that point in practice, every single engine we’d installed failed in short order. Time bombs, you could call them.
But, the race engine was a good one, and Gordy showed why he had won two prior 500s as well as many other races. He drove well all day and raced from the last starting position to finish a well-deserved sixth.
We were a happy crew that day and couldn’t believe the race engine went the distance. But, Gordy took care of it during the pit stops, being careful not to over-rev it leaving the pits. And, all of our stops went well.
It was an amazing drive by Gordon Johncock. He knows how to drive to the front when the green flag drops, and he knows how to get to the checkered flag. It was my best finish at Indy and my best memory.
By Gene Grimm
My best memories are being a member of the Vel’s Parnelli Jones and Chaparral teams during some of Al Unser’s great victories, especially at Indianapolis. I would like to recount memories from three Indianapolis 500s in particular.
The first was in 1971 with the “Little” Vince Granatelli team (the driver was Steve Krisiloff). It was my first race and race morning had me a bit overwhelmed. At 10 a.m., I was to drive Andy Granatelli, one of the most famous people at IMS, out to the pits on a golf cart. After going through a sea of cameras and well-wishers for Mr. Granatelli, I finally dropped him off and was returning to the garage area when suddenly a security officer in a yellow shirt jumped in front of the cart and informed me that no golf carts could enter pit lane after 8 a.m. and that I owed a fine of $50.
To me, this was a major calamity as I didn’t even have $50. Suddenly, out of the sea of thousands of unfamiliar faces emerged “Big” Vince Granatelli. Vince told the security guard that we had to make three more trips. He handed him $200 and laughed. To me, I was facing tragedy but to “Big” Vince it was a highly amasuming incident.
In 1978, I was hurrying to the Jim Hall Chaparral Racing pits prior to the race. A stranger in the crowd grabbed my hand and commenced to give me a hardy handshake. He said, “Congratulations, your driver (Al Unser) is going to win the race today.” I thanked him and said that I hoped he was right. But he wouldn’t let go of my hand as I tried to pull free and hurry off to my work. He said, “Listen to me, I’m a psychic, and I can see the future. Not only is Al going to win this race, he is going to win next year’s race!” I didn’t think about that gentleman again that day even though Al won his third 500 on that beautiful day (see photo above).
In 1979, I was again in the Chaparral pits. The car, a fresh, high-downforce design of Formula One engineer John Bernard, was the class of the field. I was pessimistic about Al’s chances at victory because an extreme amount of heat being retained under the big engine cover. About halfway through the race with Al comfortably handling the field, I suddenly remembered the psychic who had given me the prediction prior to the 1978 race. Would it be another two in a row for Al as he did in 1970 and ’71? Suddently (and finally) I was a believer. Al was going to win!
Two laps later, Al powered down the front straight with the gearbox on fire, a casualty of the excessive heat that had not been vented away from the engine and gearbox.
By Jim Luebbert
I have many great memories of the Indianapolis 500, enough to fill a book. One of my favorites was one year when Bill Puterbaugh was struggling to make the race, I was working for Mike Devin, and he told me to go down to see what I could do to help Bill.
Danny Jones was the chief mechanic, a good wrench. But the crew just a bunch of young guys without a lot of Indy experience. So, I did what I could and when it was time to qualify, Danny and I went up to the north end to watch.
I was timing the warmup laps with Mike’s watches. They were taped off to make a window, so if the second hand stopped within it you could quickly see if the car was fast enough or not. First lap was fast. Second lap was faster. The third lap Danny had to wave the green flag for the officials to see if Bill was going to make an attempt.
Now, Danny was down on one knee with the flag stuck in the ground with his hands and chin resting on the end of it so he could watch the car’s attitude coming off Turn 4 and to see if the front end was flying or not. I yelled to Danny, “He’s fast enough, throw the flag, Danny, throw the flag.” Danny was so intent on what the car was doing that he almost missed waving the flag. He finally heard me and was so startled he jumped up and threw the flag way up in the air. The officials must have saw it because they waved the green and Bill qualified for the race.
What’s so memorable about that to me is that it’s a great example of how everyone helped each other in those days. It was like a family. We all stuck together.
By Donald Figler
I actually have two “Best” memories of the 500. The first was 1985. As a photographer for Speed Sport News, I had positioned myself inside Turns 1 and 2 and was lucky to capture Danny Sullivan’s “Spin and Win” in front of Mario Andretti (the above photo is not one of my actual photographs). Speed Sport printed one of my images, as expected, and the old Open Wheel magazine printed a sequence of four images of the spin in its November 1985 issue. Hot Rod magazine featured my sequence of six images of the spin in the centerfold of its April 1986 issue and, to my surprise, paid me $250 and declared me the winner of the Floyd Lippencottle Memorial Photo Award, although I have no idea who Floyd Lippencottle was. I was incredibly pleased with Sullivan’s spin since he was sponsored by the Miller Brewing Company, the same company I was a sales representative for in St. Louis for 25 years.
My second-best 500 memory I share with Ron McQueeney. That would be the 1987 race won by Al Unser. Again, I was positioned inside Turns 1 and 2 and was lucky to get a photo of Josele Garza nearly crashing into Al on the opening lap. Speed Sport printed the image, but the thrill of the race for me was when late in the race the roar of the crowd could be heard over the sounds of the cars as Al circled the track. I could tell where Al was on the track by the roar of the crowd. What a thrill!
By Curt Cavin
How to pick a singular moment in attending 40 Indianapolis 500s?
There are hundreds of special moments, particularly those that involved being a sportswriter for the Indianapolis Star. From getting to know my heroes, Rick Mears and Tom Sneva, to quizzing Tom Carnegie, Donald Davidson and the Unsers about the history of the event to meeting the likes of Buddy Lazier, Helio Castroneves and Dan Wheldon at young ages and hearing the roar of the crowd when Danica Patrick took the lead late in the 2005 race — I could go on and on,
Many of my most gratifying moments came from helping to raise more than $250,000 for children with hearing issues through creating, organizing and hosting the Carb Night Burger Bash from 2008-2017 (we gathered for an 11th time in 2022). The photo above is from the 2011 Burger Bash. By the way, Scott Dixon gets the honor for being the first driver to attend, and he came to the ’08 event as the pole sitter! Wheldon, Justin Wilson, Arie Luyendyk, Johnny Rutherford and Pippa Mann were other “regulars.” In 2016, 18 of the 33 starters attended!
The only downside to working the 500 for all these years is that I’ve seen very little of the race-day action with my own eyes. Therefore, to pick a favorite on-track moment I must go back to my days as a pure spectator. I grew up in Kokomo, Indiana, which for my family at the time was a long drive — I couldn’t just ride my bike to the track as people I later became friends with could. Most of what I initially learned about the 500 came from studying the scrapbooks of my grandmother, Marjorie Cavin, who was a diligent saver of all things IMS. I also hung close to the radio on race days, charting the field like a good statistician as broadcasters rattled off the running order at the various lap stages. My favorites from the radio broadcast were Lou Palmer, Ron Carrell and Jerry Baker.
Anyway, a moment of on-track action. I had terrific seats in the E Paddock in 1985 when I found myself rooting for Danny Sullivan early in the race. I watched him closely as he chased down Mario Andretti and, well, you know what happened: He spun. Saw it with my own two eyes and I remember gasping as seemingly everyone at the south end of the track did. I couldn’t believe it when Danny emerged from the tire smoke with the nose of that March properly pointed toward Turn 2. If I wasn’t already hooked on the 500, which I was, I certainly was from that point forward.
Professionally, I will always enjoy having counted all of the seats in 2004. It had been a long-held Speedway secret, of course, and Tony George probably wasn’t happy with me, but he never said a harsh word to me about it, which I appreciated. (Now, PR director Ron Green, a longtime friend of mine, had a different approach, and we have laughed about that several times over the years.) By the way, I’ve wrestled with hanging the framed front page of that day’s paper in my IMS office, figuring it might still be a sore subject for some!
Anyway, there are my picks: The Burger Bashes off the track and Sullivan’s spin to win on it. To complete the story about Sullivan, I visited his Pebble Beach, California home in 2016 and got to see his framed artwork of the spin, and the casing includes his Borg-Warner plaque. VERY Cool! Check it out here.
By Jeff Boles
Each May, our Observer team gets together for another Indianapolis 500. We revive our friendships, memories and the history of the greatest race in the world. Each race day morning, the first hour before the start creates unforgettable memories of competition and freedom. From when the track awakens in the morning until the bands, the fans, the balloons, the soldiers, the silence of Taps and the singing of “(Back Home Again in) Indiana,” and the National Anthem, and the flyover all signal the race is about to begin one more time. Then the moment we’ve all waited anxiously for: The command of “Gentlemen Start Your Engines!” As the pace laps begin, the history of our heroes of the past is riding with the drivers of the day. Then the green flag flies! The race is on until the checkered flag waves. Unmatched excitement anywhere on earth and we get to have a small, special part of history.
My wife, Sue and I had a rule that our kids — Doug, Mary, and Sally could not attend the 500 until they were 10 years old. As it happened, Doug was 10 for the 1977 race. We sat in the Paddock Penthouse, behind the starting line. A.J. Foyt, our family hero, won the race. Foyt rode around the track with Mr. Tony Hulman in the Oldsmobile convertible pace car. Race day 1977 was a perfect day for our family, and it also set the course for Doug’s future and mine. Doug became the President of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I became an Observer working “above” the starting line.
By Steve Somermeyer
I’ve had many highlights during my 50 years as a member of the Safety Patrol. There were some downers, particularly when someone was seriously injured or lost their life. But, the uppers outweigh the sad points.
It’s difficult to pick just one highlight as I’ve been blessed to be ‘up close and personal’ to many highs, but one that occurred early in my time at the track stands out: Mark Donohue’s 500 win in 1972, which was Roger Penske’s first of many wins as a team owner.
1972 was my second year working in the pits and the third race I was present at. Growing up in Southwest Iowa, we always had the 500 on the radio on Memorial Day. But until I moved to Indianapolis to work at Eli Lilly after college, I’d never seen the Speedway.
My first year I went to the race with a bunch of fellow young Lilly engineers – we partied all night in the North 40 and watched the race parked up against the fence in Turn 2. I was captivated and wanted to get closer.
Several weeks later I turned up at the IMS Offices/Museum to apply for the next year’s race. To my great fortune, they assigned me to the Safety Patrol in the pits.
Being a newly graduated engineer, I was drawn to Donohue since he was a mechanical engineer from Brown University. He and the Penske crew stood out with their attention to detail and neatness. In the 70’s many of the mechanics wore t-shirts and blue jeans. Not so with Penske’s folks. They were always in spotless uniforms, and the garages were well organized.
In those days a member of the Safety Patrol was assigned to each pit, to keep unauthorized folks from entering the team’s pit area, and to fetch a USAC official for any controversies needing clarification. I was thrilled to get assigned to Donahue’s pit.
Mark’s teammate, Gary Bettenhausen, dominated much of the race, leading 138 of the 200 laps. But, Donohue took the lead from Jerry Grant and lead the final 13 laps for the victory.
As the crew ran down to celebrate in Victory Circle, I stayed behind and guarded their equipment. As always there are plenty of souvenir hunters around especially for something from the winning team. When the team pushed the winning car back to their pit and started hauling equipment back to their garage, they invited me to join them once off duty.
After I had clocked out, I walked down to the Penske garages where one of the mechanics greeted me and offered a beer. Mark was sitting on a bench, still in his gold driver’s suit, and motioned me over.
I hopped up on the bench next to Mark and chatted with him for a half-hour with very few interruptions. A true thrill to spend quality time with the gracious winner.
Within several years most of the 500 crews wore matching uniforms and it’s just one example of ‘The Penske Way.’ Hiring the best people possible, giving them the resources necessary, and near excessive attention to detail are others. It’s not an accident that he’s won more 500’s than any other owner.
And, spending time with the team and Mark Donahue certainly made his first winning year my best.
WHO OUR MEMBERS ARE
THE FOLLOWING IS AN ARTICLE PRINTED IN USAC NEWS DATED FEB. 11, 1965
NEW ELIGIBILITY PERIOD FOR ‘500’ OLDTIMERS CLUB
May 1, 1965 will be an auspicious day in the lives of a good many people connected with the running of the of the 500-Mile Race,
That day will mark the 20th year of the race activities since the end of World War II, and will make eligible for membership in the Indianapolis ‘500’ Oldtimers Club drivers, mechanics, car owners, officials, members of the press who first came on the scene in 1946.
The No. 1 man on the new eligibility list will be Speedway owner Tony Hulman, who bought the property in 1945 and saw the first race run under his regime the following year.
The club, one of the finest organizations in racing today, will be four years old this year. It started when Tom Carnegie, sports director of WFBM got together with Harry Hart, Ray Harroun, Al Bloemaker, Herman Deupree, Karl Kizer, Art Wright, Fritz Duesenberg and Don Menke, general manager of WFBM-TV.
The basic idea was to form a group of men to “provide guidance for the younger generation, bringing about recognition of persons outstanding at the Indianapolis “500”, promote Fellowship among its members and to further the interests of automobile racing generally.”
In its short span the club has succeeded admirably in its aims. Its memberships have grown steadily and now with a new period of eligibility should expand rapidly.
The annual barbecue conducted by the club is one of the highlights of the 500-Mile Race scene.