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 Jeff Boles
Each Maay, 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 bar-b-que conducted by the club is one of the highlights of the 500-Mile Race scene.