Memorial Day came on Friday this year. My graduation from high school was the night before, Thursday the 29th. When Dad found out when graduation was, he was unhappy and said he was afraid we couldn’t go this year. He had Aunt Bobby write a letter to send the Speedway requesting them to forget our order. This was about the end of April. Seeing what Dad was doing, I talked to him and convinced him we could go despite graduation, so Bobby didn’t have to send her letter.
Thursday, May 29th, 1958, was a big day for me. I was busy getting everything ready for our trip and at the same time trying to keep myself from getting too excited over my graduation. I tried to sleep a couple hours that afternoon so that I could stay awake that night to drive, but it didn’t do much good. I had too much on my mind. The graduation ceremony started at 8:00 pm.
As my partner, Judy Chamberlain, and I marched down the aisle to our seats, I kept my eyes straight ahead and never once looked around until I sat down, and then only two or three times. Mother, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, and Bobby attended the graduation and sat up in the east balcony of the gymnasium. The graduation ceremony ended a couple minutes before 10:00.
As soon as I left the gymnasium, I met my Aunt Virginia and Uncle Newt, both of whom shook my hand and congratulated me. Nobody knew they were there until I met them. After the eight of us talked a few minutes, I went back to my home room, put my robe, cap, and tassel away, got my report card and class picture, and then went to the car, which was in the parking lot by the football field.
When I got home, I immediately changed my clothes and started putting the equipment into the car. After that was done, Dad had a cup of coffee and I had a glass of milk. At 10:52, we said goodbye to Mother, Grandma, Grandpa, Newt, Virginia, and Betty Coy, and with me driving, we were off for the big race once again. Betty Coy took care of Susan while we were at graduation.
We went up to 3rd and N. Grand, right to 5th Street, and then left to Percy Avenue. We turned right and went to 8th Street, then left to Sangamon Avenue and right on Sangamon. Sangamon from 5th to 8th Street was closed for repairs.
This was the last year that Route 36 went through Riverton. From now on, it would bypass the city. It was real pleasant traveling at night. It was nice and cool all the way, and there was hardly any traffic going either way. It really felt odd to be taking a 200-mile trip between 11:00 PM and 3:00 AM. A few minutes before 1:00, we stopped at Chrisman (same place as in previous years) and had a little something to eat. About 15 minutes later, we were on our way again. It was really quiet all along the highway and in all the towns we went through. Dad and I talked mostly about the graduation.
At 3:05, we arrived at Kramer’s house. Neither of us was sleepy. However, Dad did try to get some sleep. While he was trying to sleep, I decided to walk down by the Speedway and see some of the sights. I was really flabbergasted. At 3:30 AM, it looked more like 3:30 PM. The fans were really living it up. I had to laugh out loud when I walked by the museum. People were lined up all the way back to the street trying to get tickets for the race. This year, I think the fans were livelier and merrier than I had ever seen them. I think the later it got, the better some of them felt. I arrived back at the car about 4:30.
I tried to sleep, but all I could do was lie there and listen to all of the noise around me. All together, I got a total of about 15 minutes of sleep. At 5:00, the opening bomb woke us up for good.
About 5:30, we walked down to Gate 6 and watched the cars go into the infield. We saw hundreds of cars with hundreds of people in them. After about an hour, we walked back to the car. We sat around and watched the sights for a few minutes and then ate our breakfast. After cleaning up and putting everything away, we locked the car and were off for the race. It was now 8:00.
I bought a souvenir program as soon as we got inside the gate and then we went into the infield and looked around as usual. We got to our seats around 9:30.
This was the year of the terrible mix-up at the start of the race. As the cars were leaving their pits, the three front row drivers got ahead of the pace car. The pace car made two trips around the track and pulled into the pit area, but the green flag wasn’t shown, so the field took another lap. As they were coming down the straightaway for the green flag, the front row (Dick Rathman, Ed Elisian, and Jimmy Reece) finally got into position for the start. It was still not a good start, however.
As the cars were going into the northeast turn, Elisian went into a spin, and 17 cars were involved in the worst pile-up in the Speedway’s history. Eight cars were knocked completely out of the race, and the other nine were damaged quite extensively. The remaining 16 cars just missed being involved in the mess. Pat O’Conner was killed when his car flipped upside down and caught fire, pinning him underneath it. It took about a half hour to get the mess cleaned up.
Jimmy Bryan went on to win the race with rookie George Amick second and Johnny Boyd third. Bryan’s car was the same car that won the race last year with Sam Hanks as the driver.
As we were walking down Georgetown Road after the race, there was a 1958 Buick going the opposite way of the people and honking his horn all along the way. One fellow became provoked and slammed his suitcase down on the hood of the car and vocalized his anger at the driver.
We left for home a couple of minutes after 4:00. I drove to Chrisman where we stopped and had a good, hot supper. It really tasted good to us. Dad drove from Chrisman to Springfield, where we arrived about 9:00. We had many unusual experiences to help us remember this year.
Pace Car — Pontiac
Queen — Shirley McLaine