Three events stand out in my mind when I think of the 1960 500-mile race. Those events are: 1) the weather when we went from Springfield to Indianapolis; 2) the terrific duel between Jim Rathman and Roger Ward; 3) the temporary homemade scaffold stand that collapsed, carrying two people to their deaths.
We received our tickets on March 28th. Dad had the car greased and oiled during the week before Memorial Day. We got everything ready on Sunday, the 29th. It rained all day on Sunday. Everything was packed and ready to go shortly before 3:00, but because it was raining so hard, we decided to wait a while, hoping it would let up a little or else quit entirely, but it didn’t. It would let up a little, then start pouring again, let up a little, and then start pouring again. It would not stop. We weren’t worried so much about having to drive in the rain, but we were wondering if it was raining at Indianapolis, and if it was, whether the race would be called off or not. We waited over an hour and nervously paced back and forth through the house, but still the rain continued. At 4:00, Dad decided that the rain was going to continue for quite a while and that we may as well get started.
With me in the driver’s seat and Dad seating to the right, and with both of us wearing a cap, a light jacket and a raincoat, we said and waved goodbye to my mother, sister, and Aunt Bobby. At 4:03, we started our seventh consecutive trip to the 500-mile race.
We went to 3rd and N. Grand, turned right and went to 5th and N. Grand, turned left and went north on 5th to Sangamon, turned right onto Sangamon and went straight east.
Because it was raining hard, I had to drive a little under the maximum speed limit. We took the usual Route 36 all the way. We arrived in Decatur a few minutes before 5:00. The windshield wipers were working at top speed, and the defroster was working pretty strong to clear the windshield of fog. At times now, it seemed as if it was raining harder. We could hardly see out the back window or to the side. This was due to darkness and the rain.
In a way, this rain was an oddity. Almost every year coming home from the race, it had rained a little bit at various spots along the route, but it had never rained one drop going to the race.
After we left Decatur, the rain slacked off a little bit at times, but the change was so slight that it was hardly noticeable. It seemed as if we were going through an eternal cloudburst.
Between 6:15 and 6:30, we arrived at Chrisman, our customary halfway stopping place. In the short distance between the car and the restaurant, we almost got drenched. A little over one-half of our unusual trip was behind us. We both had a good, hot meal, and we both felt better after eating them. The rain had stopped temporarily, but there were still very black clouds moving overhead very rapidly, and we almost knew for sure what was ahead of us. The weather was about the only topic of conversation among the customers in the restaurant. After we used the restroom, we were ready to go again.
The rain was still halted, but the heavy black clouds were traveling fast. Looking toward the sky in the east, we felt it would be a matter of only a couple of minutes until the skies let loose again. We were right.
Before we had driven five miles, we were in the same situation we were in before we stopped. It rained harder in Indiana than it did in Illinois. At times, I drove 40 to 45 mph. The farther we drove, the uneasier we began to feel about the race tomorrow. I was hoping all the rain had bypassed Indianapolis. For miles and miles, the only guides I had to help my drive were the white lines in the center and the side of the road and the barely visible lights on the oncoming cars. At one time, we had to detour for about a quarter of a mile on a little road just off the main highway. It was a sloping and gravel road. I felt that if we got into trouble now, we would really be in a mess. Fortunately, we had no trouble at all, and in a few minutes we were back on Route 36.
The rain wasn’t letting up at all; in fact, if it was changing at all, it was coming down harder. We drove on and on, knowing that sometime we would have to reach the Indiana capital.
A couple of minutes past 9:00, we reached the intersection of Route 36 and Lynhurst. We turned left and stopped at the Standard Station at the intersection. We had the gas tank filled and the oil checked. The rain had eased up considerably now. The attendant said we had just missed a terrific downpour. We drove north on Lynhurst and arrived at Kramer’s, located at Crawfordsville and Fisher, our usual “home” while we’re in Indianapolis, at about 9:25. This was, without a doubt, the longest it had ever taken us to get here – 5 hours and 23 minutes. The rainiest trip both of us had ever taken was now behind us. We both felt happy, relieved and lucky to know we had gotten here safely, although it was still raining quite heavily and the race was only 13 and a half hours away.
Dad got out and walked to the house and paid Mrs. Kramer our $1.00 fee. Then we sat in the car for a while and waited for the rain to stop. By 10:00, the rain had stopped, at least for the time being.
We decided to take a walk and see some of the sights that can only be seen the night before the 500. We walked to the corner of Crawfordsville and 16th Street and went north on Georgetown Road to 30th Street. This is the entire length of the front straightaway and then some. On the west side of the road, cars were parked bumper to bumper almost all the way to 30th Street. Most of the people were really living it up. As usual, the street was covered with beer cans, and it was almost impossible not to step on or kick one as we were walking. There were hundreds of them scattered everywhere.
When we reached 30th Street, the noise had subsided considerably. 30th Street was quiet and peaceful with nice, but not necessarily high class, houses on both sides of the street. The traffic was rather heavy.
We turned and walked east. We were trying to find the road that ran immediately parallel to the backstretch, but we didn’t succeed. In fact, we could not find any road north and south. Pretty soon, we found ourselves on Lafayette, inside the Indianapolis city limits, so we knew we were way off our course.
The first street we found running north and south was Tibbs Avenue, so we walked south on it. It was a dark street with no sidewalks on either side of the street and only a couple of houses. We had to walk in the street. Right before we got to Tibbs Avenue, we walked across the parking lot of a large shopping center. There were only a few cars traveling on Tibbs Avenue. The farther we walked, the more we could hear various voices and noises. We knew that at last we were returning to civilization. It was easy to tell it had been raining there just recently. There were puddles all around and the ground was quite wet.
At last, we got back to 16th Street. It was a little after 12:00 now, and things were jumping. It is hard to describe what 16th Street is like the night before the big race. Even after seeing it, it is hard to believe what you have just seen. There are thousands of persons eating, drinking, laughing, yelling, gambling, playing cards, sleeping, throwing and breaking bottles, and in general having some of the best times of their lives. There are people of every possible description. The scene is the same for several blocks up and down 16th Street, Crawfordsville Road, Georgetown Road, and Main Street.
When we got back to 16th Street and Crawfordsville Road, Dad decided he wanted to go back to the car and I decided that I wanted to go do some sightseeing. It was 12:45 now. I took a short walk down Main Street and went in some of the drug stores. They were all doing a good business. In one store I was in, I could hardly move around. I looked around a little, bought a couple of newspapers, and walked down the street to another store. There I bought two more newspapers and had a fountain Coca-Cola. This was about 1:30. It felt good to get off my feet for a few minutes. The place was really alive. The jukebox was playing, cash registers were tingling, and everybody was having a jovial time.
In another drug store, one of the radio stations was broadcasting a live record show directly from the store. Out on Main Street, two lads were playing their guitars and singing at the same time and were drawing a large audience.
About 2:15, I started to go back to the car, but about a block before I got there, it started raining again. Fortunately, I had my raincoat on. It was a heavy shower, but it stopped about five minutes after I got in the car.
I took off my coat and read some of the papers until about 3:00. Then I took off my shoes and lay down in the front seat to sleep. There was too much noise and I was too excited, however, to get any sleep. I may have slept a couple of minutes, but the opening bomb at 5:00 woke me up for good.
I sat up, looked at the seemingly endless line of cars on Crawfordsville Road, and knew for sure that race day was officially here. The bomb also woke Dad up, if he had been asleep at all. We sat up, looked at all the people in cars and talked a little bit about what was going on.
At 5:30, I took my usual walk down to Gate 6 and watched hundreds of cars go into the infield. Dad didn’t go with me this year. I arrived back at the car about 7:00. We ate some of the food that we had brought from home, read some of the newspapers we had, and then sat and talked and took in everything. About 8:15, we put everything away, locked the car and left for the speedway. As usual, as soon as I got inside the gate, I bought a souvenir program, which sold for 50¢.
As we were walking toward the viaduct that leads to the infield of the track, James Garner, a famous TV personality, drove by and waved at us. When we got to the infield of the track, we walked around and saw the garage area.
We arrived at our seats about 9:30. Our seats were in the Tower Terrace section 35, row C, seats 15 and 16. As usual, there seemed to be a capacity, if not overflowing, crowd present. The Purdue University band, with the Golden Girl, “Adelaide Darling,” at the head of the parade, marched up and down the main straightaway. They did an outstanding job and were well applauded.
A few minutes after 10:00, the celebrities from the entertainment world passed by the stands on the front straightaway. Among them were Dennis Morgan, Nick Adams, Ty Hardon, Eskimo actress Dorcas Brower, Jayne Mansfield, Micky Hargitay, and John Provost of the Lassie show. About 10:10, crews began pushing the cars to the starting line, and at 10:15, the band played On the Banks of the Wabash. At 10:30, the official photograph was taken. The tension and excitement increased with each passing minute.
At 10:40, Taps and the Star Spangled Banner were played, and a couple minutes later, the bombs started exploding, releasing thousands of balloons into the sky. The starting time wasn’t far off now.
At 10:45, a moment of silence was observed in memory of those men who gave their lives unselfishly and without fear in this greatest of all auto races, the Indianapolis 500.
Sam Hanks and Chief Steward Harlan Zengler made a final track inspection, and at 10:50, the band played Back Home Again in Indiana. This is always the last song.
At 10:52, the climax of the pre-race ceremonies was reached when Tony Hulman, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said those immortal words, “Gentlemen, start your engines!”
A few seconds later, the air was filled with the terrific sound of 33 powerful, roaring engines. To me, there is no lovelier sound in the world.
At 10:54, the white Oldsmobile pace car, with Sam Hanks driving and Tony Hulman as his passenger, started moving. Within a few seconds, the eleven rows of three cars each were moving and disappearing into the southwest turn. It seemed forever until they came around again, but they finally did. Everybody’s eyes were fixed on the northwest turn. As the pace car appeared, a big cheer went up from the crowd. The field passed by in perfect formation. It was really a spectacle to behold. Many of the drivers waved at the crowd and vice versa.
Now, the official pace lap began and the next time around would be the start of the race. Everybody was standing up and going through the seemingly endless wait until the cars came around again. The excitement and tension had reached their peaks. The pace car finally appeared as a loud buzz came from the crowd. It was really moving now, as were the 33 cars behind it. The green flag was waved, and the cars took off in an almost ear-shattering roar.
Roger Ward took the lead and led for the first lap, but Eddie Sachs, the pole-sitter, passed him and led after two laps.
A few minutes after the race began, a special edition of the Indianapolis newspapers said that a homemade scaffold holding about 80 people had collapsed on the northeast turn, killing two people and badly hurting several others. The news really traveled fast.
The cars were traveling fast, too. From the 100th lap, Roger Ward and Jim Rathman fought a battle for the lead.
One of the most exciting points of the race occurred on the 151st lap when Ward and Rathman both came in for pit stops. Rathman was a couple of feet behind Ward. Everybody was standing and stretching their necks to see what would happen. Ward’s time was 20 seconds, and Rathman’s time was 21 seconds. They were given a tremendous cheer when they left the pits.
The fans were really seeing a good race this year, and they were really enjoying it. From then to the end of the race, these two drivers really put on a show. First, Ward was ahead, then Rathman, then Ward, then Rathman. What a race… the race was coming to its end and the two were still fighting it out for the lead.
Then, as they were coming down the main straightaway on their 196th lap, Ward slowed down a little. His right front tire was worn down almost to shreds, and he didn’t want to take a chance on having a blowout. Rathman led the last four laps and won the race. He certainly had to fight hard for it.
Jim and Roger were given a tremendous ovation when they pulled off the track. This was the most thrilling and fastest 500-mile race ever. Speed records were set for almost every lap. Rathman’s winning speed was 138.767 mph, a new record.
Jim Hurtubise, the rookie who set new one- and four-lap records in time trials of 149.601 and 149.056 mph, did real well in the race until he had to drop out after 185 laps.
Rathman and his wife, Kay, were driven around the track in the pace car and received the cheers of the crowd.
Now, the job of getting out of the speedway was everybody’s problem. It is harder getting out than getting in because almost everybody leaves at the same time.
We arrived back at our car a few minutes before 3:30. We took off our shoes, ate and drank a bit of milk and water and then rested a few minutes. At about 4:00, we got everything together and left. As usual, the traffic was pretty heavy for the first few miles. We arrived at Chrisman about 6:15 and had a good, hot supper. We could tell that almost everybody there had been at the race. They looked tired and sunburned, and they were all talking about the race. After we had eaten and rested a little, we hit the road again.
We arrived in Decatur about 8:30, and from there we took Route 121 to Lincoln. There we stopped and had the car checked over and had the gas tank filled. We then took Route 121 to Pekin and Route 9 from Pekin to Peoria.
We arrived at my house in Peoria a couple of minutes before 10:00 and left most of the equipment in the car since Dad would be taking it home tomorrow. I slept in my regular room and Dad slept in a room next to it. As usual, we were glad to get into bed. Neither of us had any trouble getting to sleep. Our annual trip was over, but it will certainly hold many memories for us.
Dad drove home Tuesday morning. Despite the weather on Sunday, it was a wonderful day Monday for the race. For the first time in our memory, it had not rained at all coming home from the race.
Pace Car — Oldsmobile
Queen — The title “Queen of the 500” was done away with.