Indy journal: 1980

Historic Indy 500 journals — By on June 16, 2008 4:00 am
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The nearly flawless performance of Johnny Rutherford’s Pennzoil Chaparral, the nearly unbelievable finishes of Tom Sneva and Gary Bettenhausen, the outstanding job by rookie Tim Richmond, and my visit with some former church friends were highlights of this year.

It was about 9:30 on Friday morning, May 9th, when I left in my 1975 Chevrolet Caprice Classic for my trip to the Speedway to see the first day of time trials.I took old Route 36 to Decatur and then the regular Route 36 the rest of the way. It was a few minutes before 12:00 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at Chrisman for a snack of a grilled cheese sandwich, french fries, and coffee.

At 12:20 I left the restaurant and, unlike last year, didn’t have any detours the rest of the way.I arrived at the Standard Service Station on Lynhurst Drive about 2:15 where I stopped for a fill up, and then I made two more stops at Rosner’s Drug Store and Carl Hungness Publishing Office before arriving at the Speedway.I decided on something new on entering the Speedway this year.I would enter from the north instead of the usual southern way.I had to go to 30th Street and right a short distance.I turned right onto the road, paid my $1.00 admission, and drove to the museum parking lot.To my right along the way was the infield parking lot, and on my left was the Speedway golf course.I had never seen this area of the infield up close before.

After parking the car, I toured the museum gift shop and also the one adjacent to the refreshment stand.From there, I walked to the Tower Terrace and pit area.There was a large crowd everywhere in the stands, garage area, pit area, museum, gift shop, and infield.There was much activity both in the pit area and on the racetrack.I watched the activity for a while and took a walk to the fourth turn area of the infield.

A happy-go-lucky carnival atmosphere pervaded the area.A large number of young people were listening and dancing to rock music played at almost ear-splitting volume.Some were eating and drinking and sunbathing all at the same time.There were parents watching their children in their playpens, and even a few people were watching the race cars speed by.

As the afternoon wore on, the competition on the race track wound down to the 6:00 closing time.I returned to the Tower Terrace area where I remained until closing time.When the racing activity ceased, I returned to the car via the same route I had used to go the other way.The route included the garage area, Speedway hospital, and museum.

I had no trouble with the Friday going-home traffic, and a few minutes later I was parked at the Speedway Shopping Center.My first order of business was supper, and for that I patronized the MCL Cafeteria.There was a long line, but it moved quickly.My tray was full, but I ate every bite of food and felt quite a bit better for doing so.After supper, I walked to the Kroger store and bought my box of fried chicken to take with me to the Speedway on Saturday.

I then called Mary and David Jones, who had been in my Kum Dubble Sunday School class at Central Baptist Church but who had moved to Indianapolis a few months earlier.I talked to Mary.She seemed real happy I called her, and we agreed to meet at the MCL Cafeteria on Saturday night at 7:00.

After the telephone call, I went to a bakery store and bought Dixie’s Mother’s Day present — a long white cake with pink icing in the form of roses on it.I also looked in several other stores for presents but couldn’t find anything.By now it was gradually becoming darker, so I decided it was time to leave and get to the motel.

It was about 8:30 when I arrived at the Holiday Inn motel in Lebanon.Since I had a guaranteed reservation, all I had to do was register and go to my room.It felt real good to take off my shoes and sit down and relax for a few minutes.About 9:15, I decided to take a walk and see what was going on around the motel.As I was returning from the Holidome area, I walked by the entrance to the motel restaurant, and standing there to pay their bill was my next-door neighbor, Rosalie Roethe, and her escort for the weekend.We both laughed with surprise when we saw each other.Neither one of us knew the other one was staying at the motel.We chatted for a few minutes and then went our separate ways.I returned to my room and did some reading, watched a few minutes of television, took a bath, and about 11:00 decided to call it a day.

My alarm clock did its job and awoke me at 5:30 on Saturday morning.I rose up, washed my face, shaved, combed my hair, then got dressed and walked to the motel restaurant for breakfast.There were only a dozen or so customers, and I was seated and waited on right away.Remembering the long wait I had last year, I brought my National Geographic magazine with me to keep me occupied while I waited for my food.

The meal consisted of pancakes, sausage, coffee, and orange juice.I was most appreciative of the pitcher of coffee which I received for consumption.The service was much better than that of a year ago, and I left in a better state of mind. I returned to my room to wash my teeth and get my equipment together and then left for the Speedway.It was about 7:00 now.

I parked at the First Bank & Trust Company parking lot and then walked to the Speedway, stopping to have my Thermos bottle filled with coffee.After buying my ticket and going in, I took a quick trip in one of the gift shops and then found a seat in the Tower Terrace section a few rows behind the photographers’ area.It provided an excellent view of the cars and drivers after they finished their trial runs.

The weather was cool and unpleasantly windy with the sun going in and out all day.To nobody’s surprise, Johnny Rutherford had the fast time of the day with an average speed of 192.256 mph.Two of Roger Penske’s drivers, Mario Andretti and Bobby Unser, had the second and third fastest times respectively.In addition to Rutherford, the biggest event was probably the 186.374 mph run made by rookie Roger Rager in his stock-block car.

About 4:00 it started raining, ending all activity on the track.Then, between 4:30 and 5:00, a strong hail storm hit the Speedway.Almost everybody ran for cover.My sanctuary was the area at the bottom of the Control Tower.The hail lasted only a few minutes, and then the sun came out.There was water standing on the track, so it would be some time before any cars could get onto it.In the meantime, many of the spectators left for the day, but others like me waited out the last hour to see what would happen.

Finally, a few minutes before 6:00, the engine of A.J. Foyt’s car was fired up and he was pushed away for his qualification run.He ran his four laps, but it was nothing spectacular and only 12th fastest of the day.Now the day was over, and 15 cars had qualified.

It was 6:50 when I arrived at the MCL Cafeteria for my 7:00 date with the Joneses.It was about 7:10 when they arrived, but it was only Dave, one of his boys, and his father-in-law.Dave explained that the other boy had injured one of his legs during the day and didn’t want to leave the house.He wanted me to come out to the house, but I told him I thought it would be too late and I might get lost.He replied that it was only a few minutes’ drive and then drew a map to show me how to get there.I told him I would eat supper first and then try to find it.

I followed the map carefully, and it was 8:20 when I arrived at their house at 2223 East 74th Street.Mary’s parents were visiting them, and all of them seemed happy that I came to see them.

We had a real warm, friendly visit.When it was about 9:30, I decided it was time to leave since I still had quite a distance to go to the motel.I returned via the same route until I arrived at the I-65 intersection and then turned right and went north to the motel.

It was 10:00 when I arrived, so I walked around to see what was happening.The bar was doing a good business.A three-piece combo (drummer, guitarist, and female vocalist) were supplying live entertainment for a few minutes, but the music was so loud that you could hardly hear yourself say hello.

I returned to my room to do some reading, and at 11:00 I watched the Mike Douglas show on TV.His co-host was Loni Anderson, who made the program quite interesting to me.I watched the program about 30 minutes, then took a bath, did some reading, and about 12:45 decided it was time to go to bed.It had been a long day, but I liked it.

It was about 6:45 when I opened my eyes and first looked at my alarm clock on Sunday morning.Since I didn’t have to be home by a certain time I did some reading, and then around 8:00 I got cleaned up and put all my equipment into my suitcase.About 8:30, I checked out of the motel.

I tried something different for breakfast this time.I stopped at the Pancake House Restaurant a couple miles south of the motel on I-65.The place was almost full, and I’d almost decided to leave when I saw an empty single seat at the far end of the building.I don’t know if the booming business was caused by race fans, Mother’s Day, or people going to church, but it was really good.The service was rather slow both in taking and bringing my order, but I wasn’t surprised.I had pancakes, toast, orange juice, and coffee.The food was good, and I had plenty of coffee, which pleased me.

It was 9:15 when I left.I drove south to the US 36 intersection and went west.Shortly after 11:00, I stopped at Colonial Kitchen for dinner.I had a cup of coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich.While I was eating, the business increased considerably.It was almost all young or middle-aged adults treating their mothers to dinner for Mother’s Day.It was one of the largest crowds I had seen in the restaurant, and I was glad I hadn’t arrived any later.

At 11:45, I left to the restaurant and headed for Springfield, arriving home shortly after 2:00.Another safe, enjoyable trip was over.

On Saturday, May 24th at 11:50 AM, I left home for my 26th trip to see the big race.I stopped at Dalbey’s to leave some Indianapolis newspapers for Dad and left again at 12:07.I drove old Route 36 to Decatur, where I arrived at 12:57.As usual, the traffic was quite heavy on this first day of the holiday weekend.As I continued east on Route 36 and was within 10 or so miles of Tuscola, the sky got real dark up ahead.A couple minutes later big rain drops started pelting the car, and a few seconds later the clouds opened up with a downpour.It lasted only a few minutes, and when I went through Tuscola it had calmed down to a light shower.

A few miles further east, the rain stopped and the sun came out again.About a mile before I reached the Colonial Kitchen intersection, I noticed that the motel on the south side of the highway had been destroyed. This caught my eye because I was sure it had been there just two weeks ago.

It was 2:25 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen and stopped for a little rest.I don’t think there were more than a dozen customers in the restaurant, several of whom were farmers having an afternoon cup of coffee.For my snack, I had a barbecue sandwich, french fries, and coffee.It wasn’t a full meal, but it relieved some of the hunger feeling I was having.When I finished my second cup of coffee, I used the restroom and paid my bill.

I asked the cashier about the destroyed motel, and she said there was a gas explosion there earlier in the week, that there was an investigation being conducted, and that was all she knew.

It was 2:58 when I left that restaurant and started my trip to Danville.The traffic was quite heavy, and in every town there were many people pulling weeds, cutting grass, and doing many other Saturday afternoon jobs.I reached Danville at 3:25 and arrived at the motel at 3:32.

I registered and then checked on my room, which was on the second level on the west side of the motel.The first thing I did was check on the room, and then I took off my shoes and relaxed for a couple minutes.

The first thing I wanted to do was to find a Derby Service Station.I used the telephone directory to see if there was one, and while I was at it I looked for a smorgasbord restaurant.There was only one of each listed, and they were on the same street about three blocks from each other.

When I opened my room door, I had the unpleasant surprise of seeing rain on the ground, although it wasn’t coming down now.I was getting uneasy about the weather situation and hoping it would settle down before tomorrow.The service station was on East Voorhees Street, and when the cashier made the receipt, I discovered that the cost was $0.05 per gallon more than it was in Springfield.About three blocks further east was George’s Buffet.I looked the place over on the inside and decided I would come back for supper.I rushed back to my room and got cleaned up.

Feeling livelier and refreshed, I returned to George’s Buffet in hopes of arriving before the big supper rush.There were only a few people ahead of me, and the line moved quickly.The customer pays for his meal at the beginning of the line, and the charge is $4.00, which is real reasonable.Most of the selections were ones I liked, and I had chicken livers, baked ham, macaroni salad, beef and noodles, cornbread, rolls, beets, sliced potatoes, lettuce salad, and coffee.Everything tasted fine, and at $4.00 I thought it was a real bargain.I wanted to break my habit of eating supper at the motel restaurant because it was so expensive, and this was a good way to do it.

It was about 6:30 when I left, and business had increased considerably.Before returning to my room for the evening, I stopped at the Famous Recipe chicken house and bought my dinner for tomorrow at the Speedway.It was about 7:15 when I arrived back at the motel.

The motel was a busy place.I heard the desk clerk tell somebody that all rooms were occupied or reserved for the night, and many of them were race fans on their way to the big race.The swimming pool was also getting good use.Upon returning to my room, I spent the rest of the evening catching up on my Indianapolis newspapers and National Speed Sport News newspapers.At 10:00, I broke the routine and watched the news on one of the Indy stations.The race, of course, was the big news, and there were pictures of the 500 Festival Parade.The weatherman said there were rain clouds in the area, but they were expected to go north of the capital city and the race should have no problems with the weather.

After the news, I put all of my equipment into the tote bag so that it would be ready to go in the morning.With that important job done, I set my alarm clock for 4:30 and, shortly after 11:00, turned out the lights and retired for the night.The big day was almost here.

A few minutes before 4:30, my alarm clock did its job and awoke me for the beginning of race day 1980.I lay in bed for a couple minutes and then got up and washed my face, shaved, combed my hair, and dressed.When I awoke it was dark outside, but when I left my room at 4:55, the sun had risen for another day.

There were already several persons waiting for the restaurant to open when I arrived, and it was almost 5:05 before customers were allowed in.After a couple years of not having it, the restaurant had gone back to having a buffet breakfast.That was most pleasing to me.I had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, orange juice, and coffee.I had two large servings of everything, including two cups of coffee, which luckily I didn’t have to beg for.Business was good, and it was almost all race fans having a good breakfast before leaving for the race.When I could eat no more, I paid the bill and returned to my room. I brushed my teeth, made a quick check to see I had everything I needed, and then I walked to my car.It was 5:35 when I left the motel parking lot.

Before I got out of Danville, I encountered a problem that was to trouble me almost all the way.The problem was fog — the very thick, soupy kind.It was so bad that I almost missed the Indianapolis turn-off because I couldn’t see it until just a few feet ahead of it.After I got onto I-74, I had to be very alert for other cars because I would almost be on top of them before I could see their tail lights.The fog necessitated driving with low beam lights on all the time and windshield wiper blades on almost all the time.At times, it was necessary to drive 35-40 mph, and the only thing I could see was the blurred light coming from the cars’