The sensational performance of rookie Teo Fabi, the qualification of 33 cars in one day, Tom Sneva’s first race victory after three second-place finishes, and my first trip to the Speedway with one of my children as my only partner were the outstanding attractions of the year for me.
The first of my three weekend trips to the Speedway began at about 9:30 on Friday morning, May 13th, when I left the house in our 1975 Chevrolet Caprice to take Paul to his babysitter, Mrs. Turner. I stopped at the Derby station for a fill-up, and it was 9:53 when I left there.
I drove old Route 36 to Decatur, where I arrived a few minutes before 11:00. It was 12:13 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at Chrisman to end the first part of my trip.
My dinner was a bar-b-que sandwich with French fries and coffee. It wasn’t a big meal, but it was enough to hold me over until supper. It was 12:37 when I left to begin the second part of my trip.
My yearly trip along Route 36 was pretty as usual, with crops and plants having a fresh, new growth. It was about 2:30 when I arrived at Lynhurst Drive and stopped to fill the fuel tank.
I drove north to 16th Street, east to Georgetown Road, north to 30th Street, and then east to the Speedway entrance.
The traffic along the north-south road was quite heavy and moving slowly. I wanted to park on the museum parking lot as I had done the last couple years, but the Speedway patrolman said the lot was full and was making people park on the infield, which was a mess because of recent rains. This changed my plans to the extent that I had to spend more time getting to the museum than I usually do, but the time factor wasn’t really important.
The museum gift shop was lined wall-to-wall with humanity and, as usual, I had a difficult time finding the right gift for the right person. In addition to this gift shop, I looked through the one just west of the museum, plus the two behind the south end of the Tower Terrace seats.
Between shopping tours, I found some time to watch the activity on the race track. There was activity aplenty on the track and in the pit area, and there was a crowd of several thousand watching the action. When the 6:00 closing gun sounded, I had walked several miles from gift shop to gift shop to pit area and had gifts for Dixie, Mark, and John. I would try to find something for Paul at the Speedway Shopping Center after supper.
The patrolmen directed me to Gate 8. The traffic leaving the Speedway was quite heavy, and when I got out I went south to 25th Street and then west to the shopping center. It was a few minutes after 7:00 when I arrived at the MCL Cafeteria.
The waiting line extended about halfway to the entrance, but it moved rapidly. I had a tasty supper of liver, macaroni, potatoes and gravy, beets, tossed salad and dressing, Pepsi, and water. It was filling as well as tasty, so I decided to walk some of it off by shopping for Paul’s present. I went into a couple stores but finally bought a plastic race car in the J.C. Penney store. It wasn’t what I had in mind, but it was getting late and I was tired of shopping.
Dusk was enveloping the area when I got back to the car and started my trip to the motel. In a couple minutes I was going north on I-465, and about five minutes later, I took the I-65 turnoff to go to Lebanon. About 20-25 minutes later, I arrived at the Holiday Inn and checked in. Since I had already paid for my room, all I had to do was sign the registration paper and go to my room.
It was a corner room and one of the finest I’ve had in my six years of staying here. I checked the room over and then took a brief tour of the motel. The swimming pool and bar were doing a good business, but the restaurant had only a few late customers. The lobby area had been remodeled and was considerably larger and more attractive than it had been previously. I went back to my room, did some reading, and watched the 10:00 news. A large portion of the regular and sports news covered activity at the Speedway, and of course the weather news was important for tomorrow. At 10:30, one of the Indianapolis TV stations had a 30-minute race program with driver Pete Halsmer providing some interesting commentary. Pete was a skillful speaker and this, along with his good knowledge of what was happening at the Speedway, made an interesting program.
After the race program, I did some more reading, and then at about 11:30 I set my alarm clock and retired for the day.
The alarm clock did its job and awakened me between 5:30 and 5:45 for the start of a long day. I tuned in station WIBC on my transistor radio and then got cleaned up before leaving for breakfast. It was a little before 6:30 when I arrived at the restaurant in the motel.
The restaurant had something new this year — buffet breakfast — and I decided to try it. I selected biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and orange juice. It was an excellent and filling meal, and I wouldn’t need to eat for a long time afterwards.
Business increased steadily while I was there, and most of the customers were headed for the same destination that I was. When I could eat no more, I paid my bill and went back to my room.
I brushed my teeth, packed the tote bag, and walked to the car. It was 7:40 when I started my trip to the Speedway.
A minute or so later, I was on the entrance ramp to I-65 when the radio announcer announced that it had just started raining at the Speedway. I almost turned around and returned to the motel, but I decided to continue on and hope for the best. A few minutes later, I ran into the light but steady rain.
The traffic on Crawfordsville and Georgetown Roads was light, so there was almost no problem getting inside the grounds. All the traffic on Georgetown Road was directed through Gate 8, and the Speedway patrolman directed me to a spot a few rows south of where I parked the day before.
I checked to see that I had everything and started my walk to the Tower Terrace area. As I expected, there were no racing cars or personnel in the pit area and only a handful in the seats.
Ironically, the lack of business on the race track causes a boom for the gift shops and concession stands. I decided to join the crowd of shopping to see if maybe I’d missed something yesterday, but my luck was about the same.
There was a large crowd walking around the outside of the garage area. Since the fans couldn’t see the cars and drivers in action on the track, they would have to be content with seeing them waiting for the rain to stop in the garage area.
The rain continued intermittently until early afternoon, but the race track remained wet for a long time after that because the sun didn’t appear and it could be dried only by speedway trucks driving over it.
While I was walking around the garage area, I met Barbara and Malcolm McKean and Don Anderson from Central Baptist Church. We stopped and chatted for several minutes and then continue on our own ways.
I usually visit the first turn “snake pit” area on Friday afternoon, but I didn’t get down there yesterday afternoon, so I decided to go there now. It was really something to see. As usual, it was occupied mostly by young people reveling with their drinking and loud music. With the ground well-soaked by the rain, the young people had managed to turn the area into a quagmire. Some of them were covered with mud but because of their advanced state of intoxication they seemed unaffected by it. Some of the female occupants climbed to the top of the podium and removed all of their clothes, to the great delight of the crowd.
Despite the noisy atmosphere, I was able to hear the P.A. announcer say that USAC officials expected the track to be open for practice in a few minutes if there was no more rain.
I hustled back to my seat and arrived just a few minutes before the big moment. Excitement was running high, and at about 4:15 a huge cheer came from the crowd when it was announced that the track was open for practice.
The first 30-minute practice period was for cars with odd numbers. Each group of cars was given 30 minutes of green light practice time, but there were several yellow caution periods, so much more than 30 minutes was needed on the clock to get in the required amount of green flag time.
The second practice period was for those cars with even numbers. There were only a couple of short caution periods, so the group of cars took only a little more than 30 minutes to finish their practice time.
It was between 5:45 and 6:00 when the second practice period ended. USAC rules say that there will be a 15-minute waiting period between the end of practice and the start of qualifications; therefore, it would be after 6:00 before activity could resume, and since all track activity ends at 6:00, there would be no qualifying time left. It was a big disappointment for the thousands of fans who had waited patiently all day to see their heroes perform, but such is the gamble one takes with the fickle May weather at Indianapolis.
With that announcement, the fans began leaving for their cars. It was a job getting to the car without getting mud on my shoes, but I did it with only a small amount getting on them.
The traffic around me wasn’t moving much, so I waited until about 6:30 before starting the engine. It was 6:35 when I left my parking space and got into the flow of traffic. I was directed out the same way I was the day before. I went to 25th Street and turned right to go to the shopping center. The traffic moved really slowly, and it wasn’t until 7:10 that I arrived at the parking lot in front of the MCL Cafeteria.
The waiting line extended about a third of the way back to the door, but it moved quickly. For supper, I chose beef and noodles, potatoes and gravy, au gratin potatoes, macaroni, cornbread, and Pepsi. The soft seat felt good after sitting on the hard seats at the Speedway. Everything tasted fine, and I took my time eating it. When I finished, I didn’t want to eat anything for a long time.
I didn’t have any shopping to do that night, so I went straight to the car and at 7:55 started my trip to the motel. The traffic was heavy but it moved well, and at 8:25 my trip ended as I pulled into a parking space by my room.
I watched TV for a few minutes and then took a walk to see what was going on in the motel. It was a busy place. A large crowd was using the swimming pool, play equipment, and electronic game area. At the front end of the motel, the bar was doing a good, loud business, and there were a few late diners in the restaurant.
It was 9:00 when I returned to my room. I read some of the magazines and newspapers I had, and at 10:00 I watched the news on TV. The weather and the problems it caused at the Speedway were the main stories. At 10:30, I watched the 30-minute race program with driver Pete Halsman as guest commentator. It was a good program, and I learned several things I hadn’t known. When that program ended, I watched other programs for a few minutes, did some more reading, and then shortly before 12:00 turned off the lights and went to bed.
Sunday started at about 6:30 for me. Before I got out of bed I heard a couple of car doors shut, so I knew I wasn’t the only person awake. I tried to go back to sleep but I guess I had gotten all my sleep in for the night, so I got up and did a little more reading.
I got cleaned up and dressed and at about 7:45 left for the motel restaurant. Most of the customers were race fans and read the morning Indianapolis newspaper while waiting for their breakfasts. I had the breakfast buffet as I did yesterday — biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and orange juice. It was a tasty and filling breakfast and was the choice of several customers.
While I was eating, several more customers were seated, and when I left about 8:45, business was quite good. I walked back to my room, brushed my teeth, read some of the newspaper, and then packed the suitcase. I took everything to the car, rechecked the room to be sure I hadn’t left anything, and then drove to the motel entrance to turn in my key. It was 10:00 when I started my trip home.
There was a light rain falling, which of course prevented any activity from taking place at the Speedway. I drove home the same way I drove coming, but when I reached Dana, the last town in Indiana, I decided to drive into the town and find the home of Ernie Pyle, the famous World War II newspaper reporter. For several years, I had seen the sign on Route 36 advertising his home, and this time I decided I would take a few minutes and see the house. It is located at an intersection with the road coming into town, so it was easy to find. It was not open to tourists until 1:00, so I took a short tour of Dana and then continued on my way home.
A couple of minutes later I crossed the state line, and at 12:03 I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen. I had a small dinner of a grilled cheese sandwich, French fries, and coffee. It refreshed me somewhat, and at 12:29 I started the second part of my trip home.
Everything went smoothly along Route 36, and when I left Decatur I took old Route 36 to Riverton and then Camp Butler Road into Springfield. It was 2:50 when I pulled into my driveway to end my trip. The rain had prevented me from seeing any time trial runs, but it wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last, either.
The following weekend was unlike any other I had spent at the Speedway. Two years ago, all five of my family went to the second Saturday of time trials. This year, Mark and I went together, and this was the first time I made a trip to the Speedway with only one of my children. For several days, Mark had been asking me if he could go to the Speedway with me. He couldn’t go the previous weekend because of being in school on Friday. Since all first weekend qualifying was rained out, all qualifying would have to be done during the second weekend. This turned out to be a boon for Mark. I was uncertain whether he was mature enough to enjoy and understand what would happen but decided I would take the chance.
I thought I would have a difficult time getting him out of bed and ready to go by 5:00, but at about 4:15, shortly after I arose, he came upstairs fully dressed and ready to go.
Dixie had made us some sandwiches and bought us some snacks to eat on our way and at the Speedway. After I got myself ready, we loaded our 1978 Chevrolet station wagon, said goodbye to Dixie, and at 5:10 left for what was to be a fine time for both of us.
I left town the usual way, by Sangamon Avenue and Camp Butler Road, then got onto I-72 at the Riverton exit. A few minutes later, I noticed Mark’s eyes were almost closed, so I asked him if he wanted to lie down in the back of the car and go to sleep. He said okay, and in a few minutes, he was asleep.
We arrived at Decatur about 6:00. It was quiet here with only a few cars traveling on Eldorado Street. A few minutes later we were out of town and on the open highway again. It was 6:50 when we stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop on the east side of Tuscola where Route 36 intersects with I-57.
Ever since the restaurant was built a few years ago I had wondered what it was like but never had the occasion to stop because I always stop at Chrisman. This time I decided to make it our rest and eating stop.
For breakfast, Mark had pancakes and milk while I had eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. The waitress was slow both in taking our order and bringing it, and as a result we didn’t leave until 7:35. The food made both of us feel better and more awake.
During the week, I had decided to take I-57 north to Champaign and then I-74 the rest of the way, thinking we might save some time by driving Interstate highways all the way. Shortly before 10:00, we stopped at Brownsburg and filled the tank, thus leaving us one thing we needn’t worry about.
The traffic on Crawfordsville and Georgetown Roads moved rapidly, and it was 10:20 when we went through Gate 8. Because last weekend was a complete washout, I saved my ticket and used it to get in now, thus saving myself $5. We were directed to a parking area about where I had parked last Saturday, and it was 10:25 when I turned the power off. We had arrived safely.
We hurried to our seats, stopping only for a couple of minutes to use the men’s room. The south section of the Tower Terrace was well-populated, and it took us several minutes and trips up and down aisles until we found two empty seats.
Just a few seconds after we sat down, P.A. announcer Tom Carnegie announced that the track was open for qualifying. The air was filled with applause and cheering as Gary Bettenhausen drove through the pit area and onto the track to become this year’s first driver to make an attempt at qualifying. His first lap was 187+ mph, and his crew waved him off before he finished his run.
Rookie Pat Bedard was next out and became this year’s first qualifier with a 195.941 mph run. Mike Mosley was next and pleased the crowd with an excellent, though not surprising, run of 205.372 mph.
Five more drivers qualified and then, at 11:56, rookie Teo Fabi wheeled his Skoal Bandit onto the track. After a couple warmup laps, he took the green flag and was on his way. Those people around us with stopwatches were shouting when he completed his first lap and a few second later, Tom Carnegie made it official. The speed was 207.273 mph, eliciting a spontaneous roar from the audience. The second lap, a new track record of 208.049 mph, caused an even louder response. The third lap fell slightly to 207.622 mph, and Teo finished his spectacular run with a fourth lap of 206.640 mph. The four-lap average was 207.395, which was about 0.300 mph faster than Rick Mears’ record-breaking run of last year. As he slowed to a stop in front of the photographers’ area, he was greeted with a thunderous, standing ovation for his outstanding run.
Fabi’s record wasn’t threatened the rest of the day, although it was the busiest single day of qualifying in Speedway history. For the first time ever, the entire field of 33 cars qualified on the same day, breaking the previous record of 27.
In the latter part of the afternoon, the rising heat and humidity and several hours of sitting on our hard seats prompted us to change things a little bit. We gathered up our belongings and walked over to the grandstand area. The crowd had lessened considerably, and it felt good to sit in the cool shade for a while.
As the 6:00 closing time approached, the pace of qualifying had slowed and Mark was getting anxious to eat supper and get on with the activity for the evening. It was about 5:45 when we left our seats to return to the car. We left as soon as we got to the car and joined the huge exodus of several hundred cars. As we were waiting to get out, the 6:00 gun sounded, ending the busiest qualifying day in Speedway history.
I was pleasantly surprised to see we could go south on Georgetown Road. I had no trouble getting to 25th Street, but from then on the traffic moved real slowly and it was almost 7:00 when we arrived at the MCL Cafeteria. Although we had eaten a bit of food at the Speedway, we were ready for a big supper. There was plenty of food that both of us liked, and Mark had a dish of two of his favorite foods — strawberries and cottage cheese. When we finished eating we were full and ready to leave for the motel.
We arrived at our motel about 8:15 and checked in. I had made the reservation earlier in the week at Springfield, so all I had to do was sign the registration form and get the key. When I called to make the reservation, I requested the same room I had the previous weekend, but I didn’t know for sure until now if I would get it, but luckily I did. It was a corner room and a little larger than most rooms.
Mark changed his clothes right away in preparation for the biggest enjoyment of the trip for him — swimming. I had brought my swimming trunks but, unlike Mark, I had a hard time adjusting to the cool water and spent most of the time sitting at one of the poolside tables as a spectator. The pool was a busy place, but there were other persons who weren’t swimming and instead spent their time reading a newspaper, magazine, or book, conversing with others, or watching the swimmers.
We left the pool area about 9:45 so that we could change our clothes and be ready to see the 10:00 news. The coverage of activity at the track was good, and at 10:30 we saw a 30-minute program with Pete Halsmer as guest, just as I had done the week before. At 11:00, we turned the TV set off and went to sleep, each of us in his own double bed. Neither of us had any trouble falling asleep.
I was the first one to awaken Sunday morning at about 7:00. While Mark was still sleeping, I dressed and went to the lobby and bought an Indianapolis newspaper. I knew from experience that they would sell out fast, so I decided to get one right away. I went right back to my room and was leaving the swimming pool area when I ran into Mark. He had awakened, dressed, and was coming to see where I was. We went back to our room and looked at the newspaper for a few minutes. By then our stomachs were telling us it was time to eat, so we left for the motel restaurant.
I ate from the buffet line while Mark chose something from the menu. Business was fairly good, and most of the customers were race fans as attested to by their conversation and newspaper reading. When we could eat no more, I paid the bill and we went back to our room.
As usual, there wasn’t much to see on television on Sunday morning, so we glanced at the newspaper for a few minutes and then got ready to leave. We made a double-check of the room to be sure we hadn’t left anything, took our suitcase and tote bag to the car, and then drove to the front desk where I checked out and turned in my key. It was 9:30 when we started our trip home.
I deviated from the usual route home and took Indiana Route 39 south to its intersection with I-74. It was the first time I had gone this way, and it was a pleasant but wet drive. There was a light rain failing from the time we left the motel, and shortly after we got onto I-74 it turned into a downpour. It rained intermittently for the next hour or so and then stopped at about the time we reached the state line. At Danville, we went south and arrived at the Colonial Kitchen about 11:45.
Business was good, and we were lucky to get an empty table. We weren’t really hungry, so we had bar-b-que sandwiches with French fries. It was a refreshing snack, and after using the restroom we felt better and started the second part of our trip home at about 12:15.
The drive from Chrisman to Springfield on Route 36 went smoothly, and it was about 2:30 when we drove into the driveway to end an enjoyable trip for both of us.
It was 12:15 PM on Saturday, May 28th, when I left home in my 1975 Chevrolet to begin my trip to see this year’s race. I stopped at the Derby station on Jefferson Street to fill the gas tank, and it was 12:29 when I left there. I took Sangamon Avenue out of town and then caught old Route 36 at Riverton and stayed on it until it meets the new Route 36 on the west side of Decatur.
It was about 1:45 when I left Decatur, and as I continued east on Route 36 I listened to a program about the story of the singing group The Beach Boys. The narrator was Dick Clark, host of the TV program “American Bandstand.” It was an interesting program of history and music and was quite educational for me.
At 2:46, I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen and stopped for a little break. Most of the dinner crowd was gone, but a few late comers were still eating. My snack of a bar-b-que sandwich, potato chips and coffee tasted good. It was 3:09 when I started on the remainder of my trip.
I turned left and headed north on Route 1. The little towns along the way were busy as usual on Saturday afternoon. Just south of Danville, I took I-74 east to Exit 220, just a few seconds from the state line, and in another minute or so, at 3:47, I arrived at the Ramada Inn Motel.
I had made my reservation several weeks earlier, so all I had to do was sign the registration card. From there I went to my room and checked to see if everything worked okay. Most importantly, I checked the television set to see if I could get Channel 17 in Decatur so that I could watch the telecast of the race the next night.
Everything checked out okay, so I left the TV set on, took off my shoes, and lay down for a few minutes of TV viewing. The set was connected to cable TV this year, so there was a variety of programs to see.
Between 5:00 and 6:00, I got cleaned up and ready to make my usual Saturday night rounds. It was about 5:45 when I left my room and journeyed to my first stop, which was the Famous Recipe Chicken place. I bought a box of chicken for my dinner tomorrow at the Speedway. Then I drove back and stopped at the Derby station and filled the gas tank. With these two important jobs done, I was ready now for the last and most enjoyable one — eating supper. A couple of blocks from the Derby station, I stopped at George’s Buffet.
Business was pretty good, but I had to wait in line for only a few seconds before reaching the service area. For supper, I had lettuce salad, hot rolls, corn, green beans, potatoes, and chicken livers. One of the main attractions of this restaurant for me is the unlimited amount of chicken livers a customer may have. The meal was really good, and after a couple pieces of cake for dessert, I was almost too full to get out of my chair and leave. The $4.75 was lower than what most buffet restaurants charge, and I really ate my share of food.
It was 7:00 when I left the restaurant and drove back to the motel. Business had increased considerably. The car and restaurant were quite busy, as was the front office.
I walked to my room, and when I arrived there I took off my shoes for an evening of relaxation. I turned on the TV set but turned down the sound so I could do some reading. This was a good opportunity to catch up on some of my newspaper and magazine reading.
At 10:00, I watched the news, sports, and weather on one of the Indianapolis stations. The big news, of course, was the running of the big race tomorrow. Part of the newscast showed the revelry occurring on 16th Street and Georgetown Road. As I watched the program, it brought back memories of the many years Dad, Bobby, and I walked these streets the night before the race and saw the same activity.
Also on the newscast were excerpts from the drivers’ meeting and the 500 Festival Parade, which were held in the afternoon.
The weatherman said the chances of rain for the start of the race were slim but would increase during the afternoon.
After the newscast, I put everything I would or might need tomorrow into my tote bag, read for a few minutes, set my alarm clock, made sure the room door was locked and fastened, and shortly after 11:00 I turned off the lights and slowly drifted off to sleep.
The alarm clock did its job at about 4:00. I turned off the alarm, turned on the table lamp, and lay in bed for a couple of minutes in an effort to stay awake. Race Day 1983 had started.
I got up and prepared to face the day by washing, shaving, combing my hair, and getting dressed. Now I was ready for a big breakfast, so I journeyed to the motel restaurant to partake of the buffet breakfast. Last year the restaurant opened at 5:00, but this year it opened at 4:00, in deference I assume to the wishes of race fans who need to get an early start to the day.
There were only a half-dozen or so customers when I arrived, so I had no delay in getting my food. To get me fueled up for the long day ahead of me, I had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and syrup, and coffee. Everything tasted fine, and when I finished I went back for seconds on most items, but the helpings were smaller. By now I was full and decided to leave. The $3.25 charge was most reasonable, particularly since I had eaten so much. Business had increased considerably by now, and most of the customers were race fans.
I went back to my room and gave my teeth a good brushing, then put my possessions in the suitcase and was ready to leave. I made a quick final check to be sure I had the two most important items — the tickets and money — and stepped out into the cool morning air again. It took only a few seconds to get to the car, turn the engine on, and leave. It was 5:06 when I left to begin my trip.
About a minute or so later, I crossed the state line. The traffic was already quite heavy, although not necessarily so for race day morning. As I drove, I listen to Indianapolis radio station WIBC. Its entire broadcasting, except for a few brief newscasts, was concerned with activity at the Speedway. This included reviews of the practice and time trial periods, features on the drivers, cars, and other factors involved with the race, plus periodic reports on the traffic situation in the Speedway area. The closer I came to my destination, the heavier the traffic became, and when I reached the I-465 overpass at 6:30 the through traffic came to a stop. From here on the cars moved sporadically, although there were no long delays.
At Lynhurst Drive, I turned into the bank parking area. It was filled, so I drove on a short distance where there were several private areas with available space. I stopped and backed the car into one of them, paid the attendant the $5.00 fee, and turned off the engine. Once again, I had arrived without an accident or car trouble. It was now 7:00.
There were several other cars in the lot, all of whose occupants had already left or were preparing to leave for the Speedway. I put my race ticket and two cameras on top of the other equipment in my tote bag, made sure the doors were locked, and then started my walk to the big attraction.
Crawfordsville Road looked the same as it had every year since I started coming to the race. The eastbound lanes had bumper-to-bumper traffic, while the westbound lanes had pedestrians going east. The closer I came to the Speedway, the more drunks, empty beer cans, and ticket buyers and sellers I saw.
Upon reaching Georgetown Road, I turned right and paid my yearly visit to Rosner’s Drug Store to see if they had anything I might want to buy. There was nothing that appealed to me, so I left and rejoined the mob of people crowding into the main gate of the Speedway. I got a firm grip on my ticket and then blended in with the almost crushing mob going through the turnstiles. It was now 7:40.
A few feet further, I stopped and bought four souvenir racing programs. From there, I walked to the metal gate on the outside of the entrance to turn one. Pedestrian traffic was still permitted across the track, so I, along with several other fans,