Usually when qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 ends, things calm down for the ensuing week. But not this year. Ryan Hunter-Reay and his new primary sponsors SunDrop and DHL found themselves on the outside of the Indianapolis 500 looking in… that is until a deal was struck to sell Bruno Junqueira’s qualified car to Andretti Autosport. This was the second time in three years that Bruno had safely qualified for the 500 only to lose his ride to another driver who didn’t make the race but had sponsors he needed to keep happy. This was not a popular decision, but racing is a business and Foyt was funding Bruno’s car out of pocket. The real tragedy, in my opinion, was that Bruno and Ryan had two of the sharpest looking cars at the track, but the resulting combination of paint schemes amounted to a train wreck! Ryan was fast on Carb day on Friday, May 27th – fifth overall. Unfortunately that would not translate to his race performance, which I will touch on in part 3.
My race-weekend plans involve arriving into town on Wednesday night, May 25th, and spending Thursday in the garage area and hitting the museum, watching carb day practice and the Freedom 100 Indy lights race on Friday, and for Saturday I was scheduled to work the memorabilia show that for the first time was held right at the Speedway.
To help celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the first Indianapolis 500, all living drivers who ever competed in the 500 were invited to the Speedway, culminating in a huge autograph session the day before the 500. More than 140 drivers showed up! The museum was also honoring the 100th anniversary in it’s own way by displaying only cars that had won the 500. Of the 91 winning cars, 67 were in the museum, which is significant since the Speedway only has 31 of them to begin with. Some of the notable cars that were brought in for the occasion were Jim Clark’s 1965 winning car, on loan – in running condition – from the Henry Ford Museum, Rodger Ward’s 1959 Leader Card Special, Bobby Unser’s 1975 Jorgensen Eagle, and all of Roger Penske’s winning cars on loan from his museum in Phoenix, Arizona (except the 72 winner which is part of the IMS collection). See my comprehensive photo gallery of IMS museum cars compiled over the last 8 years.
Since Thursday was mostly rainy, I spent several hours in the museum. There I ran into my friend Chuck Sprague, who happened to be Danny Sullivan’s crew chief when he won the 500 in 1985 (which also happened to be the first year I attended the 500). Chuck spent about an hour with me giving me some of the back-stories on the Penske cars that were on loan to the museum for the Centennial celebrations (such as how they tested both a Lola and March for the 1985 season and how much easier the Lola was to work with, only to decide to go with the March chassis). I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a rain-delay at Indy – thank you Chuck!
Perusing the garage area on Thursday and Friday, it was like a who’s who of Indy 500′s past. Many of the former drivers who were in town for Saturday’s autograph session could be seen milling about as fans themselves. Some of the notable drivers I ran into included 1983 Pole winner Teo Fabi, who came all the way from Italy, 1999 winner Kenny Brack, Wally Dallenbach, Eldon Rasmussen, Howdy Holmes, Eliseo Salazar, Tom Bigelow, and Jerry Sneva. I even ran into drag racing legends Don Prudholme and John Force. But the highlight for me was meeting Dick Harroun, who’s father Ray won the very first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Needless to say, Dick wasn’t around then, but today he is 95 years old and made the trip with his family to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his father’s win. I asked him to sign my ticket, and he obliged, carefully writing out “R. Harroun”.
On Saturday, for the first time ever, the Speedway hosted it’s own memorabilia show in the pavilion area behind the pagoda. I had a table where I was selling decals and photographs. Right next door was the autograph session of former drivers. Needless to say the crowd was huge! Some of the drivers came over to the memorabilia show during breaks from the Autograph session. Buzz Calkins and Didier Theys were two of the drivers who stopped by my table. Hard luck driver Jigger Sirois – famous for having never qualified for the 500 – was there manning his own booth at the collectors show. I have to say that Jigger is as friendly and outgoing as any individual you could ever hope to meet – it was a great pleasure to finally meet him. I was really hoping to hit the autograph session but the massive lines made it nearly impossible to leave my table for so long. However, late in the day I was escorted in to photograph a friend who was having his hand built Novi model car signed by it’s driver Art Malone. Since I was there, I took the opportunity to meet some of the drivers such as NASCAR legends Donnie Allison and Bobby Johns as well as a personal favorite of mine, Joe Leonard who I got to meet for the first time. Joe was looking great and seemed to be having a great time. Joe, you may recall, put the Lotus turbine on the pole in 1968 and was leading comfortably with 9 laps to go when the car broke down. I made sure to personally thank every driver I met for coming to the Speedway for this historic running.
Over the course of the weekend, my friend Eric was trying to meet up with Buddy Lazier to get him to sign some cars that Eric had built. Eric is friends with Buddy, and while we ran into Buddy’s wife Kara, Buddy was more elusive. After the show, as I was heading back to the motorhome I stay in, I ran into Buddy and Kara. I asked him if he had hooked up with Eric and he said no. He asked if Eric would be at the race the next day and I informed him that Eric was going home that night and would not be at the race. Buddy asked me for Eric’s phone number which I gave him. A couple minutes later I called Eric – who happened to be parked next to the motorhome I was headed to – and he informed me that Buddy was on his way over to meet him in the parking lot. Traffic was terrible and as I was on foot, I got to the motorhome at least 20 minutes before Buddy could get there, but he showed up with Kara and their kids and spent about 20 minutes with us.
To see more of my photos leading up to the and including 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500, check out my photo gallery. In addition to practice, qualifying, and race day shots, there are photos of many of the ‘old timer’ drivers that were in attendance.
Up next: Race day