Here is Judy Greeson at the speedway in 2004.

She has attended every Indy 500 since 1961.
She now resides in Clinton, Tennessee. -
Oct 2004

Note: The following was published in 1978:

Judy Greeson, a librarian and resident of Crawfordsville for two
years will attend her eighteenth straight Indianapolis 500 Mile
Race this May 28. To Judy, the month of May each year has
been a special time. Living in Indianapolis during childhood,
Judy looked forward to that year in 1961 when, a freshman in
high school, her parents decided she was old enough to attend
her first 500. As she puts it, she has been “hooked” ever since.
This story is a personal reflection of some of the people and
events of the last seventeen Indianapolis 500’s.


            
Local Resident ‘Hooked’ On Indy 500
                                     By Judy Greeson

By the time I arrived, this event was already fifty years old.
The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race had grown from a gimmick to
promote the automobile into the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Reams have been written about this, the granddaddy of
American automobile racing, but perhaps a spectator can put it
all in a different perspective than those who don’t view it from the
top of a grandstand.

I felt a part of something special as I sat on my allotted 16 inches
of the grandstand row. It was as clear to me as the blue sky
above. To other race fans, my memories of the last seventeen
years can undoubtedly be matched by yours. We know together,
deep inside, what draws us to this Mecca each May. It is a
religion that verges on being fanatical. To those of you who have
never experienced the strain in your neck as you watch for the
front row to come out of the corner, your experiences have been
incomplete.

No words anyone can write, or any pictures ABC Television can
bring to your screen can substitute for being a part of it in the
flesh. There is no adequate way to describe fully the sight of
thirty-three machines gleaming in sunlight as 10,000
multicolored balloons float over your head. There is no adequate
way to hear the sound of 350,000 voices saying silent prayers
for a safe race, as one voice sings of being back home in
Indiana. There is no adequate way to describe the
disappointment you have inside when your favorite driver fails
to come out of the turn. Yet share with me some memories of
the last seventeen years of this race; its winners and losers, the
changes of men and machines, and the tradition this race
commands to hold it all together.

No one knew it at the time, but in my rookie year, 1961, a
living legend and a revolution were being created. A young driver
from Houston, Texas, Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr. pulled into Victory
Lane in a Bowes-Seal Fast Special, after a fellow driver from
Allentown, Pa., Eddie Sachs, backed off the throttle. Sachs was
a sure victor just three laps from the finish when he saw the cord
on his treadless Firestone tire. To avoid risking an accident by a
blown tire, Eddie settled for second place. Foyt would still be
around to pull into Victory Lane for a record fourth time in 1977.
Sachs would be a part of the event that meant more to him than
anything else for only three more years.

In this golden anniversary 500, Jack Brabham, a European
world road-racing champion, finished ninth. Brabham was
driving a tiny cooper-Climax. This rear-engine machine was a
prototype of the future “funny cars” of the middle sixties, that, in
turn, became today’s standard configuration. Since 1961, the
front-engine roadsters have been replaced by rear-engine
designs of Lolas, Lotuses, Hawks, Coyotes, Eagles, and
McLarens, Engines of the Offy variety have been replaced by
Fords, Foyts, and now Coswroths. “Hot dog” drivers like Ward,
Rathman and Jones have been replaced by Rutherford,
Johncock and Sneva. The Voice of Firestone has been
replaced by the Blimp of Goodyear. Qualifying speeds have
risen from Jim Hurtubise’s 1960 record of 149.601 mph for one
lap to Tom Sneva’s 200.535 mph established last May. Not bad
for a two and one-half mile oval designed in 1909 for a top
speed of 75 mph.

As I sat in my fifteen dollar seat by myself, I didn’t know all the
driver’s names, nor how to adequately watch a race. I probably
did become tired of sitting on my allotted sixteen inches of the
grandstand row. But I was convinced that I was part of
something special. That feeling was as clear to me as the blue
sky above, and as bright as the paint jobs on the golden colored
Ford Thunderbirds. I knew that that year’s savings from baby-
sitting had been well spent, when on an April day I purchased
over the counter my ticket for my first 500.

Favorite scenes of the 500 need to include those in Victory
Lane. In 1969 a jubilant Andy Granatelli planted one big smooch
on the cheek of our man, Mario Andretti. This little Italian driver
finally landed a win for the portly Italian car owner. Mario
(presently in 1978 pursuing a Formula One world championship
title) gave Andy, in 1969, what had been taken from him the two
previous years with less than ten laps to the finish. In 1967.
Granatelli had shaken the piston-engine world by bringing a
Pratt-Whitney turbine engine to the track. Parnelli Jones qualified
it in the sixth position. After the starting flag fell, Jones dominated
the field until just three laps from the finish, when a six dollar
bearing silenced the engine, which sounded more like a vacuum
cleaner.

The following year on lap 191, race leader Joe Leonard found
no power as he put his foot on the throttle, after a yellow light,
when the signal was given to resume racing. Just as he was
about to enter the first turn right below us, Leonard’s car slowed
to an agonizing halt. This pole-position winning car placed twelfth
in the final standing. To add insult to injury, the teammate car to
Leonard’s, driven by Art Pollard, quit three laps before
Leonard’s to finish thirteenth. So in 1969, as Andretti rolled the
Brawner-Hawk onto the black and white checked carpet of
Victory Lane, we knew it was Granatelli’s time to find the pot of
gold after twenty-three years of trying.

What does a fan do when the sky decides to fall raindrops on
your head? You usually become part of Plastic City. Such a year
was 1967. After eighteen laps, the stands became chilly and
soggy as the rain fell and the winds pushed paper plates and
pop cans down the aisles of the stands. Our group had packed
the usual ice cold soda pop. We made the wrong choice that
day. The next morning began with cloudy skies and cool
temperatures. For this day, we chose to take a thermos of hot
chocolate. Later that day our hot chocolate seemed very out of
place in clear blue skies and temperatures in the seventies. On
another occasion in 1975, the skies hardly gave us time to pull
out the plastic sheets. A sudden deluge of water made the cars
look like hydroplanes as they skated down the mainstretch. One
year later, for the fifth time in sixty runnings of the race, rain came
again. This time, as if someone were counting laps to make sure
it was official, the race was stopped on lap 102. (A race must be
at least 101 laps to be considered complete.) This 255 mile
race ended in a light shower and Johnny Rutherford was the first
winner to walk, not drive, into Victory Lane. As we funneled out
the track’s gates, another cloud dumped its contents on us, and
soaked us to the skin.

Short glimpses of memories bring other years to mind. Mark
Donahue cried tears of joy in 1972 as he was interviewed in
Victory Lane. His race record of 162.962 still stands today. The
record for the greatest increase of speed of a pole sitter over
the previous year was also established in 1972. Bobby Unser’s
qualifying speed of 195.940 was 17 mph faster than Peter
Revson’s the previous year.

In 1966, the speed of spectators along the mainstretch
trackboxes seemed to be a record also. As the green starting
flag fell, a chain reaction of bumping race cars sent wheels,
halfshafts, and various other pieces of metal flying through the
air. A.J. Foyt, Jr. made an exit from his car, handclimbing the
metal chain fence between spectators and the track. I looked up
and saw a wheel sailing through the air and decided that the
trackboxes were not the prime choice of seating. (After 1973,
these same seats were permanently removed for the safety of
the spectators.)

The first million dollar purse was awarded to participants in 1971.
Al Unser led 190 of 200 laps, after beating Johnny Rutherford for
the pole position by eight one-thousandths of a second – the
blink of an eye. Six years before, European champion Jimmy
Clark led all but ten laps in one of the safest 500’s with only
eleven minutes and forty seconds of yellow light time. One-third
of the field that year was rookie drivers, including three who
would eventually become winners: Mario Andretti, Al Unser and
Gordon Johncock.

There are two years I would just like to forget. In 1964, as Jim
Clark crossed the starting line for his second lap, it seemed as if
a bomb had dropped at the head of the mainstretch. The cars of
Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald collided and fuel exploded
into a ball of fire. The red flag fell to stop the race the first time in
the race’s history for an accident. The grandstands were hushed
in disbelief. I remember my knees were shaking as I watched
billows of oily black smoke rise and float over the back of the
stands. An hour later, we heard the public address system echo,
“It is with deepest regret that we make this announcement….”
and we all knew Eddie was gone. Eddie, the Clown Prince of
Auto Racing, always said, “If you can’t win, be spectacular.” Even
in death, Eddie was.

The year 1973. The shortest race to that time, 332 5/8 miles,
became the longest 500 to run. The three-day experience
honestly became an endurance test and not a race. After one
accident, resulting in serious burns to a driver and fans alike,
and eleven other cars damaged, and then rain, the race was
postponed to the second day. On that day not one lap was
scored as rain halted the cars during the parade lap. The third
day, we kept our ear to the radio and made a fast trip to the track
to see the third and successful attempt to start the race at
2:10 p.m. Everything seemed to be finally okay until the fifty-
seventh lap. The leader at the time, Swede Savage, crashed in
turn four after just completing a pit stop. His car broke apart in
flames. For the third time in three days, the red flag fell. A
firetruck coming the wrong way in the pits killed a pit crewman.
The race resumed after one hour and fifteen minutes’ delay
because of the Savage accident. The race ran until 5:32 p.m.
when the skies opened up again and the red flag fell for the
fourth time. Gordon Johncock was declared the winner. But no
one in the stands celebrated. We stood under very dark skies,
thinking very dark thoughts, wondering why we were there. Yet,
there is something that has drawn us back to the same seats
these following years.

In seventeen years, not only drivers and cars have come and
gone, but other members of the racing fraternity as well.
Recently, we have lost three of the best – one to retirement, two
to death. All aspects of maintenance of the world’s largest
spectator sports stadium had been under the direction of
Clarence Cagle. Cagle retired at the end of the 1977 race, after
32 years of personally supervising construction, facilities,
maintenance, clean-up, traffic, and safety. With all of these
duties he still had time to be concerned with the happiness of
fans. On May 14, 1974, I wrote a letter to Mr. Cagle stating that
in the previous two years the P.A. speaker in our grandstand
section had been turned off at the request of U.S.A.C. officials
stationed below us. On June 13 I received a personal letter from
Mr. Cagle asking me if we had “better results” as he had
personally checked the speaker the morning of the race and had
instructed the U.S.A.C. officials to leave the speaker on
“because the guests in the grandstand wanted to hear what was
going on.”

The “Voice of the 500” was a new one for the 1977 race. Paul
Page, a young protégé of Sid Collins, was at the microphone,
not by a happy transition. Sid Collins had ended his life the
month before, unable to cope with a terminal illness. Mr. Collins
and his radio network announcers had always provided me with
visions of what the “500” was all about until I was old enough to
see it in person. Even as we attend the race today, a radio tuned
to the network is a necessary piece of equipment to help keep
one on top of what is going on around the 2 1/2 mile oval.

And finally, in October of 1977, the “Savior of the Speedway,
” Mr. Tony Hulman was taken from us. Somehow, the command
to start the engines will not be the same in future years. Mr.
Hulman, along with three-time winner Wilbur Shaw, literally
saved the facility from becoming a real estate development
after World War II. In November of 1945, Mr. Hulman purchased
the track from the World War I flying ace, Captain Eddie
Rickenbacker, for $750,000. We are benefactors of this man’s
desire to develop a weed-infested, rotting racetrack into the
finest facility for America motorists.

Bob Collins, sports editor for the Indianapolis Star, said a few
days after Mr. Hulman’s death that everybody has a favorite
Tony Hulman story. Mine is of his last year with us. Janet
Guthrie, the first woman to quality for the 500, drew lots of
speculation on how the famous command of “Gentlemen, start
your engines,” might be altered. A few minutes before the start of
the race, with throngs of press and well-wishers all over the
mainstretch, we caught Mr. Hulman all by himself. A man, who in
a few minutes would have the world listening to him, was at the
end of our grandstand with not a soul around him. We kidded
among ourselves that he was practicing his famous words. Our
binoculars revealed to us that he really was! Later last year, at
the time of his death, it was revealed that Mr. Hulman always
carried a card with the words written down, as he was afraid he
would forget them. The owner of the place was afraid he was
going to blow it in front of his customers!

Mr. Hulman was always accessible to race fans during the days
of May. He genuinely enjoyed greeting people who came to his
track. Which brings up a point that we often don’t think about.
The speedway is a place where the fan can literally rub
shoulders with the participants. That doesn’t happen in other
professional sports. How close can you get to an O.J. Simpson
or a Pete Rose? This personal contact of fans and driver-heroes
at the Speedway, even more than at other tracks, is part of the
“500’s” success.

Changes have occurred in seventeen years. Some good for the
fans. Some not so good, I believe. Traditions are a successful
part of the Speedway. The race fan, (defined here as those who
are willing to order $20 to $55 tickets a year in advance to
watch the race, not just those who party in the infield) can
depend on the same sequence of events prior to the start of the
race, and the same feeling inside yourself as the command is
given, hands are raised, cars are pushed off, the pace car pulls
into the pits, and the green flag falls for another”500.”

Author’s Note: This article was written in early 1978 for a May,
1978 issue of Montgomery County Magazine, Crawfordsville,
Indiana. The magazine was a publication of the Montgomery
County Historical Society.































                  The author at the speedway in 1985

  
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