Right in my Own Backyard - Hooray for the Checkered Flag! - by Brandt Carter
posted: Jun. 01, 2023
In honor of the recent running of the 500 we are bringing back this one from 2008. - Alan
Hooray for the Checkered Flag!
Isn't it great to have the 500 Mile Race in our hometown? I remember as I was growing up that every time I said I was from Indianapolis, the home of the 500 Mile Race, even international people could make the association.
Of course you must remember, I listened to the race on the radio in days when the morning and afternoon newspapers swelled with coverage. The race was on Memorial Day - always eagerly anticipated as a festive prelude to getting out of school in the second week of June. Race Day was an occasion for picnics and early summer yard chores.
The men in my family (cousins, too) got to attend the race. During this era, fans could bring scaffolding to rig their own seating in the infield, the higher the better in order to see the race cars fly by. My dad and uncles were contractors so they could make really great platformed towers. Only the older cousins got to go along because Race Day was long. It began just as dawn was breaking. Pick-ups were fully loaded, their truck beds covered with tarps that concealed tubs of ice, colas, Nehi soda, and lots of bag lunches. I yearned to be older back then. Even though I never got to see a race during those years, I did have vivid notions about how the track might look. I truly believed that the "pits" were like caves.
Image from a 1950's postcard from the Speedway
I attended my first race in high school. My girlfriend's father was an accountant for Borg-Warner (the winner's trophy) and Knobby's Drive-in. He got enough tickets so that she could bring a friend. It was awesome. From our seats on the track's first turn, I discovered that the pits were actually just another lane next to the track. I also got to see the bricks, the pagoda, and A.J. Foyt crossing the finish line first. Alas, I was initiated into Indianapolis' premier May event.
I have attended a few races subsequently, the Governor's Breakfast, time trials, rides around the track, and even worked for the Canine Companion's volunteers selling 500 Mile Race memorabilia. We have come to make cruising the Speedway area the night before the race an annual custom to check out the crazy fans and their tents, mobile homes, and cars. It's fun to see how far fans have come for this extravaganza. The race is in the DNA of Indianapolis/Speedway residents. It's amazing to realize what a spectacular occasion this is and how it ignites the whole community. Thanks to Tony George for continuing the tradition!