Publish date:

Back Home Again in Automaniana


In its simplest form the 500 is 33 drivers attempting to keep body and soul together for 200 laps around the Speedway on a late spring day. Beyond that, nothing about it is simple at all. As the largest one-day sporting event in the world, seen directly by 300,000 people and followed at secondhand by millions more, it is an enormous enterprise in housekeeping and show biz. Master of the house is Anton Hulman Jr., the Clabber Girl-rich Hoosier gentleman who orders other gentlemen to start their engines. Hulman commands a cadre of thousands, some of whom are displayed on the following pages. These are people who share the Speedway's hours of drudgery and moments of drama, and endure its occasional tragedies. Hulman plows back his profits and nobody else gets rich—love is their common denominator.

Indy is a big parade as well as a race: here the 1968 Festival Queen, Mimi Little John, 21, of Fort Wayne, shows the folks what a Hoosier beauty looks like. Speedway Owner Tony Hulman, who bought it from Eddie Rickenbacker in 1946, grasps the mike over which he makes the starting command. Hulman's improvements have brought seating capacity to 210,000. Henry Banks, director of competition for the U.S. Auto Club, views the 500 near the starting line.

Highly visible in his red hat, Chief Steward Harlan Fengler runs the actual race. As he stalks the pit apron near the start-finish line, Fengler must make hard decisions in the heat of the moment and make them stick. In 1963, for example, he ruled that Parnelli Jones—leading toward the end of the race and leaking oil—should not be black-flagged. Jones won; the late Jimmy Clark finished second, and there were those who tried to broil Fengler. He toughed them out.

Mrs. Josephine Dodson oversees the 500 Festival, whose ornaments are a downtown parade, the 500 Queen and a colorful balloon race. Chief fire fighter, Clean Reynolds (right), directs 250 men esteemed for their mobility. In 1966 one of his crews chased the flaming racer of Bob Veith and put out the fire before the car came to a stop.

Speedway Superintendent Clarence Cagle (right) gets the month's 3,100 cubic yards of trash picked up. Car Owner J.C. Agajanian (far right, with Driver Mario Andretti) is a famous member of an essential breed. Without patrons like Aggie to provide the cars, there would be no show. Jo Quinn (below), the checker-socked safety director, masterminds Indy's monster flow of fans from his homestretch tower. His record for disgorging 300,000 spectators is just 100 minutes.

The 500 also means impromptu picnics in the infield; the railroader's hat and wrinkled face of superfan Larry Bisceglia, of Long Beach, Calif., who has been first in line at gate-opening time for 20 years; and the high and dry cowboy boots of another loyalist, Clyde DeBotkin, who comes down from Wyoming every year to spend the month of May.