Pink flamingos fleck the lawns in Speedway, Ind. So do
beer-logied race fans. ``They're laid out like crucifixes,'' in
the words of Joe Shindell, a 41-year-old Ohio schoolteacher who
was in town on Sunday for his 14th consecutive Indianapolis 500.
You will find all the old American virtues, as well as most of
the vices, in Indianapolis on race weekend: lug nuts, beer guts,
methanol, cholesterol, Corvettes, cigarettes. As the
I'd-like-to-buy-a-vowel marquee outside a Speedway gin joint puts
it, W LC M RAC F NS.
I have come to the suburb of Speedway to get a fix of the 500, to
fulfill my need for speed, to learn why there are 1,000 spectators
for every mile of this race. In short, I've come to feed my
Indiana jones, so on Friday I take a knuckle-blanching ride at the
Brickyard in the purple Chevy pace car. As we lurch from the pit
and lean into the first turn at 101 mph, the driver of the
Corvette convertible casually turns his head and asks, ``So . . .
whenja get in?''
We scream into the straightaway, and a B-17 bomber flies
overhead, flanked in tight formation by four P-51 Mustangs.
``Tomorrow Chuck Yeager'll be flying one of those 51s,'' says
the driver, a Texan named Jim Perkins, who is putting himself
through his pace-car paces before race day. ``That's the neat
thing about Indinapliss. Look up, and there's Chuck Yeager.''
Of course, I was scheduled to drive at Indy myself, but I missed
my Saturday tee time on the golf course that runs right through
the raceway's infield. I did crash at Indy though -- on the floor
of an occupied room at the Howard Johnson's in Speedway. (Special
race-week rate for the $45-a-night flea circus: $220 a night.)
Speaking of crashing at Indy, A.J. Foyt on Friday sits in a garage
off Gasoline Alley and grins through his greatest hits. He talks
lovingly of the time he sat on a misplaced wrench for the entire
race and emerged from his car ``part paralyzed''; of the time
doctors removed his toenails (you don't want to know why) the day
before a race; of the time he told rescuing track medics to forget
the painkillers they were fiddling with and ``hit me in the head
with a goddam hammer''; and of the time his friend Eddie Thrapp
told doctors that they better not amputate an unconscious Foyt's
leg, ``or else when he wakes up, you'll have a one-legged man
kicking your ass.''
WE DON'T RACE ON ELVIS' BIRTHDAY reads a bumper sticker in Foyt's
hospital-clean garage, and indeed many of the roughly 500,000 race
fans in Speedway are exploring Elvis-like frontiers of
overindulgence. On Saturday, disc jockeys on 95.5 FM interview a
racegoer who hasn't seen a lap in his last 13 Indys. I interview
an enormous-bellied man who hasn't seen his own lap in the last 13
Fried Dough. Roast Pig. Whopper Loins? Gentlemen, start your
angina: The culinary offerings around the Brickyard are from
another era -- the Pleistocene. No wonder the special race
supplement in The Indianapolis Star advertises ``27% Off
Large-Volume Liposuction, Removing Up to 27 Pounds in a Single
On the streets of Speedway, party poopers will be
party-pooper-scoopered. ``I honestly get tears in my eyes when I
see all these people leavin' after the race,'' says
twentysomething Speedway native Ed Madrid, pulling a wagonful of
beer through the Mardi Gras scene of rain-soaked 16th Street on
Saturday night, `` 'cause I know it's another 364 days till we
get to do it again.''
And time only flies during the race. ``They say when the green
flag waves, it's spring here,'' says Indy spokesman Bob Walters.
``But when the checkered flag falls, it's summer.''
Even the Bible will tell you that the changing seasons are but a
metaphor for the Indy oval: Turn, turn, turn, turn. Sunday
morning's church-sermon titles are all race-related: Collision
Course with God, Running Well Life's Race and even The Winner's
Circle, which also happens to be the name of a Speedway boozeteria.
Of course, the only people sitting in a pew by race time are in
the malodorous, methanol-filled Brickyard pits (peee-yeww). The
track announcer enjoins us to ``join the lovely and talented
Florence Henderson in singing our national anthem.'' And with
that, Florence sings like a nightingale.
Look up, and you can almost see Chuck Yeager. Then another great
military man -- Gomer Pyle, USMC -- sings Back Home Again in
Indiana. (Thank you, Jim Nabors.) The race begins with Perkins
leading the field twice around the track. And suddenly, spring is
turning to summer this Memorial Day in America.
Gaa-awwl-lee, as Pyle might put it. And shazam!
COLOR PHOTO:JERRY WARD [racing fans: man holding boom box and woman eating watermelon]