THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES
Art Garner and Marc Spiegel's new book on the Indy 500
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Tue, May 3, 2016
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
LA Car Book Review INDY 500 MEMORIES An Oral History of the “Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing” By Art Garner and Marc B. Spiegel Published by CreateSpace, the publishing arm of Amazon. $19.95. Paperback E-version: $9.95. http://amzn.to/1NvF1vo ISBN-13-9781530313242 ISBN-10-1530313244 Here, and just in time for the 100th running of the 500-mile race on Memorial Day, is a wide, deep, funny, sad, trivial, triumphant and altogether absorbing collection of personal memories of the Indy 500. There are over 150 first-person reminiscences in this book, all different, but all connected by that iconic institution at the corner of 16th and Crawfordsville Road that the regulars simply refer to as, “the Speedway”. The genesis of the book stems from the background work that author Garner had done in research for his award-winning “Black Noon - The Day They Stopped The Indy 500”, the full story of the tragic 1964 race. Garner communicated with so many people who had so many memories wrapped around the Speedway that he decided that those recollections should be preserved in a book ... and “Memories” is that book. The book is divided into fifteen chapters with the title of each announcing the its theme: First 500, Foyt, Unser, Voices, Broadcast, Media, Fans, Family, Personalities, NASCAR, Gasoline Alley, Ladies, Gentlemen, Tragedy, and Triumph. This book is a look into the beating heart of the event ... as related by the people who made it so unforgettable as well as the people who will never forget. Most of the memoirs are short, one or two pages, three at the most, all have much the same sense ... this place was special, the people who go there to participate are special and the rest is just part of the process. Only a few pages in to this book, starting at any chapter one chooses, the passion is evident. Just for a little taste of who contributed, and at the risk of being tagged as a name-dropper, let’s take one name from each chapter just to illustrate the broad spectrum of voices that make themselves heard here. Eddie Cheever, George Snider, Shelly Unser, Ralph Sheheen, Robin Miller, Wayne Kepner, Tom Malloy, Linda Vaughn, Darryl Waltrip, Don Taylor, Lyn St. James, Bill Simpson, Jim Dillamarter, Rick Mears ... and about a hundred and thirty-five other voices, some maybe even better-known than the above, but all ardent about the Speedway and the 500. And, if you’ve been there on race day you’ll know that my next statement is very true. Hearing the late Jim Nabors sing “Back Home Again in Indiana” is a fully emotional experience. Watching the race on TV you saw Gomer Pyle belting out an corny old song “... when I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash, then I long for my Indiana home,” on site, in the highest seat in the grandstands, in the suites, in the media tower, and right down on the racetrack ... every word of that song sent a chill through one’s nervous system. Nabors sang it first in 1972 and belted it out for the last time in 2014. But, as you’ll find out in “Memories”, when he was asked to sing before the ’72 race by Tony Hulman, Nabors thought that it would be doing the Star Spangled Banner. Hulman instead asked him to so sing “Back Home...” and he did, with the lyrics hastily scribbled on hand. Only the playing of “Taps” ever wet more eyes on race day. That one was a fun one, Bill Simpson on the other hand, tells us about taking exception to a rival fire suit manufacturer’s bad-mouthing of Simpson’s stuff. Simpson called a sort of a press and competitor conference, challenging the other manufacturer to a flame-off wearing their best stuff. When the other manufacturer (who had accepted Simpson’s challenge) didn’t show up at the appointed hour, Simpson, a former Indy racer himself, suited up, had a crewman pour half a gallon of gasoline over him, and throw a lighted match at him. By race day every driver in the place was wearing Simpson stuff. Of course Indy winner Danny Sullivan is going to talk about his miraculous “recovery” in the 1985 when he spun spectacularly trying to catch Mario Andretti. Here Sullivan recounts the event in minute detail and with the aplomb of a golf pro talking about how he turned a very bad lie on the 14th at Augusta into a birdie by bouncing his second shot off a tree. “Hey, that yellow is for me, that yellow is for me... !” he radioed in to Derek Walker. Every story is different, from the highly technical, to fun and games like Evi Gurney being smuggled into the Speedway garage area (in those arcane/traditional days when women were not allowed in the pits) in the back seat of Dan’s rental car under a pile of shop towels and dirty crew uniforms. Or maybe it’s a young Lyn St. James in 1966, there to watch the race when women were (as above) not yet even then allowed in the pits, asking for Mel Kenyon’s autograph through the fence and seeing close-up what a raging methanol fire can do to melt parts of one’s hands and face. As with many things in life, rhyme and reason do not always follow any sort of strict rules at the Speedway and that’s really what this book is all about ... the focal point for sharp and lasting memories that those 1,000 acres just northwest of downtown have become over a century’s worth of years. It all seems to come down to one thing, for everyone who has ever been just about any part of the 500, it’s personal...very personal. On an early page in this book there’s a quote from the late Tony Hulman: “After I say, ‘Gentlemen, Start Your Engines, I feel like I’ve just pulled the pin on a hand grenade.” Messers Gardner and Spiegel have certainly pulled a pin on the emotional side of this iconic event and here that explosion lasts for 200+ pages. -DS GOT MEMORIES? For every personal story in this book there have got to be a hundred (a thousand? more?) out there. The good news here is that the authors of this book have set up a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/Indy500Memories/ that will collect and share your personal memories of the 500. THE 500: The authors of this book will be at the race this year signing copies of their book (please refer to the above Facebook page for locations and times). THE 150: The authors are also inviting all of their living “co-authors” to be at these signings to sign their personal contribution to this book, a wonderfully inclusive idea.