I have had people ask me over the years, exactly how I became interested in racing? I didn’t know anyone who raced and in fact, I don’t think I knew anyone who had ever been to a race either. My parents had, what I like to say, less than zero interest in the sport, so it was something I had developed from within myself. That being said, I knew exactly how it all started.
I was always a big car lover since I can remember. My mother says that when I was around 4 yrs old, that I would shout out the makes of cars that I saw driving on the road. My parents divorced when I was just a couple years old, and I would spend a month every summer visiting my dad in Columbus Ohio. I was an avid reader, so I would always look forward to stopping at a Truck stop in Findlay, Ohio where my dad would let me select a magazine to read in the car. When I was 11, I picked out a racing magazine called Circle Track & Highway, and little did I know what an impact that decision would have on my life. I devoured every single word, and after reading a feature article about Indy 500 veteran Lloyd Ruby, decided right then & there, he would become my favorite driver. Racing appealed to me, I guess, as the epitome of what cars were supposed to do.
Now keep in mind I really had no other exposure to the sport. The only races that were televised was the Indy 500 and short snippets on ABC Wide World of Sports. (usually months after the races were run) All I knew about were the major racing series like Indy, NASCAR, Formula 1 and NHRA. During my visits to Columbus every summer, my dad was always trying to find fun activities for us to do. I was a big baseball fan and loved the Cincinnati Reds, so we went to a couple games every year, but in the summer of 72, I must have worn him down, as he announced we would be making a trip to see the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. I was so excited to see all those cars and take a lap around the track in a van seeing the names of the drivers still lettered on the pit wall, that on the way back to Ohio, he told me that we would get tickets for the Indy 500 the following year!
While my parents had been divorced as long as I could remember, I had a great relationship with both of them. My dad, Marc, owned his own wallpaper hanging business and was a jazz drummer for all his life. As a child, I went through all kinds of phases; collecting coins, stamps, fishing, slot cars, model kits, gas powered model airplanes, you name it. I never did anything halfway however, I went all in, and would be obsessed, but after a couple years, would move to the next great thing. I’m sure both my parents were convinced this would just be another passing phase like the rest.
I waited all year for May to come when we would be going to the race and as the day got closer, got more and more excited. Finally, we packed up his 1962 Econoline Van and headed to Indianapolis. Unfortunately, the 1973 Indy 500 was considered the worst in the history of the race, and it just rained and rained. There were no jet dryers, so the method of drying the track was tow trucks driving around lap after lap. Finally, the rain stopped, the track dried, and after driver introductions they got ready to start the race. One of the cars, driven by Rick Muther, failed to start, and finally, urged on by the pleas of the massive crowd, it fired up, and sped up to catch up to the field. It came screaming around the 4th turn where we were sitting and you could have convinced me it was going 200 mph!
The field of 33 came around on the pace lap, all lined up in rows of three, and all I could think was; “This is the greatest thing I have ever seen!” The field took the green for the start and out of our view, there was a major crash in Turn 1 with Salt Walther getting upside down and on fire with about 10 cars involved. Before they could clear the track, the rain resumed and that was it. We came back the following day, which was also rained out, & due to work commitments, my dad had to head back, so that was all I ended up seeing. Well, maybe not entirely, as that night, when we were parked in the A&P parking lot camping, a young lady on top of a van took her top off. Keep in mind I was 14, so twice in the same day, I said “This is the greatest thing I have ever seen!”
I’m not sure if that was when I decided I could really learn to love this sport, but it certainly didn’t hurt. We were able to return the following year for the race which was a classic, and my dad & I looked forward to going for the next several years. I eventually did get to go to MIS in a couple years, and didn’t really know about short track racing for a while longer, but that will be another chapter.