Note from Paul: In 1954, my father, David Dalbey, attended his first Indianapolis 500 with his father and aunt. Several years later, he started recording his experiences in detailed, handwritten journals. He has continued this practice all the way through the current year. Several of the earliest years were written many years later and may contain some errors in information. He was not a wordsmith, but nonetheless, I am pleased to present these journals in their original form without attempt to edit or correct any mistakes.
Memorial Day came on Thursday. I came home from school at 11:30 on Wednesday when morning classes were dismissed. I helped Dad pack our equipment and then we ate dinner. It was about 1:00 when we left. This was the first year we went in our 1953 Oldsmobile, which we bought almost a year before in June 1956. We stopped at Chrisman at about 3:00 for a snack and were there for about 15 minutes. It was a few minutes after 5:00 when we arrived at Indianapolis.
We stayed at Kramer’s, and after we got settled, we took a little walk down by the Speedway and then came back and ate supper. After supper, we sat and talked and watched the people come and go.
About 7:30, we left to see some of the sights. We walked down 16th Street to the southeast end of the Speedway grounds and then came back on the south side of the street. We really saw a lot of people and sights. On our way back, we stopped and watched a public dance at 16th and Main Street. A large section of blacktop had been roped off, and a little combo was playing music for dancing. The Master of Ceremonies, however, was having a hard time getting people to dance. Everybody was watching all the other sights. A few couples did finally dance but not very many. We watched them for a few minutes and went to the drug store across the street. I bought a couple newspapers, and Dad bought a box of Band-aids for my sister, Susan, who had a craze for Band-aids at the time. From the drugstore, we went back to the car.
We got to the car a couple of minutes after 12:00 and read the newspapers and then tried to go to sleep. As usual, we didn’t get much sleep and were awakened at 5:00 by the opening bomb.
At 5:30, we went down to the track and watched the cars as they enter the grounds through Gate 6. We saw several hundred cars and people. About 6:30, we went back to our car and ate breakfast. It was about 8:00 when we left for the Speedway. As soon as we were inside the gate, I bought a souvenir program and then we walked around by the garage area for a few minutes. We got to our seats at 9:00.
This was the only year we didn’t sit in the Tower Terrace seats on the inside of the track, just north of the starting line. Instead, we had box seats in Section C, which was slightly north of the new pit entrance on the outside of the track.
This was the first year the cars lined up as they came out of their pits instead of their usual eleven rows of three each on the track. Elmer George and Eddie Russo were involved in an accident on the pace lap, and for the first time in the history of the race, only 31 cars started the race.
Sam Hanks won and set a new winning average speed record of 135.601 mph. The old record was 130.840 set by Bill Vukovich in 1954. Jim Rathman finished second, and Jimmy Bryant was third. Hanks announced his retirement from auto racing while he was in Victory Lane.
Dad and I left for home about 4:00. A few miles before we got to the Illinois line, Dad decided to speed up a little bit. We were going 65 mph, the limit, and started to pass the car in front of us. As we were passing him, he started to the pass the car in front of him just as we were passing him. Dad saw what was happening and honked in time for the other driver to get back in place. It was really a close call. He didn’t slow down, however, when he finished passing. We kept going faster and faster. Dad said he wanted to see what the car would do. We got up to 100 mph with the accelerator not quite all the way down but had to back off because we were coming to a stop sign.
We stopped at Chrisman for supper and then continued on our way. It was shortly after 8:30 when we arrived home. It had been a wonderful trip from beginning to end.
Pace Car — Mercury
Queen — Cyd Charisse