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 was on Saturday. Dad got off work at 11:30 Friday morning. I started getting our equipment ready that afternoon. Susan was in a play at school that afternoon. The play was from 2:00 to 3:00, and when it was over, Dad came home and the two of us finished getting everything ready and then put the equipment in the car. At 4:04, with me driving and Dad sitting on the other side of the seat, we started our trip.
We went up to North Grand, over to 5th Street, out 5th Street to Sangamon Avenue, turned right, and were on our way out of Springfield. This was the first year we traveled on the new section of Route 36, which bypasses Riverton. We arrived at Decatur at a bad time — a couple minutes before 5:00 on a Friday afternoon. The traffic was heavy all the way through the city. To make the situation worse, Eldorado Street, which carries Route 36 through the city, was being torn up for several blocks. It was one way in places, and we could only move when the policeman directed us to do so.
We reached Chrisman about 6:15 and stopped for supper. We were there about half an hour, and the food tasted good. We crossed the Indiana line about 7:00, and then shortly before we reached Indianapolis we almost had a wreck. Up ahead of us, a car was stalled on the highway. One man was shoving it off the road and another man was waving a white flag, which wasn’t too easy to see. Dad saw what was happening and yelled at me. I immediately put the brakes on and we just missed hitting the car by a short distance.
At the Lynhurst intersection, we stopped at the Standard Station and had the gas tank filled and the windows and lights cleaned. We arrived at Kramer’s at 9:05. It had taken us longer to make the trip this year than in any other year. Our total time was five hours and one minute. This was due mainly to two factors — the bottleneck in Decatur and stopping for a full meal instead of a snack.
After we arrived at Kramer’s, we paid our $1.00 parking ticket and then went walking down by the Speedway to see some of the sights. This was a banner year. At Georgetown Road and 16th Street, the main entrance to the Speedway, a car’s engine was on fire. After a couple of minutes, a policeman put the fire out with a CO2 extinguisher. Further down 16th Street, a side attraction was drawing a large audience. Dad and I decided to investigate. We found several men playing a dice game, and it was really drawing people. After a couple of minutes, a siren could be heard coming closer and closer. Everybody immediately scattered in every direction. The players disappeared very quickly. The police talked to a few persons but, of course, nobody knew anything. When the policeman left, everybody really got a laugh out of what had happened.
We walked a little farther and then crossed over to the south side of the street. It took several minutes to cross the street. The traffic was bumper to bumper for several blocks. We saw a variety of sights on the other side of the street, too. We stopped in the drugstore and bought a couple newspapers and then went back to the car. Ever since we had stopped for gas, it had been raining. It wasn’t a heavy rain but a light, steady rain — just enough to get you wet and make you wonder about the race tomorrow.
For some reason, I was unusually sleepy, so I lay down in the front seat and went to sleep immediately. Dad said I was really out for the count. My sleep lasted for one hour and 50 minutes. All of a sudden, at 1:50, I woke up. I lay there staring at the ceiling of the car and hearing a noise, which sounded like somebody making a steady, loud beat on a drum. I sat up and looked back at Dad, whose eyes were hardly open and whose hair was disheveled. He said some nut out in the middle of the street was beating on some barrels with a couple of sticks. I looked around and saw what he was talking about. By this time, the nut had awakened almost everybody around us, and some of them were quite unhappy. One man decided he had had enough and went out and threatened to work the nut over. He grabbed the sticks from the troublemaker, who then ran away in haste and was not heard from the rest of the night. Mrs. Kramer had called the police, but by the time they arrived, everything was quiet. However, I couldn’t go back to sleep so for three hours. I just watched the people and listened to the noise in the neighborhood.
At 5:00, the opening bomb awakened Dad. We sat around and talked for a few minutes and listened to the portable radio we had brought with us. About the only item on the news locally was the 500-mile race.
At 5:30, we went down to Gate 6 and watched the cars go into the infield. For a while, it seemed as if the cars would never stop coming. We saw hundreds of makes and models of cars and human beings, too.
We went back to our car about 6:30. We had something new for breakfast this year. The night before, Mr. Kramer told us he and his wife were serving breakfast in the morning and that we were welcome to eat all we could for $1.00. Dad told him we would talk it over. We decided it sounded like a good deal and decided we’d go along with it. We ate in the dining room. I had two eggs, two pieces of bacon, two large glasses of milk and four pieces of toast. Dad had the same except that he drank coffee. It was the first decent breakfast in the six years we’ve been coming to see the race.
We left for the track at 8:00, and as soon as we got inside the gate, I bought a souvenir program and then we walked to the infield.
Dad asked me if I would like to see the backstretch of the track, so we did. We crossed the road dividing the Speedway infield in half and also walked over some of the nine-hole golf course. We arrived a short distance north of the southeast turn. We viewed the scenery for a few minutes and then went to our seats.
It was now 9:30. The biggest crowd ever was in attendance, approximately 200,000 people. The Speedway went back to the old way of starting the cars this year — that is, lining the cars up in eleven rows of three cars each. There were two pace laps, and the race got off to one of its best starts in history.
Roger Ward won the race with a new record speed of 135.857 mph. Jim Rathman finished second, and Johnny Thompson was third. Speed records were set for almost every lap.
After the race, we went back to the car and rested for a few minutes. We took off our shoes, lay down for a while, and had a little bit to eat. We left for home about 4:00 and stopped at Chrisman shortly after 6:00 and had a good, hot supper. As usual, it really tasted good.
We ran into intermittent rain all the way to Decatur. The worst rain was at Tuscola. We had to drive through several inches of water, and at the same time it was coming down so hard that we almost had to stop. From Decatur to Springfield, the skies were clearer. It was about 8:45 when we arrived home. Another safe and enjoyable trip was over.
Pace Car — Buick
Queen — Erin O’Brien