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.
The sensational performance of rookie Teo Fabi, the qualification of 33 cars in one day, Tom Sneva’s first race victory after three second-place finishes, and my first trip to the Speedway with one of my children as my only partner were the outstanding attractions of the year for me.
The first of my three weekend trips to the Speedway began at about 9:30 on Friday morning, May 13th, when I left the house in our 1975 Chevrolet Caprice to take Paul to his babysitter, Mrs. Turner. I stopped at the Derby station for a fill-up, and it was 9:53 when I left there.
I drove old Route 36 to Decatur, where I arrived a few minutes before 11:00. It was 12:13 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen at Chrisman to end the first part of my trip.
My dinner was a bar-b-que sandwich with French fries and coffee. It wasn’t a big meal, but it was enough to hold me over until supper. It was 12:37 when I left to begin the second part of my trip.
My yearly trip along Route 36 was pretty as usual, with crops and plants having a fresh, new growth. It was about 2:30 when I arrived at Lynhurst Drive and stopped to fill the fuel tank.
I drove north to 16th Street, east to Georgetown Road, north to 30th Street, and then east to the Speedway entrance.
The traffic along the north-south road was quite heavy and moving slowly. I wanted to park on the museum parking lot as I had done the last couple years, but the Speedway patrolman said the lot was full and was making people park on the infield, which was a mess because of recent rains. This changed my plans to the extent that I had to spend more time getting to the museum than I usually do, but the time factor wasn’t really important.
The museum gift shop was lined wall-to-wall with humanity and, as usual, I had a difficult time finding the right gift for the right person. In addition to this gift shop, I looked through the one just west of the museum, plus the two behind the south end of the Tower Terrace seats.
Between shopping tours, I found some time to watch the activity on the race track. There was activity aplenty on the track and in the pit area, and there was a crowd of several thousand watching the action. When the 6:00 closing gun sounded, I had walked several miles from gift shop to gift shop to pit area and had gifts for Dixie, Mark, and John. I would try to find something for Paul at the Speedway Shopping Center after supper.
The patrolmen directed me to Gate 8. The traffic leaving the Speedway was quite heavy, and when I got out I went south to 25th Street and then west to the shopping center. It was a few minutes after 7:00 when I arrived at the MCL Cafeteria.
The waiting line extended about halfway to the entrance, but it moved rapidly. I had a tasty supper of liver, macaroni, potatoes and gravy, beets, tossed salad and dressing, Pepsi, and water. It was filling as well as tasty, so I decided to walk some of it off by shopping for Paul’s present. I went into a couple stores but finally bought a plastic race car in the J.C. Penney store. It wasn’t what I had in mind, but it was getting late and I was tired of shopping.
Dusk was enveloping the area when I got back to the car and started my trip to the motel. In a couple minutes I was going north on I-465, and about five minutes later, I took the I-65 turnoff to go to Lebanon. About 20-25 minutes later, I arrived at the Holiday Inn and checked in. Since I had already paid for my room, all I had to do was sign the registration paper and go to my room.
It was a corner room and one of the finest I’ve had in my six years of staying here. I checked the room over and then took a brief tour of the motel. The swimming pool and bar were doing a good business, but the restaurant had only a few late customers. The lobby area had been remodeled and was considerably larger and more attractive than it had been previously. I went back to my room, did some reading, and watched the 10:00 news. A large portion of the regular and sports news covered activity at the Speedway, and of course the weather news was important for tomorrow. At 10:30, one of the Indianapolis TV stations had a 30-minute race program with driver Pete Halsmer providing some interesting commentary. Pete was a skillful speaker and this, along with his good knowledge of what was happening at the Speedway, made an interesting program.
After the race program, I did some more reading, and then at about 11:30 I set my alarm clock and retired for the day.
The alarm clock did its job and awakened me between 5:30 and 5:45 for the start of a long day. I tuned in station WIBC on my transistor radio and then got cleaned up before leaving for breakfast. It was a little before 6:30 when I arrived at the restaurant in the motel.
The restaurant had something new this year — buffet breakfast — and I decided to try it. I selected biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and orange juice. It was an excellent and filling meal, and I wouldn’t need to eat for a long time afterwards.
Business increased steadily while I was there, and most of the customers were headed for the same destination that I was. When I could eat no more, I paid my bill and went back to my room.
I brushed my teeth, packed the tote bag, and walked to the car. It was 7:40 when I started my trip to the Speedway.
A minute or so later, I was on the entrance ramp to I-65 when the radio announcer announced that it had just started raining at the Speedway. I almost turned around and returned to the motel, but I decided to continue on and hope for the best. A few minutes later, I ran into the light but steady rain.
The traffic on Crawfordsville and Georgetown Roads was light, so there was almost no problem getting inside the grounds. All the traffic on Georgetown Road was directed through Gate 8, and the Speedway patrolman directed me to a spot a few rows south of where I parked the day before.
I checked to see that I had everything and started my walk to the Tower Terrace area. As I expected, there were no racing cars or personnel in the pit area and only a handful in the seats.
Ironically, the lack of business on the race track causes a boom for the gift shops and concession stands. I decided to join the crowd of shopping to see if maybe I’d missed something yesterday, but my luck was about the same.
There was a large crowd walking around the outside of the garage area. Since the fans couldn’t see the cars and drivers in action on the track, they would have to be content with seeing them waiting for the rain to stop in the garage area.
The rain continued intermittently until early afternoon, but the race track remained wet for a long time after that because the sun didn’t appear and it could be dried only by speedway trucks driving over it.
While I was walking around the garage area, I met Barbara and Malcolm McKean and Don Anderson from Central Baptist Church. We stopped and chatted for several minutes and then continue on our own ways.
I usually visit the first turn “snake pit” area on Friday afternoon, but I didn’t get down there yesterday afternoon, so I decided to go there now. It was really something to see. As usual, it was occupied mostly by young people reveling with their drinking and loud music. With the ground well-soaked by the rain, the young people had managed to turn the area into a quagmire. Some of them were covered with mud but because of their advanced state of intoxication they seemed unaffected by it. Some of the female occupants climbed to the top of the podium and removed all of their clothes, to the great delight of the crowd.
Despite the noisy atmosphere, I was able to hear the P.A. announcer say that USAC officials expected the track to be open for practice in a few minutes if there was no more rain.
I hustled back to my seat and arrived just a few minutes before the big moment. Excitement was running high, and at about 4:15 a huge cheer came from the crowd when it was announced that the track was open for practice.
The first 30-minute practice period was for cars with odd numbers. Each group of cars was given 30 minutes of green light practice time, but there were several yellow caution periods, so much more than 30 minutes was needed on the clock to get in the required amount of green flag time.
The second practice period was for those cars with even numbers. There were only a couple of short caution periods, so the group of cars took only a little more than 30 minutes to finish their practice time.
It was between 5:45 and 6:00 when the second practice period ended. USAC rules say that there will be a 15-minute waiting period between the end of practice and the start of qualifications; therefore, it would be after 6:00 before activity could resume, and since all track activity ends at 6:00, there would be no qualifying time left. It was a big disappointment for the thousands of fans who had waited patiently all day to see their heroes perform, but such is the gamble one takes with the fickle May weather at Indianapolis.
With that announcement, the fans began leaving for their cars. It was a job getting to the car without getting mud on my shoes, but I did it with only a small amount getting on them.
The traffic around me wasn’t moving much, so I waited until about 6:30 before starting the engine. It was 6:35 when I left my parking space and got into the flow of traffic. I was directed out the same way I was the day before. I went to 25th Street and turned right to go to the shopping center. The traffic moved really slowly, and it wasn’t until 7:10 that I arrived at the parking lot in front of the MCL Cafeteria.
The waiting line extended about a third of the way back to the door, but it moved quickly. For supper, I chose beef and noodles, potatoes and gravy, au gratin potatoes, macaroni, cornbread, and Pepsi. The soft seat felt good after sitting on the hard seats at the Speedway. Everything tasted fine, and I took my time eating it. When I finished, I didn’t want to eat anything for a long time.
I didn’t have any shopping to do that night, so I went straight to the car and at 7:55 started my trip to the motel. The traffic was heavy but it moved well, and at 8:25 my trip ended as I pulled into a parking space by my room.
I watched TV for a few minutes and then took a walk to see what was going on in the motel. It was a busy place. A large crowd was using the swimming pool, play equipment, and electronic game area. At the front end of the motel, the bar was doing a good, loud business, and there were a few late diners in the restaurant.
It was 9:00 when I returned to my room. I read some of the magazines and newspapers I had, and at 10:00 I watched the news on TV. The weather and the problems it caused at the Speedway were the main stories. At 10:30, I watched the 30-minute race program with driver Pete Halsman as guest commentator. It was a good program, and I learned several things I hadn’t known. When that program ended, I watched other programs for a few minutes, did some more reading, and then shortly before 12:00 turned off the lights and went to bed.
Sunday started at about 6:30 for me. Before I got out of bed I heard a couple of car doors shut, so I knew I wasn’t the only person awake. I tried to go back to sleep but I guess I had gotten all my sleep in for the night, so I got up and did a little more reading.
I got cleaned up and dressed and at about 7:45 left for the motel restaurant. Most of the customers were race fans and read the morning Indianapolis newspaper while waiting for their breakfasts. I had the breakfast buffet as I did yesterday — biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes, coffee, and orange juice. It was a tasty and filling breakfast and was the choice of several customers.
While I was eating, several more customers were seated, and when I left about 8:45, business was quite good. I walked back to my room, brushed my teeth, read some of the newspaper, and then packed the suitcase. I took everything to the car, rechecked the room to be sure I hadn’t left anything, and then drove to the motel entrance to turn in my key. It was 10:00 when I started my trip home.
There was a light rain falling, which of course prevented any activity from taking place at the Speedway. I drove home the same way I drove coming, but when I reached Dana, the last town in Indiana, I decided to drive into the town and find the home of Ernie Pyle, the famous World War II newspaper reporter. For several years, I had seen the sign on Route 36 advertising his home, and this time I decided I would take a few minutes and see the house. It is located at an intersection with the road coming into town, so it was easy to find. It was not open to tourists until 1:00, so I took a short tour of Dana and then continued on my way home.
A couple of minutes later I crossed the state line, and at 12:03 I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen. I had a small dinner of a grilled cheese sandwich, French fries, and coffee. It refreshed me somewhat, and at 12:29 I started the second part of my trip home.
Everything went smoothly along Route 36, and when I left Decatur I took old Route 36 to Riverton and then Camp Butler Road into Springfield. It was 2:50 when I pulled into my driveway to end my trip. The rain had prevented me from seeing any time trial runs, but it wasn’t the first time and probably won’t be the last, either.
The following weekend was unlike any other I had spent at the Speedway. Two years ago, all five of my family went to the second Saturday of time trials. This year, Mark and I went together, and this was the first time I made a trip to the Speedway with only one of my children. For several days, Mark had been asking me if he could go to the Speedway with me. He couldn’t go the previous weekend because of being in school on Friday. Since all first weekend qualifying was rained out, all qualifying would have to be done during the second weekend. This turned out to be a boon for Mark. I was uncertain whether he was mature enough to enjoy and understand what would happen but decided I would take the chance.
I thought I would have a difficult time getting him out of bed and ready to go by 5:00, but at about 4:15, shortly after I arose, he came upstairs fully dressed and ready to go.
Dixie had made us some sandwiches and bought us some snacks to eat on our way and at the Speedway. After I got myself ready, we loaded our 1978 Chevrolet station wagon, said goodbye to Dixie, and at 5:10 left for what was to be a fine time for both of us.
I left town the usual way, by Sangamon Avenue and Camp Butler Road, then got onto I-72 at the Riverton exit. A few minutes later, I noticed Mark’s eyes were almost closed, so I asked him if he wanted to lie down in the back of the car and go to sleep. He said okay, and in a few minutes, he was asleep.
We arrived at Decatur about 6:00. It was quiet here with only a few cars traveling on Eldorado Street. A few minutes later we were out of town and on the open highway again. It was 6:50 when we stopped at the Dixie Truck Stop on the east side of Tuscola where Route 36 intersects with I-57.
Ever since the restaurant was built a few years ago I had wondered what it was like but never had the occasion to stop because I always stop at Chrisman. This time I decided to make it our rest and eating stop.
For breakfast, Mark had pancakes and milk while I had eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee. The waitress was slow both in taking our order and bringing it, and as a result we didn’t leave until 7:35. The food made both of us feel better and more awake.
During the week, I had decided to take I-57 north to Champaign and then I-74 the rest of the way, thinking we might save some time by driving Interstate highways all the way. Shortly before 10:00, we stopped at Brownsburg and filled the tank, thus leaving us one thing we needn’t worry about.
The traffic on Crawfordsville and Georgetown Roads moved rapidly, and it was 10:20 when we went through Gate 8. Because last weekend was a complete washout, I saved my ticket and used it to get in now, thus saving myself $5. We were directed to a parking area about where I had parked last Saturday, and it was 10:25 when I turned the power off. We had arrived safely.
We hurried to our seats, stopping only for a couple of minutes to use the men’s room. The south section of the Tower Terrace was well-populated, and it took us several minutes and trips up and down aisles until we found two empty seats.
Just a few seconds after we sat down, P.A. announcer Tom Carnegie announced that the track was open for qualifying. The air was filled with applause and cheering as Gary Bettenhausen drove through the pit area and onto the track to become this year’s first driver to make an attempt at qualifying. His first lap was 187+ mph, and his crew waved him off before he finished his run.
Rookie Pat Bedard was next out and became this year’s first qualifier with a 195.941 mph run. Mike Mosley was next and pleased the crowd with an excellent, though not surprising, run of 205.372 mph.
Five more drivers qualified and then, at 11:56, rookie Teo Fabi wheeled his Skoal Bandit onto the track. After a couple warmup laps, he took the green flag and was on his way. Those people around us with stopwatches were shouting when he completed his first lap and a few second later, Tom Carnegie made it official. The speed was 207.273 mph, eliciting a spontaneous roar from the audience. The second lap, a new track record of 208.049 mph, caused an even louder response. The third lap fell slightly to 207.622 mph, and Teo finished his spectacular run with a fourth lap of 206.640 mph. The four-lap average was 207.395, which was about 0.300 mph faster than Rick Mears’ record-breaking run of last year. As he slowed to a stop in front of the photographers’ area, he was greeted with a thunderous, standing ovation for his outstanding run.
Fabi’s record wasn’t threatened the rest of the day, although it was the busiest single day of qualifying in Speedway history. For the first time ever, the entire field of 33 cars qualified on the same day, breaking the previous record of 27.
In the latter part of the afternoon, the rising heat and humidity and several hours of sitting on our hard seats prompted us to change things a little bit. We gathered up our belongings and walked over to the grandstand area. The crowd had lessened considerably, and it felt good to sit in the cool shade for a while.
As the 6:00 closing time approached, the pace of qualifying had slowed and Mark was getting anxious to eat supper and get on with the activity for the evening. It was about 5:45 when we left our seats to return to the car. We left as soon as we got to the car and joined the huge exodus of several hundred cars. As we were waiting to get out, the 6:00 gun sounded, ending the busiest qualifying day in Speedway history.
I was pleasantly surprised to see we could go south on Georgetown Road. I had no trouble getting to 25th Street, but from then on the traffic moved real slowly and it was almost 7:00 when we arrived at the MCL Cafeteria. Although we had eaten a bit of food at the Speedway, we were ready for a big supper. There was plenty of food that both of us liked, and Mark had a dish of two of his favorite foods — strawberries and cottage cheese. When we finished eating we were full and ready to leave for the motel.
We arrived at our motel about 8:15 and checked in. I had made the reservation earlier in the week at Springfield, so all I had to do was sign the registration form and get the key. When I called to make the reservation, I requested the same room I had the previous weekend, but I didn’t know for sure until now if I would get it, but luckily I did. It was a corner room and a little larger than most rooms.
Mark changed his clothes right away in preparation for the biggest enjoyment of the trip for him — swimming. I had brought my swimming trunks but, unlike Mark, I had a hard time adjusting to the cool water and spent most of the time sitting at one of the poolside tables as a spectator. The pool was a busy place, but there were other persons who weren’t swimming and instead spent their time reading a newspaper, magazine, or book, conversing with others, or watching the swimmers.
We left the pool area about 9:45 so that we could change our clothes and be ready to see the 10:00 news. The coverage of activity at the track was good, and at 10:30 we saw a 30-minute program with Pete Halsmer as guest, just as I had done the week before. At 11:00, we turned the TV set off and went to sleep, each of us in his own double bed. Neither of us had any trouble falling asleep.
I was the first one to awaken Sunday morning at about 7:00. While Mark was still sleeping, I dressed and went to the lobby and bought an Indianapolis newspaper. I knew from experience that they would sell out fast, so I decided to get one right away. I went right back to my room and was leaving the swimming pool area when I ran into Mark. He had awakened, dressed, and was coming to see where I was. We went back to our room and looked at the newspaper for a few minutes. By then our stomachs were telling us it was time to eat, so we left for the motel restaurant.
I ate from the buffet line while Mark chose something from the menu. Business was fairly good, and most of the customers were race fans as attested to by their conversation and newspaper reading. When we could eat no more, I paid the bill and we went back to our room.
As usual, there wasn’t much to see on television on Sunday morning, so we glanced at the newspaper for a few minutes and then got ready to leave. We made a double-check of the room to be sure we hadn’t left anything, took our suitcase and tote bag to the car, and then drove to the front desk where I checked out and turned in my key. It was 9:30 when we started our trip home.
I deviated from the usual route home and took Indiana Route 39 south to its intersection with I-74. It was the first time I had gone this way, and it was a pleasant but wet drive. There was a light rain failing from the time we left the motel, and shortly after we got onto I-74 it turned into a downpour. It rained intermittently for the next hour or so and then stopped at about the time we reached the state line. At Danville, we went south and arrived at the Colonial Kitchen about 11:45.
Business was good, and we were lucky to get an empty table. We weren’t really hungry, so we had bar-b-que sandwiches with French fries. It was a refreshing snack, and after using the restroom we felt better and started the second part of our trip home at about 12:15.
The drive from Chrisman to Springfield on Route 36 went smoothly, and it was about 2:30 when we drove into the driveway to end an enjoyable trip for both of us.
It was 12:15 PM on Saturday, May 28th, when I left home in my 1975 Chevrolet to begin my trip to see this year’s race. I stopped at the Derby station on Jefferson Street to fill the gas tank, and it was 12:29 when I left there. I took Sangamon Avenue out of town and then caught old Route 36 at Riverton and stayed on it until it meets the new Route 36 on the west side of Decatur.
It was about 1:45 when I left Decatur, and as I continued east on Route 36 I listened to a program about the story of the singing group The Beach Boys. The narrator was Dick Clark, host of the TV program “American Bandstand.” It was an interesting program of history and music and was quite educational for me.
At 2:46, I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen and stopped for a little break. Most of the dinner crowd was gone, but a few late comers were still eating. My snack of a bar-b-que sandwich, potato chips and coffee tasted good. It was 3:09 when I started on the remainder of my trip.
I turned left and headed north on Route 1. The little towns along the way were busy as usual on Saturday afternoon. Just south of Danville, I took I-74 east to Exit 220, just a few seconds from the state line, and in another minute or so, at 3:47, I arrived at the Ramada Inn Motel.
I had made my reservation several weeks earlier, so all I had to do was sign the registration card. From there I went to my room and checked to see if everything worked okay. Most importantly, I checked the television set to see if I could get Channel 17 in Decatur so that I could watch the telecast of the race the next night.
Everything checked out okay, so I left the TV set on, took off my shoes, and lay down for a few minutes of TV viewing. The set was connected to cable TV this year, so there was a variety of programs to see.
Between 5:00 and 6:00, I got cleaned up and ready to make my usual Saturday night rounds. It was about 5:45 when I left my room and journeyed to my first stop, which was the Famous Recipe Chicken place. I bought a box of chicken for my dinner tomorrow at the Speedway. Then I drove back and stopped at the Derby station and filled the gas tank. With these two important jobs done, I was ready now for the last and most enjoyable one — eating supper. A couple of blocks from the Derby station, I stopped at George’s Buffet.
Business was pretty good, but I had to wait in line for only a few seconds before reaching the service area. For supper, I had lettuce salad, hot rolls, corn, green beans, potatoes, and chicken livers. One of the main attractions of this restaurant for me is the unlimited amount of chicken livers a customer may have. The meal was really good, and after a couple pieces of cake for dessert, I was almost too full to get out of my chair and leave. The $4.75 was lower than what most buffet restaurants charge, and I really ate my share of food.
It was 7:00 when I left the restaurant and drove back to the motel. Business had increased considerably. The car and restaurant were quite busy, as was the front office.
I walked to my room, and when I arrived there I took off my shoes for an evening of relaxation. I turned on the TV set but turned down the sound so I could do some reading. This was a good opportunity to catch up on some of my newspaper and magazine reading.
At 10:00, I watched the news, sports, and weather on one of the Indianapolis stations. The big news, of course, was the running of the big race tomorrow. Part of the newscast showed the revelry occurring on 16th Street and Georgetown Road. As I watched the program, it brought back memories of the many years Dad, Bobby, and I walked these streets the night before the race and saw the same activity.
Also on the newscast were excerpts from the drivers’ meeting and the 500 Festival Parade, which were held in the afternoon.
The weatherman said the chances of rain for the start of the race were slim but would increase during the afternoon.
After the newscast, I put everything I would or might need tomorrow into my tote bag, read for a few minutes, set my alarm clock, made sure the room door was locked and fastened, and shortly after 11:00 I turned off the lights and slowly drifted off to sleep.
The alarm clock did its job at about 4:00. I turned off the alarm, turned on the table lamp, and lay in bed for a couple of minutes in an effort to stay awake. Race Day 1983 had started.
I got up and prepared to face the day by washing, shaving, combing my hair, and getting dressed. Now I was ready for a big breakfast, so I journeyed to the motel restaurant to partake of the buffet breakfast. Last year the restaurant opened at 5:00, but this year it opened at 4:00, in deference I assume to the wishes of race fans who need to get an early start to the day.
There were only a half-dozen or so customers when I arrived, so I had no delay in getting my food. To get me fueled up for the long day ahead of me, I had scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes and syrup, and coffee. Everything tasted fine, and when I finished I went back for seconds on most items, but the helpings were smaller. By now I was full and decided to leave. The $3.25 charge was most reasonable, particularly since I had eaten so much. Business had increased considerably by now, and most of the customers were race fans.
I went back to my room and gave my teeth a good brushing, then put my possessions in the suitcase and was ready to leave. I made a quick final check to be sure I had the two most important items — the tickets and money — and stepped out into the cool morning air again. It took only a few seconds to get to the car, turn the engine on, and leave. It was 5:06 when I left to begin my trip.
About a minute or so later, I crossed the state line. The traffic was already quite heavy, although not necessarily so for race day morning. As I drove, I listen to Indianapolis radio station WIBC. Its entire broadcasting, except for a few brief newscasts, was concerned with activity at the Speedway. This included reviews of the practice and time trial periods, features on the drivers, cars, and other factors involved with the race, plus periodic reports on the traffic situation in the Speedway area. The closer I came to my destination, the heavier the traffic became, and when I reached the I-465 overpass at 6:30 the through traffic came to a stop. From here on the cars moved sporadically, although there were no long delays.
At Lynhurst Drive, I turned into the bank parking area. It was filled, so I drove on a short distance where there were several private areas with available space. I stopped and backed the car into one of them, paid the attendant the $5.00 fee, and turned off the engine. Once again, I had arrived without an accident or car trouble. It was now 7:00.
There were several other cars in the lot, all of whose occupants had already left or were preparing to leave for the Speedway. I put my race ticket and two cameras on top of the other equipment in my tote bag, made sure the doors were locked, and then started my walk to the big attraction.
Crawfordsville Road looked the same as it had every year since I started coming to the race. The eastbound lanes had bumper-to-bumper traffic, while the westbound lanes had pedestrians going east. The closer I came to the Speedway, the more drunks, empty beer cans, and ticket buyers and sellers I saw.
Upon reaching Georgetown Road, I turned right and paid my yearly visit to Rosner’s Drug Store to see if they had anything I might want to buy. There was nothing that appealed to me, so I left and rejoined the mob of people crowding into the main gate of the Speedway. I got a firm grip on my ticket and then blended in with the almost crushing mob going through the turnstiles. It was now 7:40.
A few feet further, I stopped and bought four souvenir racing programs. From there, I walked to the metal gate on the outside of the entrance to turn one. Pedestrian traffic was still permitted across the track, so I, along with several other fans, walked on the track and took some pictures. It gave me a funny feeling to be standing on such a popular piece of asphalt and to realize that in just slightly more than three hours race cars would be going by here at 200 mph. Just as I finished, the guards announced the gate was being closed and everybody had to leave. I had arrived just in time.
I walked across the track and started north to the Tower Terrace area. When I reached the garage area, I turned right and walked along the south side of Gasoline Alley. This was a busy area with mechanics and pit crew members gathering up their equipment and taking it to their pit areas. The mass of humanity both inside and outside the enclosed area was almost elbow-to-elbow. It was necessary for everybody to go this way because the sidewalk was blocked off at the Gasoline Alley entrance to allow room for the race cars to be pushed to the pit area. When I reached the east end and turned to go on the other side, it became quite a job because the recent rains and people walking on the grass had made the area a muddy mess. I was greatly relieved when I finally made it and could go where I wanted to instead of being pushed in one direction.
Because there was a larger area to do it in, it was easier to see the activity in Gasoline Alley on the north side. I gradually moved to the fence and was able to see a couple cars being pushed to the pit area. By now it was about 8:45, so I decided it was time to get to my seat and see what was happening on the track and in the pit area.
The immensity of the crowd again made walking almost elbow-to-elbow behind the north end of the Tower Terrace area but I survived, and at 9:00 I entered the TT area and walked to the fence behind the pit area. Once again, I was struck with awe and tears came to my eyes as I got my first view of the straightaway, the thousands of seats and their occupants, and all the activity in the pit area. It is a spectacular scene, not only for the eyes but the ears as well.
When I arrived at my seat — Section 47, Row J, Seat 5 — it felt good to sit down and rest my feet and legs for a few minutes. There was now less than two hours left on the countdown. The couple sitting on my right is from Flint, Michigan, and has sat next to me for several years. We talked about the weather, time trials, and other activity that had taken place at the Speedway. The couple on my left is from Chilicothe, Ohio, and has been sitting next to me since the years when Bobby and Dad came with me. We talked for a few minutes and then returned to our seats.
Now it was time for my walk behind the pit area from the north end of the Tower Terrace south to the entrance to Gasoline Alley. Pit crews were working on the cars as hundreds of spectators were walking through the pit area. When I reached the south end, I turned around and walked slowly back to my seat.
It was 9:40 when I arrived at my seat, and at 9:45 Tom Carnegie made the announcement for pit crews to push their cars onto the track to their starting positions. This first act of the pre-race ceremonies elicited a loud reply from the crowd. Another cheer went up at about the same time, this one being for the weatherman. Although rain wasn’t predicted for the race, it had been cloudy and overcast all morning. Now the sun broke through the clouds and lessened the chances of rain considerably in everybody’s mind. It made everybody feel better, emotionally as well as physically.
Between 10:00 and 10:30, the parade of TV, music, and sports celebrities toured the track for everybody to see. While this was happening, the pit crews were given instructions at 10:20 that they could run their engines for five minutes. It was a sweet sound and a big hit with the audience.
At 10:30, Chief Steward Tom Binford and a few other USAC officials made their final inspection of the race track and pronounced it ready for use.
A minute or so later, at 10:40, the huge crowd in unison and silence rose as the Purdue University Band played The Star-Spangled Banner.
This was followed at 10:45 by the invocation and a minute or so later by Taps in keeping with the true meaning of Memorial Day — a time to honor those people who had given their lives for our country.
After Taps came the traditional final pre-race song, Back Home Again in Indiana. It was sung by popular star Jim Nabors.
The tension and excitement were at a zenith as the famous command was only moments away. Mary Hulman was introduced to the crowd over the P.A. system and issued the command made so famous by her late husband, Tony: Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
An eruption of sound ensued, caused by the engines coming to life and the reaction from the audience. One member from each pit crew raised on arm to indicate his driver was ready to go, and about a minute later the three pace cars started. The first car, the official pace car, was driven by Duke Nalon. With him were USAC official Bob Cassaday, Speedway President Joe Cloutier, and Buick General Manager Lloyd Reuss. The second car was driven by Tony George with his mother, Mari George, as his passenger. The third car was driven by Don Bailey, and he had three passengers, including U.S. Senator Howard Baker.
Another cheer came from the audience as it was announced that all 33 cars had started and were moving. That was really good news.
As they came out of turn four, the second and third pace cars pulled into the pit area. The field was given a loud applause as the parade lap started.
The next time around, the cars were lined up pretty well as the official pace lap started. The next time around would be the start. Everybody was standing in nervous anticipation as Tom Carnegie did his usual excellent job of keeping everybody informed of exactly where the cars were.
A few seconds later, Duke Nalon came charging through the pit area as all eyes turned to Teo Fabi. He was already ahead of Mosley and Mears, and when Duane Sweeney waved his two green flags, he took off for the turn. The 1983 Indy 500 was under way!
There was some apprehension about a rookie starting on the pole position, but these fears were quickly dispelled as Teo took a commanding lead. He finished his first lap at a speed of 192.275 mph, which was 4.5 mph faster than Rick Mears in second place. The remainder of the top 10 after the first lap was Mosley, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser Jr., Tom Sneva, Roger Mears, Tony Bettenhausen, Al Unser, and Mario Andretti.
Fabi increased his speed to 196 mph after two laps and 197.507 mph after three circuits. The last starting row of Steve Krisiloff, Chet Fillip, and Dennis Firestone was already more than a half lap behind him.
At 10 laps, the first 10 cars were those of Fabi, Rick Mears, Mosley, Rahal, Sneva, Roger Mears, Al Unser Jr., Bettenhausen, Al Unser, and Howdy Holmes. Fabi’s average was 193.262 mph, about 1.7 mph slower than A.J. Foyt’s record of 1982.
As 10 laps became history, both Fillip and Firestone were given the black flag. Both were running at much less than competitive speed. Firestone’s crew changed the right tires and sent him back into the battle, but Fillip’s car remained in the pit. After a discussion with USAC officials, it was decided to withdraw the car from the race. Chet was the slower qualifier, eight mph slower than the next slowest qualifier, and it is almost a sure bet that he would have been bumped if there had been good weather on the last day of qualifying.
Fabi remained #1, though he had slowed his pace slightly. His 20-lap average was 190.546 mph, and he had passed several of the tailenders. Behind him were Rick Mears, Mosley, Rahal, Sneva, Roger Mears, Al Unser, Al Unser Jr., Carter, and Holmes.
Holmes and Scott Brayton made the first pit stops, and they were soon followed by all the others, including Fabi on his 24th lap. During the rash of pit stops, the yellow flag came out for the first time. Rookie Pat Bedard hit the outside wall coming out of turn four. He spun a couple of times, but he kept the car close to the outside wall and wasn’t hit by any other driver. He finally stopped almost straight across from me, got out of the car, and walked across to the pit area.
During all the pit activity, Al Unser had worked up to the lead. Sneva was up to second, ahead of Rahal, Rick Mears, Fabi, Holmes, Geoff Brabham, Mosley, Kevin Cogan, and Chip Ganassi.
Meanwhile, teammates George Snider and A.J. Foyt had been forced out with ignition problems. It had been a rough month for A.J. His father, Tony, had died of cancer on May 21, and now he was out of the race with the worst finish of his 26 years at Indy.
On the 36th lap, the lead changed again as Sneva took over from Al Unser. Al repassed him, but as they crossed the starting line Sneva regained the lead and started increasing it.
At 40 laps, or 100 miles, Sneva’s lead over Unser was two seconds. Rahal was four seconds behind. The rest of the first 10 included Fabi, Rick Mears, Brabham, Holmes, Mosley, Cogan, and Ganassi.
Steve Krisiloff was finished for the day with a broken universal joint after 42 laps, and then Roger Mears brought out the second yellow flag of the day. As he was starting his 44th lap, he spun and crashed into the wall in the first turn, wrecking his Machinist Union car but not injuring himself.
The caution flag brought about the second series of pit stops. Mario Andretti, Gordon Johncock, Tom Sneva, Kevin Cogan, and Dick Simon all had trouble in their pits, but the driver who had the most trouble was Fabi.
Everything seemed to be okay until the fuel starting pouring out of the tank. A nylon O-ring had come loose from the fuel port and allowed the spillage. Water was thrown on the car as a precautionary measure against fire, but the car was out of the race. As the announcement of Teo’s misfortune was made, a huge moan came from the crowd. It was hard to believe he was out of the race.
The green flag reappeared on the 52nd lap. Al Unser led, but when the lap ended, Rahal had overtaken him for the lead. Bobby and Geoff Brabham were moving through traffic well, and at 60 laps the first 10 drivers were Rahal, Sneva, Unser, Brabham, Rick Mears, Holmes, Mosley, Al Unser Jr., Johnny Parsons, and Danny Ongais.
Rahal set a hot pace and remained in the lead, but little by little Sneva was getting closer, and on the 67th lap he passed Bobby in the third turn. Tom led for seven laps and then made a pit stop. This gave the lead back to Rahal but only for one lap.
Unser led the next six laps, but then he pitted and Sneva returned to the lead position.
In the meantime, Don Whittington had retired with electrical problems, and popular Josele Garza was done after 64 laps with an oil leak. A few laps later, Dennis Firestone was out with the same problem.
On lap 82, the yellow flag came out for the third time. Going through the first turn, Johnny Parsons lost control and started for the wall. Mario Andretti was right behind him, and Parsons hit the left side of Mario’s car. Both cars crashed into the wall, but the drivers were uninjured.
The yellow flag remained out through the 90th lap, and when the green flag came out Al Unser was in the lead. He was still leading at 100 laps, 250 miles, and was followed by Rick Mears, Sneva, Brabham, Holmes, Mosley, Rahal, Cogan, Al Unser Jr., and Carter.
On his 104th lap Sneva passed Mears and five laps later passed Unser to take the lead again. Geoff Brabham started in 26th position and on the 110th lap passed Mears to take over third place.
Upon completion of his 110th lap, Rahal pulled into his pit area and was done for the day. A piece of debris somehow had managed to puncture his radiator, thus ending his ride for the day. Bobby had done well all month with a 202+ mph qualifying run, and he had been at or near the front of the field all day. He is a popular driver, and it was a big disappointment for him to have to drop out of competition.
A few laps later, the #25 Interscope car of Danny Ongais was withdrawn when a bad vibration caused him to lose too much speed. Danny’s luck the last three years has been rotten, but at least he wasn’t injured this year.
At 120 laps, 300 miles, Sneva was in first place, 14 seconds ahead of Unser, who in turn was followed by Brabham, Rick Mears, Holmes, Mosley, Cogan, Al Unser Jr., Derek Daly, and Carter. The driver who was getting the most attention now was Brabham. He was closing in on Unser and overtook him on the 124th lap. Geoff did not originally have a ride but was a substitute for John Paul Jr., who earlier in the month had crashed and was injured too much to qualify for the race.
While Brabham was moving up real well, rookie Derek Daly had to leave after 126 laps with engine trouble. His pit area was in front of me, and his pit crew became dejected when they realized the car was irreparable.
On the 136th lap, Al Unser retook second place from Brabham. Geoff may have been having trouble because on the next lap Holmes passed him for third place.
On his 143rd lap, Sneva made a pit stop and in doing so gave the lead back to Unser, who led for three laps before making a pit stop.
Brabham passed Mears for third place, and a few second later Holmes did the same thing to Mears.
When Unser pitted the lead went back to Sneva, and at 150 laps, or three-quarters of the distance, he was followed by Unser, Brabham, Holmes, Rick Mears, Mosley, Cogan, Carter, Brayton, and Al Unser, Jr. Sneva had raised the average speed to over 163 mph, but then on the 156th lap the caution flag came out again. Bill Whittington’s car was finished with gear box failure, and he had stopped on the track, thus necessitating the yellow flag.
This brought on a multitude of pit stops, the most conspicuous of which was that of Brabham. His pit area was just to my left and in full view. Everything went fine until he started leave and he killed his engine. A huge moan rose from the crowd as his pit crew frantically strove to put life back into the engine. About a minute later, the moan turned to applause as the engine finally restarted and Geoff was pushed off to rejoin the field.
At about the same time, Tony Bettenhausen’s car was forced out with a broken half shaft, leaving 17 cars left with a fifth of the race still to be run.
The green flag came out again on the 161st lap. Sneva increased his leading speed to 192 mph. Mosley was running at 193-194 mph, but his usual bad luck soon caught up with him. Going into turn one on his 170th lap, his blue and yellow Kraco Car Stereo car got out of control and crashed into the wall. The car spun several times and just missed being hit by Sneva.
The yellow light was on for four laps. Sneva and Unser both made pit stops. Both stopped for fuel only, but Unser was in for 11 seconds and Sneva for 23 seconds. Unser was now in the lead.
In the meantime, Gordon Johncock had pulled into his pit and was finished after 163 laps with gearbox failure. Unlike last year, Gordon’s car didn’t perform properly all month, and he was never in contention during the race. During his pit stops, his engine died three times and the wings on his car were adjusted three times.
Mike Chandler’s Rattlesnake Racing Team car was done for the day after 153 laps with gearbox trouble, and Dick Simon’s Vermont American finished one position ahead of Chandler with 161 laps, although technically he was still running at the finish of the race.
The caution period ended as Al Unser started his 177th lap. It was also the beginning of the biggest controversy of the race. Al Unser, Jr., running behind Holmes, his dad Al Sr., and Sneva, suddenly jumped ahead of all three of them while the yellow flag was still out. He was immediately assessed a two-lap penalty, but more importantly, he slowed slightly and allowed Al Sr. to pass him. For the next several laps, Al Sr., Al Jr., and Sneva ran together in single file. Al Jr. was given the blue and orange flag, but he didn’t heed it. It quickly became apparent that his objective was to keep Sneva from passing Al Sr. Reaction to this episode was mixed, and I was among those who disapproved of it. I felt he should have been given the black flag and compelled to come in for consultation.
On the 191st lap, Sneva passed both Unsers in the third turn and received a huge ovation from the crowd as he crossed the starting line in first place. If he could stay out of trouble for just nine more laps, he would win it.
Tom started increasing his lead, and at 195 laps he was eight seconds ahead of Al Sr.
At the same time, Mears and Brabham were fighting for third and fourth, while Holmes and Cogan were doing the same thing for fifth and sixth. Scott Brayton and Chip Ganassi were a little further behind and having a spirited battle for eighth and ninth.
Sneva’s lead continued to increase, although his speed decreased slightly. As he started his last lap, he was ahead of Al Unser by 10 seconds. The crowd was standing in loud excitement, and when Tom came out of the fourth turn, down the straightaway, and across the finish line, the crowd released one of the biggest applauses ever given to a race winner. The three-time second-place finisher was now #1.
Al Unser received the checkered flag for second place, 11.1 seconds behind Sneva. Rick Mears finished third and Brabham fourth. The fight between Holmes and Cogan ended with Cogan finishing two seconds ahead of Howdy.
Pancho Carter was seventh and Chip Ganassi took eighth place by one-fifth of a second over Scott Brayton. Al Unser, Jr. was given 10th position.
Sneva made an extra lap after receiving the checkered flag and then the next time around slowly made his way through the pit area to victory lane. He was given a rousing ovation everywhere.
Twelve of the remaining thirteen cars returned to the pits for the last time, while the one exception, Al Unser, Jr., had run out of gas and stalled on the track.
A sudden hush came over the Speedway as all engines were quiet for the first time in more than three hours. While Sneva was engaged in the victory lane ceremonies, the other pit crews gathered up their belongings and took them to their garages while the drivers stretched their legs and arms or sat and relaxed for a few minutes.
A large part of the crowd had started to leave, but many of them, like the McKeans and me, stayed for a while and unwound while we ate a late dinner. The couple on my right was also having a late dinner. My dinner was fried chicken and water, while the McKeans and the other couple ate sandwiches and soft drinks.
It was about 3:00 when we got our equipment gathered up and left our seats to go our separate ways. I walked to the garage area, but there were so many people, both inside and outside the fence, that it was hard to see anything in the garages. I walked around for a while and then decided it was time to get back to the car and on the road.
The scene on Crawfordsville Road was the same as many other years — bumper-to-bumper traffic for several blocks with many of the cars driven by tired, short-tempered, horn-honking drivers. As usual, I made better time walking, and when I reached Lynhurst Drive I was really glad I had parked west of there. The police had Crawfordsville Road blocked and were making all cars go south on Lynhurst. It would have taken a long time to find a way back to the road.
It was 4:15 when I arrived at my car. It was the only car left in the lot, so that made it easy to get out. I rolled the windows down to get some air circulating through it and then sat on the grass for a couple minutes. It was 4:25 when I drove out of the parking lot to start my trip back to the motel.
It took only a few seconds to reach the intersection by the Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson Motels, and after waiting a minute or so, the police directed the traffic on and I was on I-74 going to Danville.
The highway was busy with race fans starting their trips home, but everything went smoothly and it was 5:55 when I crossed the state line. I took the first turnoff in Illinois and stayed on it until I reached George’s Buffet. It was 6:00 when I turned off the engine.
For supper, I had chicken livers, macaroni, corn, potatoes, cornbread, and Pepsi-Cola. It tasted really good, and to finish the meal I had two small pieces of brown cake with chocolate icing. When my stomach could hold no more, I left and drove to the motel.
It was a quiet evening at the motel. There were people in the bar and restaurant, but there were not nearly as many as there were Saturday night. I walked to my room and arrived there a few minutes before 7:00.
It felt good to take off my shoes and sit in a soft chair or lie on the soft bed. I watched a few minutes of Matt Houston plus parts of some other programs until 8:00.
At 8:00, I turned on Channel 17 and watched the same-day telecast of the race. It was interesting to see not only some of the action I couldn’t see but also some of the action on the front straightaway in front of me. I enjoyed watching the program but, as usual, I was annoyed by the large amount of time taken up by commercials. This is necessary because of the large amount of sponsors needed for a three-hour telecast, but it makes for unpleasant viewing.
When the telecast was over, I ran the water in the bathtub and treated myself to a slow, hot, soothing bath. I had gotten quite dirty and suntanned from being outdoors almost all day, and now was my chance to change that. When I got out, I put on my pajamas and read for a few minutes but fatigue caught up with me, and at about 12:00 I turned off the lights, got under the covers, and forgot about the world and all its troubles for a few hours. It had been a long but certainly enjoyable day, and now it was about to become part of history.
My day after the race began about 6:45. It felt good to awaken without an alarm clock and be able to just lie in bed for a few minutes, unlike the morning before.
I turned on the TV set and watched it intermittently while doing some reading. About 8:30, I got cleaned up and dressed and then walked over to the motel restaurant for breakfast.
There were only a few people eating breakfast, so I was waited on quickly and ordered eggs, bacon, toast, coffee, and orange juice. It was a good breakfast, and I left feeling considerably better. I walked back to my room and did the packing while watching TV.
I double-checked my room for anything I may have left behind and then drove over to the front of the motel so I could go in and turn in my key. It was a couple minutes after 10:00 when I left and started on my way home.
I took the turnoff to I-74 west and drove until I came to the Route 150/1 south turnoff. The drive from Danville to Chrisman was much the same as it had been for the past seven years. I started staying in Danville on race weekend in 1976. There was little activity on this holiday morning. A few gasoline stations and grocery stores were the only businesses open. A few people who lived along the highway were cutting grass, and some of the farmers were working in their fields.
It was 11:00 when I arrived at the Colonial Kitchen. Business was rather slow. Several farmers were seated around a couple of tables having their morning coffee, and a few travelers were having a late breakfast. I had a bar-b-que sandwich with potato chips and a cup of coffee. It wasn’t much, but along with what I had for breakfast, it was certainly enough to last me until I arrived home.
When I finished, I used the restroom, paid the bill, and at 11:32 started the last leg of my trip home.
The traffic on Route 36 was light, and about the only activity I noticed was a few farmers in their fields. The annual Memorial Day boat races were going on at Lake Decatur, and traffic in the area was heavy although it moved well. It was about 1:00 when I left Decatur. I took old Route 36 from here to the Camp Butler turnoff by Riverton and then reached Springfield at about 2:00.
I came in on Sangamon Avenue, went south on 5th Street to North Grand, and then west to Bruns Lane. It was 2:15 when I pulled into my driveway to end my trip. I got out of the car and stretched my legs, and then I took my suitcase in the house and put away everything I had in it. My annual trip to the big race was over for another year, and like the other ones before it, it would provide me with many memories for years to come.
The results of the race were made official on Monday morning and showed that Tom Sneva had driven the race in 3:05:03.066, for an average speed of 162.117 mph. This is the closest any driver has come to Mark Donohue’s 1972 record speed of 162.962 mph. I think Tom was the most deserving to win of any driver in the race. He had finished second three times and now finally had moved up to #1. It was chief mechanic George Bignotti’s seventh victory, which is an outstanding accomplishment.
Al Unser drove a fine race in his Hertz Penske and finished second for the third time in his career. He didn’t change tires on his last pit stop and after the race said that this may have cost him the race.
Al’s teammate, Rick Mears in the Pennzoil Penske, finished third and was the last driver to finish 200 laps. Rick’s Penske is usually a model of perfection but this year it wasn’t, and Rick had a tough race to run from start to finish. The car was pushing, and he had to fight all day to keep from losing control and crashing. His crew tried several times to correct the situation but nothing worked.
In my opinion, the greatest driving performance of the day was that of Geoff Brabham, who went from 26th to fourth position. Geoff said he might have finished second if it hadn’t been for his unfortunate 159th lap pit stop. He certainly made an excellent showing of himself.
Sneva’s teammate, Kevin Cogan, drove a fine race and finished fifth. Many people had been suspicious of Kevin’s driving ability since he triggered the four-car crash just before the start of last year’s race, so this may have improved his image with those people.
Another driver who made a fine showing of himself was Howdy Holmes, sixth place finisher. At one time, he was running in third position and finished only two seconds behind Kevin Cogan. His main problem was his health. He had strep throat for three days before the race and couldn’t get rid of it. When he returned to his pit after the race, he was so weak he could hardly get out of his car and had to be helped by his crew.
Pancho Carter finished seventh in his Alex Foods Pinata in his 10th race at the Speedway. It was the sixth time he has finished in the first 10, which is a fine achievement.
Second-year driver Chip Ganassi had the best finish of the Patrick Racing Team when he brought the #60 Sea Ray Wildcat home in eighth place. His teammates, Gordon Johncock and Johnny Rutherford, had a multitude of problems with their cars, so it was a delight to see Chip do really well in his car.
Scott Brayton was another driver who, like Brabham, made a great advancement during the race. He crossed the finish line 0.2 seconds behind Chip Ganassi to take ninth-place honors. He finished 16th as a rookie in 1981, but he wasn’t in last year’s race. He started in 29th position and moved up 20 positions.
Finishing out the top ten was Al Unser, Jr. He and his dad were the first father-son combination ever to race in the 500-mile race, and after their three-way battle with Tom Sneva near the end of the race, he is sure to be remembered by race fans for some time to come. He may have finished higher if he hadn’t passed cars during a caution period and been penalized two laps for doing so.
At the Victory Dinner on Monday, a record purse of $2,411,450 was distributed to the 33 drivers. Of that amount, Tom Sneva and his crew collected $385,886.25, also a new record. The first four finishers all collected more than $100,000.
Tom Sneva and Teo Fabi were the headline drivers this year, but they aren’t the only ones who will be remembered for years to come. Although it would be almost impossible to match the close finish of last year’s race, it was still exciting and interesting from start to finish. I am looking forward to returning next year to witness the running of the Indianapolis 500 — The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Pace Car — Buick Riviera
500 Festival Queen — Sally French