back in the late 60's i was a student at a tech school in Indianapolis.

during the month of May i spent every free moment at the speedway. one of the earliest day's at school some of us students were sitting around discussing some small trivia question about racing and no one had the answer. i said 'hey wait, lets call that guy that knows everything about the 500'... so i did. Donald Davidson answered the phone, i asked him my question (what year did Spider Webb race or something) and he not only told me the answer, but the car he drove, the number, the lap he went out on and why!! wow... well he was only 24 or 25 at the time, and was impressed with my question and invited me to have lunch with him.

to make a long story short, we did have lunch, and became friends. to where i was having dinner one nite at his home with he and his wife, and he got a phone call to report to duty when Martin Luther King was killed.(Donald was in the national guard reserve). To this day when i call with some off the wall question he still recognizes my voice and says' BRUCE!! before answering the question, even when he's on his radio show :)
while at Indy as a student, we schooled 1/2 day and had a job the other 1/2. my job was at a Consulting Engineer firm in downtown Indy, 9th floor of the Roosevelt building. i parked several blocks away, and would walk in. one afternoon i was pretty much alone when i reached the corner to wait for the traffic light to change i was aware (a rarity in itself) that there was someone standing next to me, also waiting for the light.

i looked up and then did a quick double take as i thought the gentleman looked familar... and it was! DENY HULME... so here i am, 18 years old, on a street corner, in 1967, and there next to me - all to myself was this racer.
keep in mind my favorite driver was Dan Gurney, and Hulme was driving for him... i knew Deny was also an F1 racer...and the 500 was only a week away...and and and... AND I COULDN'T THINK OF ANYTHING TO SAY!! i
had him to myself, no reporters, no waiting in line for an autograph, up close and personal i think if i had 1/2 a brain i could have asked him the most secret technical question about the car, the track, tactics to be employed or something about racing at the nurburgring.. but nothing.. all i could hear was the sound of the empty air, and he looks over at me and i finally blurt out 'good luck in the race Mr Hulme'.... he smiles and says "Thanks mate!".. the light changes and
we cross the street.. but the kicker is i don't remember anything after that. i don't remember crossing the street or if he vanished in thin air!

dumb kid~

my advice? have a question in mind should you ever have the rare chance to find yourself alone with one of these guys, to at least start a conversation. i'm sure the rest of conversation will flow, but its the initial ice breaker that will forever haunt you if you don't. again the briefest of story, but the emotion of it remains as clear and fresh as if it were yesterday.

this time its 1968.. early May.. very relaxed atmosphere. in those days, you could walk between the pit gate, and the garages (that space is called 'gasoline alley') and often catch a driver in his street clothes and not surrounded by people wanting an autograph or interview. Sometimes they'd be in driving uniform, or their way to the car or back from a run.

today it was Mike Spence, walking alone, and when i called him out, he seemed pleasantly surprised to be recognized. i told him i followed F1, and we had a nice chat standing in the sun, about traveling, being away from home, the 'thrill' of racing, and the significance of Indy to people of the US as compared to the Euros' and it being 'just another race' (except for the last place guy in the 500 getting more prize money than any winner of and Grand Prix race!) - i dont recall the last thing we talked about, but it was cool. he was in his early 30's i was 20, maybe it was the moment, maybe because the day was so perfect. the sun was out, it was only practice... what ever, but one of his crewmen came over and said 'hey Mike, car's ready, lets do some laps'. Mike looked back at me, we shook hands, he said 'thanks' i wished him good luck and said i needed to get to work. we parted.

it took about 15 minutes to walk to my car parked in the infield, but you can hear the cars on track from about anywhere in the infield,  especially if there is more than one on track. i felt good. a glow from the conversation with a real driver, the sun warm on my shoulders.

i was driving out of the track on my way downtown to work listening to the radio that broadcasted from the track, all day, live, when they announced that Mike Spence had just crashed.

then before i got to work the second announcement came that the news was not good, that Mike had been killed. i was numb. was i one of the last to talk with him? how strange a feeling, to see his smile, know i just shook hands with the man, and 1/2 hour (at the most) later he was dead...
i had just missed Graham Hill walking from gasoline alley into the garage area, but he was still close enough to call out to him, but he was behind the fence that separates the 'throng' from the mechanics & drivers, allowing them some privacy and quiet.
dressed in slacks and pale blue polo shirt, Graham was carrying 4 (or 6? i'll have to check my photo) cans of motor oil (yes he wasn't' just a pretty face). he had the cans stacked, 2 cans in each hand and was walking them to his garage when i called him. he stopped when i requested a photo, but said 'hold on' and then proceeded to turn his arms, and place the cans behind him so they would tarnish the picture i guess. there he stood while i snapped my instamatic, capturing the moment and the memory of the exchange.
AJ Foyt, the bad boy, tough guy, outspoken, in your face, tell it like he sea's it of USAC (governing body of racing before CART) well he comes out of the garage area, and is moving at a good pace, hoping to duck and avoid any interruption to his destination. as he skirted by the crowd facing the 'alley' and focused on whoever was passing thru,
he was almost behind the crowd when i intercepted him :)

"can i get a quick picture AJ?"... he stops! now here's the amazing part (remember i was speechless a year before with Hulme) as an amateur photographer (i thought pretty highly of my talent) :P i recalled reading somewhere to have your 'subject' face the sun and have it at your (camera) back to avoid glare. so i then asked (and to this day remember the earth tremble when i did) asked AJ to turn 180 degrees so i could rotate and get a better picture! HE DID!! the
picture was snapped and off he went~ i think he snorted when i said 'thanks' :D
Jim Hurtubise was THE crowd favorite. rookie of the year when he first raced in 1960, later badly burned when he crashed in another race. his hands wouldn't take the skin skin graphs and the doctors told him he'd have to have his 'fingers' set with rods in one position for the rest of his life as they would otherwise continue to break the skin and
he'd never heal. so he tells them like this and holds his hands in front of him, each in the shape of a letter "C" when they asked why, as it would be difficult to do some simple tasks (like opening a door) in that configuration he replied 'so i can grip a steering wheel.

well when i got my chance to step up and get his autograph i witnessed him signing my paper placing the pen between the first two fingers, looking more like charred sticks and moving his entire hand to sign, then remove the pen with the other hand to return it to me.

if you ever get the chance read his story.
autographs? yeap... i got my share. but being close to these 'men' was often enough. there is something about them that charges the air with greatness and purpose. it can be sensed.

who?
Jim Clark
Jackie Stewart
Jack Brabham
Deny Hulme
Colin Chapman
Dan Gurney (story later)
Jochen Rindt (story later)
Lucien Bianchi (!) fellow Belgian :)
Graham Hill
Chris Amon (!) and
Bruce McLaren
to name a few~
 
1967 of all years :D i was 19 years old and racing had been my passion since 1957 when Sam Hanks won the 500.. wow.. 500 miles. as a 9yr old kid i didn't know what 500 miles was, but it sounded like a long race! a race! not just
a drive. i don't recall what i imagined, but i know it was a couple years later that i learned there was more than just 1 race. an entire season of races and i was hooked.


it wasn't till 67 tho that i got my first look at the place, and my first reaction was how narrow 50 feet looked with no cars on it. but i vowed to someday race on this track and never realized it would be through a sim that i would :)

that year i was in school and didn't buy a ticket. i usually went home on the weekends to see my girlfriend. the drive was about 3-1/2 hours. and instead of driving back late sunday nite, i'd stay home, get up early monday and drive to Indy, hang a left at Keystone and go straight to school.

well in 67, the race was held on Sunday, but after 18 laps was red flagged due to rain. postponed till monday. As i drove to Indy i tuned into WIBC to listen to live trackside reports. there was a lot of confusion and a lot of people that had been there Sunday needed to leave to be back at their own jobs on monday. as i approached the Keystone turnoff they announced that my school was CLOSED!! so instead of left i went straight to the track :) (this was before the 465 by-pass so i had toward downtown and hang a right at 16th street. As bought my $5 infield pass and was about to drive into the track (under the track thru the tunnel) i hear that the call that cancelled my school was a prank! well its too late to worry about that (i had spent $5 bucks already!) today that same ticket cost $20 i think. 
anyway, i was there, my first race and i wandered about the huge infield looking for a place to watch from. everything was soggy, muddy and dirty. trash was everywhere. cars were few and the attendance way down. it was more like a practice day than race day!

as for the race, your first, there is nothing like it. i couldn't see much, but the sounds and atmosphere made up for it. finally with about 20 laps remaining, i worked up enough courage to approach the tower terrace (grandstand along the main straight) there are Speedway security guards at every entry point, but i walked up to the first one and said 'its my first race, could i just go up to the grandstand and have a look and come back?" and this guy (i wonder where he is today?)
says 'sure- not many people came back the race is almost over, go ahead'.. i was in! from my seat i could barely make out turn 4, pit entry was just to my right, and the first pits were down in front of me. this was the year of the turbine. Parnelli at the wheel and that machine was detested by most of the fans. (if you ever get a chance to hear a straight v8 coyote-ford with twin exhaust pipes, compared to a vacuum cleaner on steroids you'll understand) anyway, the tires on pavement made a louder noise and it was far and away the fastest, best handling car on the track... i think people boo'd it every time it came by. we were all pretty much accepting the fact that it was a done deal when suddenly the track announcer say's

"PARNELLI IS SLOWING IN TURN 3!!" the crowd ROARED! the paint scheme of the STP Turbine was stunning fluorescent day-glo orange made it appear as if a spotlight was on
it, where the others were driving at nite, and here it came- a dot of orange out of turn 4 just barely rolling.. the crowd ROAR was even louder when it passed me... who was in the lead??!! AJ!! its FOYT!!  and sure enough ol' Tex and that #14 had p1 and i thought i was surrounded by the state of Texas the way they cheered!... 4 laps to go... and then on the last lap looking toward t4 expecting to see the winner coming, i instead see something i cant comprehend... wha - ITS
A CAR SIDEWAYS! coming out of 4 he has spun sideways...and is broadside to the track, its surreal - slow motion, and then just like on TV every thing starts speeding up, cars are bouncing spinning sliding, a tire goes rolling by, a car makes contact with the outer wall, and the flash from the magnesium wheel catches my eye, debris everywhere...pieces of cars, tires.. (and this is before carbon fiber shreds) you become aware of the announcer screaming - where's FOYT?
where's AJ? was he involved? will he make it? all heads are scanning T4, the debris, the wounded cars scattered all over the straight and then.. here he comes! out of 4, about 30 miles per hour.. weaving his way through and around the disabled cars and drivers standing up or on or next to their cars, and AJ is waving to the crowd as he takes the checker!

i was completely blown away... how can this ever in my life be topped (that question would be answered about 10 years later when i met the woman of my dreams) - but at the moment of AJ Foyt winning that race, the rest is gone. i dont remember leaving my seat, how i got to my car.. or the rest of the day. its as if the film stopped.

i dislike Tony George for what he's done to the tradition of the INDY 500 , his ego has spoiled what was once the 'greatest spectacle in racing'. but my memories of the past, and the new race fans will never know the difference, and eventually the 500 will have a whole new support base. but 1967 for me will never be surpassed.

its why GPL, 1967 is so near and dear. when i launch it, I'm 19 years old again, and racing with many people i only admired and revered then.
in those day's no INDY car had on board starters, but the F1 cars did.  Jochen was to be driving a brabham/repco if memory serves. the restrictions at indy are very tight, and all drivers (then) were well indoctrinated unless they preferred a stiff fine. one of the 'rules' was cars were pushed between the garages and the pits , and not to be under their own power unless in either of the two 'safe' areas.

i was in the main grandstand on this practice day, just to the right of the space that the cars were pushed to go into to the pit area. a few cars were already on track, so the sounds were BA-rauwwwwwwww past the main stands, or the distant waaaaaaaaaa that you heard, knew and could tell where the cars were on track.

in between the noise was a quiet space. when like breathing, the exhale of quiet allowed a moment of conversation to some one nearby. you could almost time a subject matter, because of the spacing of the cars, you knew you had about 30 seconds before they'd roar by again.. when suddenly BA-RAmMMMM BRAAMM-BRAMMM exploded to our left!!! what the ...?! brauwwwww BRawAAA BRAWNnnn and there he was, Jochen had started his car, while being pushed, in the gasoline alley approach to the pits! it was GLORIOUS! the sound reverb in that concrete walled space between the north and south grandstand had probably never heard such a fantastic RIP of engineering. Jochen pulled it out on the pit lane, and promptly tooled out, straight on to the racing surface, hardly pausing for instruction. it was so against all the rules and tradition and anticipation of what we had all become so accustom to - terrifically exciting and never to matched again.

i heard later he was fined $5000 for that infraction :)
again, at that time a tidy sum
 
dan gurney~
same back area (can you tell where i hung out the most?)

photo of Mr.Gurney and a kid, at Indy.. May-'67 the story behind the photo to follow.

back in the day, the area behind the front straight grandstand and the garages, is where you could catch the drivers if you were quick enough, or in this case... Dan comes walking by and i ask if i can get a picture. "SURE!" he says with a big smile. and then extends his hand and asks for my camera! What? (i'm thinking, man i've got pic's from all day in this thing) but its DAN! so i hand my Instamatic over to him~
Then he turns and to some random passer-by and - handing the guy my camera Dan says "take our picture" ~ he comes back to me, and again extends his hand - i'm a kid, it takes a minute to have the gesture sink in, he wants to shake hands! oh my god.... i clasp his hand (his hand is Huge) and 'snap' the pic is taken. this guy completely orchestrated the entire moment


later i sent an enlarged copy of it to him and he autographed it.

and tho there are more stories (meeting Gil de Feran in the parking lot) they are mostly later events. i wanted to share the ones that relate more to GPL and a time that IMPRESSIONS were firmly emplaced in my brain.