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Thursday, April 25, 2024

Grudges die hard, if at all, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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I love the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its flagship race, the Indy 500.

My oldest daughter and I attend every year. We have great seats on the front stretch, directly across from the pit box of the polesitter at the south end of the pits. We have enjoyed the same seats for 16 years – and I don’t plan on giving them up anytime soon.

Virtually any time we have out-of-town guests, I drive them past the Speedway just so they can witness the sheer size of the place.

I love the many traditions, such as the winner drinking milk in Victory Circle, which dates back to about 1936, and the winner kissing the yard of bricks at the start-finish line, which is a much newer tradition. Honoring military veterans, the military jet fly-over, and singing God Bless America (my good friend Angela Brown did that this year), the National Anthem and Back Home Again in Indiana, always give me goosebumps.

I love the command to start the engines and roar of the cars as they drive by.

Every year, during my first visit to the track, I always look up toward Turn Four on the main straightaway. It’s my way of remembering and honoring my first racing hero, Eddie Sachs. Sachs, a veteran at the track, and rookie Dave MacDonald were involved in a fiery crash in 1964 on the second lap of the race and it tragically claimed both their lives.

To this day, I never look at videos of that crash. While death at the race was not unheard of back then, happily, in the 60 races since then, no other driver has died on Race Day.

I noticed this year that the Speedway Museum has an exhibit called Second. It chronicles the lives and careers of 43 drivers who came close to winning the 500, and the accolades that come with winning, but who fell short. All the bad luck, the mechanical failures, the heartbreak and the controversies – all on display.

And in considering second-place finishers, I discovered a fairly substantial grudge I have on behalf of a second-place finisher against the driver who beat him. And until this past weekend, I never considered the seriousness or depth of my grudge, which dates back decades.

But it is there.

There are 43 stories, though it only involves drivers who never won. Michael Andretti (1991) and his son, Marco (2006), never won, though both came close. But Mario Andretti isn’t on the list because, while he finished second in 1981 and 1985, he won in 1969.

Plus there a list of three dozen drivers who finished second but who also have won – names like Louis Meyer, Wilbur Shaw and Mauri Rose who finished second multiple times from the late 1920s and the late 1940s, but each also won three times.

More recently, Scott Dixon, the 2008 winner, has also finished second three times. And there’s Helio Castroneves, a four-time winner, who also finished second three times.
But that brings me back to my grudge.

The first race I remember listening fully was in 1961. We had a cookout in the backyard of my maternal grandparent’s house and the race was on the radio. Sachs, who was often called the Clown Prince of Auto Racing, was the polesitter in1960 and 1961.

Sachs was leading with only a handful of laps remaining in ’61 but decided to pit because he was worried about whether one of his tires would last the distance. In doing the tire change, he relinquished the lead and another driver won.

The winning driver was A.J. Foyt. Yes, that A.J. Foyt.

Foyt, who is now 88 years old and who has had health issues, is a true legend in motorsports, and I certainly respect that.

As a driver, he won virtually every type of race he entered. He is a four-time Indy 500 winner as a driver and has also won the race as a car owner. He came close to winning as a car owner this week with driver Santino Ferrucci, who finished a strong third.

And as much as I loved Sachs, if he had lived, it is unlikely he would have enjoyed a career nearly as great as Foyt.

But out of loyalty to my hero, Eddie Sachs, I have never rooted for A.J. Foyt.
Apparently, I hold a grudge for a long time.

Michael Dabney is an avid racing fan, and is also the Newsroom Manager at the Indianapolis Recorder. He can be reached at michaeld@indyrecorder.com

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