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Fourth Turn: “Rainy Day Thoughts”

People scurry as rain hits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, washing out Saturday's scheduled qualifying. [Russ Lake Photo]

 People scurry as rain hits the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, washing out Saturday’s scheduled qualifying.  [Russ Lake Photo]

 

Walking into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this morning from the media parking lot, conversation turned to the obvious: the first day of qualifying isn’t the electric, exciting, “WOW” event that it once was.

With a few thousand die-hard fans milling around the grounds on a dark and often rainy day, the mind wanders to days past when the qualifying exercise ran for two weekends and the crowds, especially for Pole Day, were often enormous.

Enormous? Time Trial crowds, enormous?

Once considered the second-largest attendance in American sports, just behind race day, Pole Day Saturdays often filled most of the grandstands at IMS.

Try telling that to modern race fans and you might as well have told them that AJ Foyt was going to get back in the cockpit for 2016’s 100th 500. It might be that hard to believe.

So how do we get from that, to the less than relevant day or two that qualifying seems to have become?

TV coverage may have something to do with it since racing has become highly visible and easy to find on many of the hundreds of cable and satellite channels. Why attend if you can watch for free in front of your 50+-inch high definition screen in the comfort of your living room?

Today’s Millennial generation doesn’t embrace much that’s related to automobiles whether it’s owning a car, driving one or watching them race.

Asking people to sit and watch practice and time-trials for 10 hours doesn’t seem to fit into the short attention span, “entertain me now but don’t let the ball game go for more than three hours” mentality that permeates society today.

Then there’s $20 to get in the grounds, family schedules that are so busy that they preclude a long day at the track, etc., etc., and you might begin to understand why we have so many empty seats on what was once an important $5 ticket, family day at the track.

Arie Luyendyk set the most recent track speed record (236.986 mph) back in 1996. Long time track announcer (1946-2006) Tom Carnegie’s famous “it’s a new track RECORD” call hasn’t been made or needed in 20 years. Tom passed away in 2011 and never got to voice it again.

Speed records don’t come along as often as they once did and the excitement of Parnelli Jones breaking the seemingly invincible 150mph barrier (150.370 mph) to capture the pole in 1962 may never again come along.

Interests change, times change and sports change. Spending two days at IMS to determine the starting line-up may be too much time invested today.

Rain washed out qualifying Saturday; they’ll likely get it done in one day tomorrow. I miss the “run for the pole” the way it once was. Probably a sign of getting older. But perhaps the weather is trying to tell us something.

 

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”