Fourth Turn – Used To Be

The start of the 1965 Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

One common thread in most conversations that take place here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as we celebrate the 100th 500 this month center on how things “used to be.”

What used to be was an entire MONTH of MAY.

Even in the 1960’s single-car entries were often driven cross-country on open trailers from shops in California, Washington and Texas; often taking days to finish the trip with just a few crew members stuffed in the back seat of the tow vehicle.

Cars sometime didn’t get to the track until late in the first week and took part of the next week to get track-worthy.

60 or 70 cars were common on the entry sheets with such a variety of chassis and engine combinations that much of the track time was used to sort out the set-up and car-hopping among drivers was common to find just the right parring of car and driver.

On May1 I often sat in my Milwaukee high school classroom back in the 1960’s and when the clock struck 10:00 I could almost hear the sound of the Offy’s and NOVI’s starting up at the Speedway, hopping to be the first on the track; a highly coveted honor back then.

But with too many cars, all of them as a matter of fact, coming from the same Dallara factory today, with many common components under their skin, the only major difference in the cars is the motor; Honda vs. Chevrolet. One attempt at differentiating manufactures, expensive aero kits, seems about to go away if the owners have their way.

The 2.5-mile almost flat oval here at Indianapolis is unique to the series, but easier for drivers to more quickly become familiar with, given today’s nearly spec regulations. The road course, mostly a vestige of the failed attempt to find a permanent home for the Formula One US Grand Prix, is the real gem of the facility. Used for the Angie’s List Grand Prix now three-years along, it’s a welcome addition to the month’s schedule and helps stretch out the month of May to nearer a full month of May.

“(The road course) I think fills in really nicely”, noted Penske Racing Chevrolet driver Will Power. “Obviously we have body kits now but it’s still a very spec series. You don’t need that much time on the oval anymore. You can just drive round and round and round.

“Obviously it was a month long back in the day because people were bringing out new cars every year. You really had to spend a lot of time sorting it out.

“I think it’s, yeah, a great addition. You’ve got to think that Indy Car is about versatility. You’ve got both disciplines here, road course and oval. If you could win both, that would be such a great achievement you could now boast both wins.”

Are you listening Indy Car? A two-race champion could be crowned for ALMOST the month of May.

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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.”