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Gaining Momentum

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

The Indy 500 seems to be gaining some momentum lately. That thought may sound silly given that the race has been around since 1911. You’d think that after 102 races they’d better have it going in the right direction. Let’s look.

For many years after World War II the nation was hungry for any kind of good entertainment. The 500 was an All-American institution that the country loved before the war, and when Tony Hulman saved the track and the race, fans beat down the doors when it started up again in 1946.

The 1950s through the 1990s were strong years for the Speedway and its race. But the split of open wheel racing had begun to take its toll and interest slowly began to wane.

But with the 100th race celebration on the horizon in 2016, a strong effort by track management planted an idea in race fans minds that this would be something special and just maybe they should be a part of it.

Conscious efforts were made to make personal contact with ticket holders both past and present. The Month of May had been shrunk to three weeks but with the birth of the Indy Grand Prix, fans were given a new race with a road course spin to it. Concerts were booked for 500 race weekend to bring a new demographic into the track, even if most of the concert-goers never saw a wheel turn on the track.

Grandstands were redone on the front stretch and the facility was spruced up a bit. Management seemed to care about what it had to offer, and the IndyCar people began to see a more positive attitude growing among race fans old and new.

The celebration of the 100th race came with the largest crowd in recent memory. Everyone wanted to be a part of history. Even General Admission ticket sales were halted as space for fans became an issue. A good problem any promoter will tell you.

Formula One star Fernando Alonzo turned his back on the Monaco Grand Prix in 2017 and spent the month in Indy. He became the darling of the fans as millions world-wide watched as Alonzo took his rookie test. The words Indy 500 had once again spread around the world.

The 2018 running is just a few hours old as I write this; it’s fresh in my mind. Danica wound up her career today but seemed sad that it wasn’t more successful. The race itself offered strong competition albeit too many cautions that broke its momentum. It was hot, but it didn’t rain. A good guy won and there were 31 lead changes. Drivers came from the back row to finish in the top 10 and the race was a relatively safe one.

So, what about the future? There were enough entries to force “bumping” to be needed during qualifying; something not seen in years. The new aero package may need some work, but the final 50 laps saw more wild passing that drew gasps. New chassis and engine rules are in the offing and perhaps a third engine supplier may come soon.

The track told the exiting fans that they had until June 17 to renew their tickets for next year’s race, Alonzo may be back and perhaps McLaren with hm. Entries could be up and with them more interest in qualifying. A new Tv package with NBC should also bring the race into more living rooms.

Interest in motorsports has been weak of late. Even NASCAR is struggling. But a case can now be made that the Indy 500 seems to be heading in the right direction. See you next May and join in the fun.

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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.”