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Indy Memories Fifty-Seven Years Later

A.J. Foyt at the Speedway in 1961. [photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

A.J. Foyt at the Speedway in 1961. [photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

by Paul Gohde

It was a long bus ride in late May 1961. I had a chance to go with an older Milwaukee high school friend to the Indianapolis 500 a year earlier, but parents being what they were in 1960, allowing a 14-year-old to travel with no adult to keep us safe was immediately vetoed.

But 1961 would be different. I had spent the year begging for another chance. Attending a few races at the State Fair Mile had proved to be no problem, and when my parents found a distant relative of a friend who would put the two of us up (different friend this time) and keep track of our every move, that proved to be the clincher. Tickets were ordered (Tower Terrace behind the pits with a great view of the start) and they arrived in early spring.

We skipped a few days of school and rode a Greyhound bus to Indy; a seven-hour ride with a change in Chicago and stops every half-hour in the era before Interstate highways. Bus rides, taxis and shuttles to the track on race day were new experiences that our wonderful hostess, Mrs. Magenheimer and her daughter helped us arrange.

Race day was a blur of crowds, noise and excitement as we got to our seats, hung out behind the pits and looked for drivers we had seen in the Indianapolis News to which I had subscribed for the Month of May; kind of the website of its day.

Pictures that I took from our seats half-way up in our section were far away and somewhat blurry, but I still have them. And the official program and some post cards were treasures I took home for all to see.

Memories of the day included AJ Foyt’s Indy win and Jack Turner rolling his black Bardahl Spl. roadster down the front stretch, which was still a brick surface for one final time. Other less memorable lowlights were the metal troughs for urinals and toilet stalls without doors at the track; more information than you needed I’m sure.

We slept well that night and took the Greyhound back to Milwaukee the next morning, tired, but looking forward to another race next year.

Three more years of travel to the Speedway, mostly now with friends who had cars, and stays in hotels, cemented my love for the 500.

Came 1965 and another opportunity arose when a friend took a trip out west and came back with a copy of a racing paper called Racing Wheels published in Vancouver, Washington. I was now in college, had a decent camera, and nerve enough to write to editor Gary Sterner, convincing him I could write and photograph the 500 for “Wheels”, highlighting drivers like Len Sutton, Billy Foster and Art Pollard who were from the Pacific northwest. After all, I had seen four 500s.

Gary sent a request to Al Bloemker at the 500 for credentials, and though I was too young to be credentialed then, I was surprised to receive a letter telling me that I had been ok’d for a photographer/writer’s pass to cover the race.

Those early years started a string of covering the race for Racing Wheels, Midwest Racing News and today, Racing Nation.com. Weekly papers like National Speed Sport News are sadly gone as websites and blogs on the internet are the news source of the day.

The 500 this year will be race number 102, speeds are higher than in ’61 when 150 mph was just a dream, and the track has upgraded many of its facilities.

Watch the race on TV Sunday if you’re not attending in person, support the Verizon IndyCar Series when it comes to a track near you, and look forward to new chassis and more powerful engines coming to the revitalized series soon. Best of all, come to Indianapolis soon and see for yourself that magical pull that the 500-mile race will likely have on you, too.

And when your son or daughter shows interest in some activity you might not understand, give them a little room and encouragement to chase their dream. Mine did, and I’m grateful for that each time the green flag drops on another Indianapolis 500. Thanks.

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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.”