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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Volume 9: Sign Here, Please

Today’s question: It seems every fan enjoys getting an athlete’s autograph. Did you get one before working in this sport? If so, whose was it?

Curt Cavin: I didn’t grow up with access to famous athletes, so the only two autographs I remember getting were legendary basketball shooter Rick Mount after he retired and Indiana University basketball coach Bob Knight (whom I later covered as an Indianapolis Star reporter). In racing, I can only remember getting two, and it’s an odd pairing on that white Chevrolet hat: Rick Mears and Steve Chassey. Later, I was given a third autograph: Bobby Unser signed one of Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famous green chairs after my seat-counting story in 2004. Today, that chair occupies a prominent place in my IMS office.

Zach Horrall: Growing up a racing fan, I certainly had many opportunities to snag some autographs. The first one I remember getting was from NASCAR veteran-turned-NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. He was still driving the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and was taking part in an autograph session during Brickyard weekend. However, I was not in the autograph line. I was simply watching from the side, but Burton noticed 7-year-old me and had a Yellow Shirt deliver a signed hat to me – forever cementing his “good guy” status in my book. My first INDYCAR autograph came a few years later from someone who is making her return this year to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge – Simona De Silvestro. It was qualifying weekend, and De Silvestro had just experienced a fiery crash days before and rebounded to convincingly qualify for the Indy 500. Even with bandaged hands, De Silvestro took time (and probably fought through some pain) to sign autographs for myself and a few other fans.

Paul Kelly: Just one autograph for me. In January 1979, my father got the 13-year-old me an invitation to a youth hockey banquet in a nearby town, even though I didn’t play for that organization, because the guest speaker was legendary NHL player Gordie Howe, “Mr. Hockey” himself. Gordie took the time to greet each kid in line and sign a personalized photo. I’ll never forget when he grabbed my forearm with his incredibly strong hands, twisted it and said, “You’ve got good forearms, Paul – keep working on that wrist shot.” I don’t think I washed my arm for a month. I probably pounded wrist shots into my driveway net for the next year. Otherwise, I’m not an autograph guy. I far prefer pictures, as they spawn more vivid memories for me. Even at age 55, this boxing fanatic still enjoys visiting the International Boxing Hall of Fame on Induction Weekend and getting pictures taken with so many legends of the ring, all of whom are very gracious with the fans – just like race drivers.

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