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IMS Writers’ Roundtable, Volume 8: How Did You Get Hooked on Indy?

Today’s question: All three of us share a common bond – love of the Indianapolis 500. What first got you hooked on “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing?”

Curt Cavin: Like many Indiana children, I first saw Indianapolis Motor Speedway through a school field trip. I remember using money my mother gave me to buy postcards in the gift shop. My grandmother, Marjorie, was my connection to the “500.” She meticulously organized scrapbooks from races she attended with my aunt and uncle, and I pored through them year after year, studying the ticket stubs and reading the newspaper clippings that surely formed my interest in journalism. In college, I finally got to attend a “500,” seeing my favorite driver, Rick Mears, win. However, the 1984 race was relatively uneventful, with Mears winning by two laps, so I wasn’t drawn in as I might have otherwise been. But the next year, Wow! From my Turn 1 seat, I watched Danny Sullivan chase down – and spin past – and then chase down again the legendary Mario Andretti. The drama of that sequence hooked me.

Zach Horrall: Similar to Curt, I’m a product of the 500 Festival Education Program, having come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2006 when I was in fourth grade. Our field trip was in early May, so the event was ramping up, and I remember being able to feel the energy when we arrived. That energy was something I imagined but never truly understood how infectious it would be. We got a tour of the garage, an up-close look at an Indy car, and we got to see some practice laps being turned from the Turn 2 Mounds. I had already caught the racing bug, so this field trip was a dream come true for 9-year-old Zach. I went home that day determined to come back to the Racing Capital of the World ever year after that, and I have. Another help might have been that at the end of that month, I saw (on TV) one of the most exciting finishes in the race’s history as Sam Hornish Jr. tracked down Marco Andretti in the final few yards and edged him out at the finish line. That’ll hook ya!

Paul Kelly: Zach, you’re paining me with your admission you were 9 in 2006. I was 41, working the race from the fourth floor of the Media Center! Unlike Curt and Zach, I didn’t grow up in Indiana; I was born in upstate New York. So, I didn’t get exposed to the Speedway as a kid. I always enjoyed watching the Indy 500 every year, and I remember taking a box in which our Thanksgiving turkey was delivered and drawing Johnny Rutherford’s number and decals on it, sitting in the box and imagining I was racing at Indy when I was about 10. But I really got hooked by the “500” in 1990. I was a sports writer and editor for the Binghamton (New York) Press & Sun-Bulletin, and driver Davy Jones grew up in our circulation area. I convinced my editor to send me to Indy to cover Davy for a local feature and Race Day sidebar. But Davy lost his ride midway through the month – I can’t remember the details – but I persuaded my editor to still let me cover the race and write a story about the sea of humanity and pre- and post-race scene on Georgetown Road and around the track. Media members got two tickets in the grandstands inside Turn 1 and 2, in front of the Museum, during those days, so my wife joined me at the race since I wasn’t covering it on deadline from the Media Center. We watched the pace laps with great anticipation, but when pole sitter Emerson Fittipaldi ripped past us in Turn 1 after taking the green, my wife and I stared at each other, eyes like saucers and mouths agape. The cars sounded and looked like missiles skimming the asphalt. I was hooked, and the barb still is firmly planted in my jaw and soul, where I expect it to stay forever.

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