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Indianapolis 500 Parade of Bands Recognized by Indianapolis House/Senate Resolution

The 90th anniversary of the annual Parade of Bands that will precede the 2015 Indianapolis 500 was recognized by the Indiana House and Senate in a concurrent resolution during the General Assembly at the Indiana Statehouse in downtown Indianapolis on Monday, Jan. 26.

The Parade of Bands has a long and distinguished history at IMS, with the announcement of the first Indianapolis 500 pre-race band parade receiving headlines across the country, including an article in the New York Times.

Throughout its first 89 years, approximately 178,000 musicians from community, fraternal, industrial, military, professional, school and university bands have participated in this unique event, with band members having taken approximately 961 million steps around the famed 2.5-mile IMS oval.

The Purdue University Department of Bands and Orchestras produces this traditional event annually for IMS. 

Mark Eutsler, who for the last two decades has served as co-chair of the IPL 500 Festival Parade that takes place annually the day before the Indianapolis 500, recently compiled a list of all the bands that had ever appeared in the nationally televised parade in downtown Indianapolis since it began in 1957. During his research he discovered the New York Times article about the first Indianapolis 500 Parade of Bands in 1922, and he realized this year’s event would mark the event’s 90th anniversary.

“It’s like one weekend and two parades with the second parade at the world’s largest single-day sporting event, which gives students a great experience,” Eutsler said. “They get to be on national television on Saturday, and where the history is made on Sunday.”

The only individual who participated in the Parade of Bands as a musician and the Indianapolis 500 as a driver is Johnny Parsons, who played the trumpet in the Scecina High School (Indianapolis) Marching Band and drove in 12 “500s” from 1974-96.

“My sister Joan was the head majorette and I marched in my sophomore and junior years in 1961 and 1962, and it was really cool to do that on the track that our father won on and where I had watched so many races there,” said Parsons, whose father Johnnie won the race in 1950. “I knew that I wasn’t that good of a trumpet player and whoever marched in front of me was a little annoyed by the notes I was hitting, but I participated and enjoyed the camaraderie as most band members do for the years I was in the band.”

During his senior year in 1963, Parsons, who attended the event at the Indiana Statehouse, was a sectional wrestling champion and once again attended the 500, but in a totally different capacity.

“I was the board man for Mickey Thompson and Duane Carter, my stepdad, who drove the Harvey Aluminum Special,” Parsons said. “It was a big thrill and it was really cool. I got my picture taken in the qualifying photo and hung out and got to know some of the greats like Mickey Thompson and all those guys that raced around then. I hung out there and the garage area had a lot of personality to it.”

Despite his father’s success in the Indianapolis 500 and the fact that he had worked for a race team during the 1963 race, Parsons had no idea back then that he’d someday compete in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“It was just a dream at that point in time and I didn’t know if I’d ever get the opportunity,” said Parsons, whose best finishes in the “500” came when he placed fifth in 1977 and 1985. “We got started with quarter midgets at an early age with the help of Duane and my father, who bought my first quarter midget for $100, I think, and it grew from there.”

The 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is scheduled for Sunday, May 24.

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