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Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Enthusiast Beeler to bring four cars to Pace Car Reunion at IMS

As a young man, Thomas Beeler of Indianapolis thought it would be a nice idea to own an Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, and in his wildest dreams he thought someday he might own two. After buying his first Indianapolis 500 Pace Car, a 1990 Pontiac Fiero, the thought occurred to him that he should stop.

He didn’t.

Beeler now owns six pace cars with two of them, a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and the 2003 Chevrolet SSR, believed to possibly be the actual cars that paced the race those years.

“I was an Indianapolis kid, so I grew up seeing the “500” Festival cars all through the month of May and had strong feelings about wouldn’t it be cool having one of those cars with the big letters on the side of it,” he said. “As I got older and had the disposable capital, I thought it would be kind of nice to own one, and back in ’84 I was dating a girl who just thought the Fiero was all that. She really wanted a Fiero and never got one, so quite a few years later, when in ’84 the Fiero paced the race, I thought it was a good-looking pace car replica.

There were 1,500 of those made and I thought I could find one inexpensively. I found one up in Fort Wayne and I did some restoration on it and it was one of those 1,500 replicas, and that was it for a while.

Beeler purchased his second pace car when a friend offered for sale his 1969 Camaro replica pace car, which Beeler couldn’t resist. The 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 Camaro Pace Car is painted identically to the 1969 version, and Beeler’s 1969 edition will appear in the 500 Festival Parade on Saturday, May 28. Beeler’s list of pace cars he owns includes a 1953 Ford Crestline Sunliner, a 1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser and a 1993 Cadillac Allante replica that served as the 1992 Indianapolis 500 pace car. His cars from 1953, 1957, 1993 and 2003 will appear in the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Reunion on qualifying weekend, May 21-22, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

For Beeler, the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 Pace Car Reunion will be a welcome opportunity to share his cars with Indianapolis 500 enthusiasts of all types. “The neat thing about this is that the “500” has fans for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “Some guys are into the race cars, some guys are into the drivers, but a lot of people are into the culture of the “500” and the pace car is a big part of that. The pace cars really strike an indelible mark because Indianapolis instituted the pace car, so getting the (pace car) reunion together is great fun because for the average fan there’s a lot of nostalgia that goes with that. They’re not just muscle cars, they’re muscle cars with a pedigree and that’s what makes it fun. These are the cars that led the start of every Indianapolis 500, and while they’re gaudy and usually brightly painted with big letters on the sides of the doors, it makes it fun for everybody from the little kids to the old timers who remember the cars the way they used to be. This is a great opportunity for folks who are so inclined to kind of live a little bit of the past."

Admission to the 2011 Indianapolis Pole Day Qualifying and Indianapolis 500 Bump Day Qualifying / IMS Armed Forces Day on May 21-22 is $15 for adults, with kids 12 and under admitted free. The Pace Car Reunion exhibition comes with entrance to the grounds on those days.

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