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World War II Veterans Marvel at Changes at IMS during Enjoyable Day at Track

The only other time Jessey Dailey visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway was back in the 1950s, when the front straightaway of the 2.5-mile oval surface still featured exposed bricks.

His 90-year-old eyes blinked in disbelief at quite a different venue Wednesday afternoon as the former U.S. Army quartermaster was joined by two other World War II veterans, 93-year-old Herb Neal and 92-year-old Charlie Maurer, to watch practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“I’m surprised by the changes they’ve made since I was here before,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”

So much has changed.

“Tell me about it,” Dailey said, his voice almost a whisper. “So have I.”

The wheelchair trio enjoyed the opportunity to experience more than just practice through the Miles of Smiles program, an outreach ministry provided by Kingdom Racing, which has a history of working with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. They met DRR drivers JR Hildebrand and Sage Karam in Gasoline Alley, then rolled to the famed Yard of Bricks, where they witnessed the green-flag start to practice.

“I didn’t realize the cars were as small as they are,” said Neal, a U.S. Army anti-aircraft gunner who, like Dailey, served in Europe. “I thought they’d be bigger.”

After a brief stop at Victory Lane, the veterans adjourned to the quiet, comfortable confines of Gasoline Alley Suite 513, which provided an ideal vantage point from south of the Scoring Pylon of the frenetic track activity on the main straightaway.

Although appreciative of the activities provided back home at Woodland Terrace Inspired Senior Living in New Palestine, which has 17 veteran residents, this day was a welcome deviation from the norm.

“I never thought we’d get so close to the finish line here and see all the activity,” said Maurer, who served as a U.S. Navy photographer on an aircraft carrier.

Unlike Dailey, Neal and Maurer had history at IMS. Back in the 1970s, Neal served as a Safety Patrol marshal while Maurer manned an information booth.

“It was an experience, although I didn’t get the treatment then like today,” Neal said. “Normally they stuck us in the stands, we checked people’s tickets and stuff, and that was about it. After we got done seating everybody, we’d wander around.

“I remember standing outside of Turn 4 and (driver) Jim Hurtubise came around and was headed right toward us. You should have seen us scatter. He didn’t hit the wall, but we didn’t know it. We moved out of there fast.”

Neal was born and raised in Indianapolis, so he’s been a fan for more than nine decades of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Dailey, born and raised in Kentucky, moved to the Hoosier State’s capital city in 1951. Maurer, born and raised in New Jersey, relocated to Indianapolis 54 years ago.

The veterans spoke of not just a different track but a different world when they served their country. Neal said he missed being part of the D-Day invasion by about two weeks and was preparing to head to the Pacific front to fight Japan when World War II ended. Maurer eventually served in Japan after atomic bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Dailey spent enough time in Germany to learn some of the language.

“I was amazed at the streets that they still had over there (in Europe),” Dailey said. “They were cobblestone, too.”

The men nodded with approval when asked about an old adage from NFL coach Marv Levy: “The only must win was World War II.”

“It’s hard to recall things,” Neal said. “Maybe it’s something we don’t even want to remember.”

Maurer did.

“My best memory was when we went into Japan after the war and how the Japanese treated us,” Maurer said. “We had dropped the atomic bombs. But they were so glad to see that war end. They never gave us a hard time. We would travel on trains packed with Japanese, and they would never hurt us, bother us or criticize us.”

War-torn countries offered a daily reminder of how so many people were affected.

“I still remember the displaced people, the women, the children, with old carts out on the roads,” Neal said. “Even sometimes in our chow lines, they would come up and try to get our garbage. Those people suffered as much as our soldiers did. Sometimes, I wouldn’t eat my meal and give it to ‘em. And it wasn’t just a few people. It was a whole slew of ‘em.”

Maurer had another back-in-time experience last weekend when he got a ride in a Huey helicopter from the Vietnam War era as part of the dedication of the Southern Hancock County Veterans Memorial in New Palestine.

“That was scary,” he said. “All you had was this little belt strapped across you.”

The veterans were informed of how some Indianapolis Motor Speedway visitors are treated to two-seater Indy car rides with speeds reaching about 170 mph. The elderly trio was understandably divided on their level of interest in taking that ride.

“No,” Dailey said. “I’ll keep my feet on the ground.”

“I wonder how many Gs you’d draw,” Neal said. “That’s the only thing that would worry me. I’d worry about my heart.”

“I’d go on it,” Maurer said. “I wouldn’t hesitate. I’d feel safer in that than I did in that helicopter, I tell ya.’”


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