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Gordon Pipers Have Provided Soundtrack of Speed, Success at IMS for Nearly 60 Years

They’re the things that separate the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from every other race or track in this country and abroad.

In 1957, Dr. Wallace Gordon Diehl began self-tutoring on bagpipes. Switch to 1962, when he and others gathered to form a musical group known as the Gordon Pipers. In May 1962, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony Hulman saw them perform at Indianapolis Raceway Park. And in 1963, they became the Indianapolis 500 Gordon Pipers.

Today, they have performed with bagpipes and drums in front of hundreds of thousands at the Speedway and elsewhere, for nearly 60 years, marching all over the grounds on big days at the track with their unique entertainment.

There are traditions within traditions with the group. There are white tunics for the bagpipers and black tunics for the drummers, signifying the checkered flag. In Victory Lane, a bagpiper will be at each corner of the winning car, and they’ll play two tunes – “Scotland the Brave” and “Mary’s Wedding.” There will be a young girl with the group, marching with a Scottie and a Westie, signifying the black-and-white theme.

Typically, the group has a total of 50 members. It takes six to 12 months for training to be completed.

“It’s learning the music and learning to march,” President Doug Hardwick said in 2012. “It’s not like a band where you have the music in front of you.”

The list of honorary Indianapolis 500 Gordon Pipers members is long, but "500" winners Jim Clark and Dario Franchitti, fine Scotsmen, are among them. In fact, Diehl presented Clark with his Rookie of the Year trophy in 1963. Hulman and Clark were the first honorary Pipers’ members in 1963.

Hardwick joined the Pipers in 1969 and has over 50 years of service as well as stints with several INDYCAR teams as a vent man during pit stops.

“Bagpipes have opened a lot of doors for me,” Hardwick said. “I’ve played for five (U.S.) presidents. Bagpipes have taken me a lot of places in life. They’re the only four wooden-reed instrument in the world. I call it ‘controlled hyperventilation.’

“We’re the only organization in the world that wears both Wallace and Gordon kilts. The bagpipers wear Gordons, and the drummers wear Wallaces to honor our founder. Everyone works with the same idea -- to promote Celtic entertainment and promote the Speedway. We’re their ambassadors.”

 
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