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Fanfare: Stories Of The Most Loyal Indianapolis 500 Fans

More Indy 500 Fan Rewards Program Information

Feature stories about some of the most loyal, longtime Indianapolis 500 ticket customers who were featured May 29 when the Indy 500 Fan Rewards Program was unveiled at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

RICHARD BENNETT, Pittsburgh

Richard Bennett, from Pittsburgh, has been attending the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race every year since 1946, but he said he started coming to the race since he was born in 1938. His parents never got a baby sitter on Race Day, so young Richard came to the race with his family.

Bennett’s father started bringing a group of eight people to the race, a group that grew over time and was once 100 people strong. Now that group totals around 50 people, all sitting together in the B Stand at the entrance of Turn 1.

Those are familiar seats for Bennett. He has been in the B Stand since it was built. During his early trips to IMS, Bennett and his family watched the race from the infield.

Bennett’s group has a special transportation tradition every year: They gather in Pittsburgh to ride a bus together to Indianapolis, with people traveling from many different states to the Steel City so they can enjoy the entire bus trip.

The group has stayed at the same hotel in Indianapolis for the past 22 years. They always watch the 500 Festival Parade from the front row and have a cookout afterward, when they swap stories about their families and the race.

One of Bennett’s favorite memories of the race includes meeting late IMS owner Tony Hulman. Bennett was unable to get the right amount of tickets for his group and decided to call and speak to Hulman.

After speaking to several assistants, Bennett got through directly to Hulman and told him of his predicament. Hulman helped him by giving him tickets in the Paddock and then surprised Bennett by asking him to bring his family and be Hulman’s personal guests at the Queen’s Ball.

Bennett accepted the offer and remembers the evening as the only time he ever saw his father wear a tuxedo.

“My father said, ‘If we’re going to meet Mr. Hulman, then we ought to look our best,’” Bennett said.

They attended the dinner and sat at a table with the Hulman family and met several high-profile attendees.

Bennett, 72, is a big fan of the Novi cars, and Duke Nalon and Rex Mays were his favorite drivers. He points to a time when Nalon and Mays both made the front row of the starting field as a highlight of his childhood.

LAWRENCE DENNIN, Indianapolis

Lawrence Dennin’s love for the Indianapolis 500 formed in 1947 when his wife, Joanne, took him to his first race. She had tickets that had been passed down through her family since the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

Dennin got hooked on racing during that trip, and he and his wife have missed only a handful of races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1947. His wife didn’t even miss the race when she was due to give birth one year. Dennin, 84, has attended more than 30 “500’s.”

Dennin and his family tried several seats around the Speedway before settling in the B Stand, where they have been since 1970. He has 16 seats in the B Stand for three generations of his family each year.

A tradition that has endured among their group over the years is a continuing bet. Everyone in the group pays a few dollars draws two drivers from a hat. The first-, second- and third-place winners get a share of the money at the end of the day.
Dennin said he enjoys running the pool because every driver has someone rooting for them to win, which enhances the fun of the race. Afterward, the group has a party at Dennin’s home, where he has an original photo of the 1911 starting lineup.

Dennin always tries to get more people involved with the “500.” He remembers that he traveled overseas in the 70s and 80s and had an innate ability to introduce the race to other cultures. He would tell the people of places like Argentina and Brazil about the “500” and was even able to use some of his tickets to bring some of them to the event.

“I always want to let people know how great the Indianapolis 500 really is,” he said.

His favorite driver is three-time winner Mauri Rose. Dennin remembers cheering for Rose when he won in 1947.

RON MARTIN, Avon, Ind.

Ron Martin attended his first Indianapolis 500 in 1946 at age 9. His father brought him to the race in a dump truck that had a platform on the back that was used for seating. He remembers lining up to hear the signal bombs detonate to alert the crowd that the track was open and then driving to the infield of Turn 3 to watch the race.

Martin has missed only two Indianapolis 500’s since 1946, as this year will be his 63rd “500” in the grandstands at IMS. He missed the race in 1950 because of the invention of television. His family decided they wanted the experience of seeing a race on television but quickly realized it didn’t compare to actually being at the race. It was the first – and last – time he would choose to watch the race on television rather than attending it in person.

He also missed the weather-plagued 1997 race. With the rain pushing the race two days past the scheduled start date, Martin had to return to his job and miss the race.

Martin didn’t even miss the “500” when he lived in New York for 10 years.

“It was a long drive, but I still managed to make the trip to Indianapolis every year just to see ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’” he said. His dedication to witness the race also was clear in 1961 when he was in the military and had to hitchhike from Terre Haute to attend.

One of Martin’s favorite memories of the Speedway came when a movie was being filmed there. One day he and his friends rode their bikes to the infield and started climbing in the trees. After a short while, a crew member told them to get out of the trees, but the producers liked having them in the trees for the scene they were shooting, so they asked them to get back in the trees. Martin and his friends got to be in the movie.

Martin’s favorite driver was 1955 winner Bob Sweikert. But his favorite race was the legendary duel in 1960 between Rodger Ward and eventual race winner Jim Rathmann.

Martin originally had 16 seats in the B Stand, but when the E Stand was being built in the 50s, he picked out exactly what seats he wanted and switched all 16 of his seats to the new stand. He still has all 16 seats, and they’re filled with four generations of his family that join him to watch the race every year.

RICHARD OEFFINGER, Indianapolis

Richard Oeffinger has been attending the Indianapolis 500 since 1947, when he was 17. His ticket in the first turn of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a high school graduation gift from his parents.

“Before the race even started, I was bitten by the excitement bug,” he said of his experience of his first race.

In 1948, Oeffinger bought tickets in the C Stand and has not changed seats in the 62 Indianapolis 500 Mile Races he has watched at the Speedway. He has missed only two races since 1947 – in 1951 and 1952 during his service in the Air Force.

One of Oeffinger’s greatest memories about the Indianapolis 500 was when he was an engineering mechanic from 1962-79. He will never forget when he met Gordon Johncock and John Tinney when they were first coming on to the scene in 1964.

During the month of May, Oeffing

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