2011 Indy 500 / Our first tour
Here you can read all about the Global Speedway Tours trips to the USA as they happen ….
The Blog below is from our first ever tour to the Indy 500 in May 2011. Plus plenty of sprintcars ‘n midgets of course ….
Our blogs are written in an endeavour to keep everybody at home informed day by day on how the tour is going and of course provide all the info from the many race meetings we attend and the juicy bits of gossip about the adventures of our guests!
There are 180 photos in the Gallery from the 2011 Indy 500 tour.
Day 1 – Wednesday May 25th 2011
Tough start … after a lot of stress from airline rescheduling and extreme weather in the USA, the tour members finally met up as a group late Thursday afternoon in Indianapolis.
Not a lot can be said about the first 24 hours which, whilst originally designated as R&R, turned into an extended travel day for every single Global Speedway Tours member. It can happen to the most experienced of travellers, as well as the Australian speedway fan wanting to get to the land of Indycars, sprints and midgets.
Indianapolis has been hit hard with storms over the last month, following on from a stiff winter for the Hoosier state. Hard core sprintcar and midget fan Andrew Quinn lists the month of May as being his worst yet for rained out race meetings, with only one weekend in the last four allowing sprintcars to pitch clay high over the fence.
It rained most of May 25th and the outlook is bleak for the supercharged first week of our Indy 500 tour.
Day 2 – Thursday May 26th 2011
We’re all OK don’t worry. Well except maybe not the author, who just runs out of time to do the daily diary. Things are so hectic and the action so non stop, that the next break which will allow an update is Monday.
Suffice to say that everyone is well, albeit gobsmacked at some American ways of life and in awe of the racing seen so far. (Terre Haute was rained out unfortunately.) However the Silver Crown cars on the dirt mile at the Fairgrounds were fantastic and the first sight of the 2 1/2 mile track at Indy was jaw dropping.
More soon ….
Day 2 – Thursday May 26th 2011 … continued
Back now. Am writing this on Monday May 30th, as to have done so earlier was simply impossible.
Thursday saw mixed emotions. When we awoke, the weather was dodgy to say the least. After allowing those who wanted to sleep in to do so, we left the Courtyard Marriott (which has proven to be a little gem of a hotel) for Terre Haute, sad in the knowledge that the Tony Hulman Classic had already been postponed owing to the persistent rain.
But we were to still visit the private collection of Don Smith, founder and owner of the First National Financial Bank in Terre Haute. The trip down was 75 miles through periodic rain storms that grew in intensity as we neared the little town of Riley, Indiana. It was here that we met Steve Moody who opened up the most extraordinary collection of speedway memorabilia one would ever hope to see.
Five complete purpose built barns hold tens of thousands of items ranging from the smallest key ring to dozens of restored midgets and sprintcars, not to mention 50 or so road going cars that Don has bought over the years and just simply kept, rather than sell them off. A race fan could spend a week in there and still not see everything. Steve was wonderful to deal with and very patient as each tour member went their own way to see what they could.
Unfortunately it all had to come to an end and it did with a drive through the property that Don owns. We wandered around lakes filled with fish, shooting ranges for the odd deer hunt, and simply magnificent scenery. This mist rising from the lakes, because the water was warmer than the outside temperature, was eerie.
Next up was a quick drive into Terre Haute where Steve showed us even more collections held in storage sheds in town. Then it was off to the Action Track itself at least to see the speedway through the misty haze. There is nothing worse than going to a race track and having rain cause a cancellation, but it happens I guess. To show the extent of the rainfall, the pedestrian tunnel leading to the infield was ¾’s full of water.
Back to Indy we went and to compensate for a rained out race meeting Global Speedway Tours shouted the group dinner at the Golden Corral. This place serves a buffet of every food type known to man. At $13.20 all you can eat, the value is there as many Americans already know.
Day 3 – Friday May 27th 2011
The weather in Indianapolis just won’t get into line with the forecasters. No amount of checking the radar on your iPhone will change the fact that the thunderstorms (T storms) in the USA simply come out of anywhere and at any time. Today was meant to be sunny with clear skies, but when each and every tour member peeked out their windows onto North Senate Avenue this morning, they were greeted with grey and overcast skies.
Not a good start at all to our first experience of the gigantic Indianapolis track. It was Carb Day during the daylight hours for us and the Hoosier Hundred at night. Way too much excitement to be interrupted by rain. We had driven down Georgetown Road to 16th Street last night after the Golden Corral so that first glimpses of the track could be gained. But at night the magic is pretty much lost although the RV’s, 5th Wheelers, caravans and campers dominated the adjacent massive properties all along the west side of Georgetown Road. The race was still three days away, but the joint was alive and well last night let me tell you.
But back to today. Carb Day is there for the partiers, but also to allow the starting field of 33 cars and drivers to take their last practice run between 11.00am and Midday. This was the first vision inside the 2½ mile complex and also the first sounds of Indy. It really does take your breath away when first encountering a sporting venue which can cater for 440,000. Of course on Carb Day there were only about 50,000 there and it looked as though the place was empty. The Indy owners have never declared their attendances and it’s most people’s best guess that just shy of half a million spectators will gather there on Sunday.
We watched practice from the 4th turn, in seats that were comparable to where we would be on Sunday. The Indy Lights then had their go with a 40 lap race that turned into a demo derby with the race actually finishing under yellows. We were cheering for Bryan Clauson who won the right to race owing to his USAC Sprintcar Championship win in 2010. He did OK, but finished around third I’d guess. Following that race the phone rang and it was Steve Moody from the Terre Haute First Financial Bank inviting the whole group up to their suite on the outside of Turn 2. Now let me tell you that Turn 4 to Turn 2 is a long, long way.
But to make it easier, Steve told us to meet at Garage 11 in the Formula One pits where he would have golf carts waiting to take us to the suite. So over we went feeling fairly important as the carts weaved in and out of the milling crowds around that area of the track as they waited for the bands to start performing. The view from the suite, the complimentary food and drinks, and the warmth of their hospitality were outstanding. The Global Speedway Tours guys and gals just sat and drank in the view which extended from half down the short chute between 1 & 2 and all the way down the mile long back straight. Plus we watched in amazement as a mother fed her babies in a birds’ nest constructed high up in the track catchment fencing, totally oblivious to cars passing them at 220 mph.
After several hours of this unexpected tour inclusion, we made our way back to the 15 seater Chevy van to ready ourselves for the Hoosier Hundred and the Indianapolis Fairgrounds. Just 8 miles away, this race track is a sight to behold. Situated in the Fairgrounds, the one mile dirt track is enormous. The Silver Crown cars, (larger than a sprintcar, but still with the same elegant shape and style) race here just once a year for this time honoured event. The rain had held off all day back at Carb Day, and fingers were crossed that ‘she’ wouldn’t send it down just yet.
After marvelling at the view from the Grandstand, I suggested that an excursion into the infield through the tunnel would be the go. I had done this in previous years by using a USAC all access area pass given to me by Dave Argabright. It allowed me to stand right up against the infield fence which separated me from the cars by less than a metre. I had been watching from the grandstand and noticed that the general public were now allowed into that previously restricted area.
So the boldest members of the group strode out into the infield on 1 & 2 to watch qualifying. The pictures posted in the Gallery bear witness to what happened next. The experience of having an unmuffled race car pass beside you sideways at 100mph+ and just 3 feet away is impossible to explain in words. We chatted with all the photographers and exchanged business cards because as usual they simply wanted to know all about us and just loved listening to our accents. They are no different to the people in the shops, hotels and stores. Everyone wants to know why we are in their country, although I will admit it’s easier to explain to a race fan than the check-out chic in Wal-Mart who has no idea what a sprintcar is.
Jerry Coons Jnr took the lead from Levi Jones on around lap 60 and was never headed from there, as he went on to win his first Hoosier Hundred after three second placings. Tracy Hines was third.
Upon returning home to the hotel, we made our first acquaintance with the Bourbon Street Distillery across the road. Unfortunately it’s open until 3.00am. That’s all that needs be said …
Day 4 – Saturday May 28th 2011
Plan A for today was to visit the Indy track again for the Drivers meeting. Whilst it was a good idea at the time, the effects of last night at the BSD caused a rethink. The “Chief Steward,” otherwise known as Ken Holland, was really the only one who wanted to go. You see he reckoned he could learn from his Indy 500 counterpart, but I suspect the real reason lay in Ken’s desire to provide input into the meeting. But his Heywood, Victoria better half – the lovely Marilyn won the day and Kenny missed out on adding an Aussie slant to the 2011 Indy 500.
So it was off to the 500 Parade throughout the downtown area and to a person all agreed that the pomp and ceremony was a marvellous spectacle. Americans certainly love a Parade and this one was no different. Lasting for an hour and 40 minutes, the High School and College marching bands, the floats, the 33 drivers being introduced, the vintage race cars, the helium filled figures floating in the sky, all sufficiently entertained us to the extent that the effects of last night’s liquids were rapidly wearing off.
We travel around Indiana in a 15 seater Chevy van. Great roadholding and with a beaut ride, I can steer it to wherever we want to go. To compensate for the inordinate flight delays which some people experienced, Global Speedway Tours (call them P&H for Physick & Hanson) supplied complimentary thirst quenchers on board for the first two days. But now the beers on board are $1, based on the very pleasant fact that a carton of the amber fluid is just $14.97. We have a father and son combo with us who will be very well known to the Super Sedan community in Australia. Ron and Ash Bergmeier joined the tour to get a first hand knowledge of life on the road in the US before they tackle it themselves later in June with a 42 foot Motorhome.
Ash enjoys a beer up the back while Ron prefers the home made Bourbon & Coke premix. I say home made because with 1.75 litres of bourbon costing no more than $15, adding a significant quantity into a part full Coke can certainly helps while away the miles to the racetracks. For once, neither of them has to drive the transporter.
I was excited tonight as the Little 500 was on. Just 42 minutes up I-69 lies the town of Anderson. Dave Argabright was born here, but more about him later. I guess it’s fair to say that no one really had an inkling as to how the spectacle would unfold of seeing 33 sprintcars start three abreast on a quarter mile paved tracked, but if the Coach Captain (me) was excited, then our guests should be too.
The rain gods didn’t look to be too kind at all, but it was dry inside on the pavement track, the rickety old wooden bleachers were overflowing with fans, there were 33 cars and pit crew on the inside and we were goin’ racing at 8.00pm. But we still had two hours to kill, so the two Ashleys, Bergmeier and Clifford, chanced their arm on the sprintcar simulators for $5 a throw. Now it stands to reason that one would readily assume that Ash Clifford, an IT expert from Melbourne who loves Formula One and road racing, would be beaten by a young gun Super Sedan star. You would wouldn’t you?
Anticipation was building, but regretfully so were the T Storms and the thunderheads were very black indeed. The promotion knew the storm was coming and when it hit, the crowd were ushered from the aluminium bleachers to safer ground out the back. But the radar was telling them that there was nothing behind the line of storms we were in right now. We believed them. No reason not to. After all they knew their territory better than we did. So it was announced with great pride that the 500 lapper would start at 10.00pm. After all they do have a 4.00am curfew.
Traditional formalities were almost dispensed with and that famous order we would hear again tomorrow was uttered. “Gentlemen start your engines”. And they did, exactly at the same time that her upstairs created yet another storm cell right over the track and it too burst, bringing the night to a premature end. Postponed to tomorrow night, straight after the Indy 500. We were scheduled for Kokomo Sunday night, but the Little 500 would take precedence of course …
Day 5 – Sunday May 29th 2011
That weather dude finally got it right for Indiana’s biggest day of the year. He had been telling us that the skies would be clear for the last two days but as we ate the lovely Holly’s breakfast in the Courtyard Marriott’s bistro at 6.15am, it was obvious he had it right this time. Even at that time of the morning, the heat was building up and it was going to be a hot one. And why were we up so early when the race had a start of Midday? After all we are only 6 miles from the track ….
Well, with the aforementioned 440,000 others also trying to get there at the same time, it was going to be hectic indeed. So we set off at 7.00am with the Coach Captain taking a different route, rather than the traditional 16th Street journey. All went well going north up I-65 and onto 38th Street. How easy is this? But then it all fell into a heap and after we were directed south down Kessler Boulevard, the traffic turned into nightmare proportions. At this point we had been on the road for approx 15 minutes, but it was to be another two hours to travel the last two miles.
Police manned every intersection and most roads were turned into one way streets in the morning and then the reverse for the post race traffic. As we inched along 30th Street, a cop gradually came into view on an intersection. We were stationery alongside him for so long, that we engaged him in conversation. He told us that traffic was as bad as it has ever been because earlier that morning there has already been a pedestrian fatality in Georgetown Road and to top it all off, a murder in the zoo that is otherwise known as the Coke camping complex across from the track. Some unfortunate soul had been stabbed to death this morning.
Eventually we reached Lot 1B where we had allocated pre-paid parking and negotiated our way through what were literally thousands of tail gate parties in the parking lot. The Toowoomba boys of Pete Richards, Rob Fraser and Patrick Topp, accompanied by Parramatta’s Pete Huylk, disappeared quickly for the track, but given it was already 9.30am the others decided to christen the morning in much the same way as everyone else was. Hence that beautiful sound of the ring pull departing the can resounded across a parking lot that accommodated at least 30,000 cars.
After a refreshing drink(s) and conversation with many fellow race fans (although that description is very debateable as I’m convinced that a large percentage just go to party), The Whittles – Bob and Pat, the Chief Steward and wife, plus P&H and the Super Sedaners decided to make an attempt to mix in with the throng of human mass walking south down Georgetown. It really was extraordinary, but as we were to find out later, nothing like the exiting mob at the conclusion of the race.
Once inside, everyone but Pete Physick made their way to their seats. For me it was a walk down to Turn 2 and the suites we were in on Friday. You see my camera had been left in there and retrieval of same was important to capture the day. That exercise took more than two hours and I eventually took my seat just as Jim Nabors sang “Back home again in Indiana” which he has now done for more than 30 consecutive years. Even the Star Spangled Banner is played before ‘Gomer’ sings.
And then it was on … for 200 laps under a very hot sun. And suddenly lap 199 came upon us and JR Hildebrand, a rookie was in the lead. But right in front of us, perhaps while mentally counting his prize money, he went wider than he should have to pass a lapped car and smacked the main straight wall with such force and speed that the car slid along the wall nearly half a mile down to the finish line but before he could cross it, Dan Wheldon beat him to it to take his second 500 victory.
The subsequent walk back to the van and our attempt to leave the car park could be the subject of several days of discussion. There was a total and abject failure by anyone in authority to direct traffic. The pedestrians simply took over the roads. Teeming masses of mostly drunks. Admittedly good humoured ones. Been there done that, but we didn’t need it just now as we were 13 people desperately trying to get back to Anderson for the Little 500.
And of course we did make it to witness what the locals are calling the best Little 500 in two decades. It was truly outstanding and this race should be on everyone’s bucket list to see at least once. I know that all 13 GST tour members want to come back already. 500 laps on a paved quarter mile. Why would you do it, I hear you ask. I don’t know the answer to that, but I’m sure glad they keep on doing it.
The return trip down I-69 went without incident, but the talk in the van was all about Chris Windom, the 20 year old kid from Canton, Illinois who won $25,000 for his 2½ hours behind the wheel.
Day 6 – Monday May 30th 2011
No racing today or tonight, so just like clockwork the weather is fine and hot of course. Although scheduled as a free day, the van was fired up after making a last minute decision to bring forward our Indy Museum visit. Instead of taking 16th Street again, we took I-70 west to the Holt Street exit and wound our way down to Gasoline Alley. This winding road became very famous in earlier years with virtually all the major Indy teams having their garages there. Tiny compared to today’s standards, these garages still remain and are used by lesser known and smaller race teams involved in other motorsports categories. The big guys have all moved out to Brownsburg in the northwest attracted there by the lure of cheaper land and tax concessions offered by the local county.
Just minutes from Gasoline Alley is the track itself and it’s easy to create a mental image of how the teams of yesteryear would have driven their race cars along the city roads to and from the Brickyard. We went into the inside underneath the track through one of seven different traffic tunnels to be confronted by the imposing Indy Museum standing proudly between turns 1 & 2. $10 buys you a guided tour of the track, plus admission to the museum itself. Not to mention the souvenir shops. These took a real hammering from most members.
When the small white bus cranked into life to take us around the track, so too did the recorded tape with the voice of the late Tom Carnegie who for 61 years was “the voice of Indy”. As the bus cruised the 2½ miles, Tom pointed out everything a fan would need to know. In particular I noticed that not only was a small army of people cleaning the stands of hundreds of tons of rubbish, but painters were out and about white washing the track walls to rid them of the tyre marks from erratic drivers. In particular the Turn 4 stretch where Hildebrand demolished his car on lap 199, was now clean and tidy. I also liked Tom’s reference to the fact that in the time taken to leisurely cruise the track, an Indy car would have lapped us 21 times.
Back into the museum we ventured, to view the winning cars from the last 33 500’s which had been loaned to the museum by their owners, specifically for the 100th anniversary race. Wonderful sights indeed, particularly those cars from the 60’s which were also there on semi-permanent display.
After leaving the Museum, Wal-Mart beckoned. Everyone had heard about what these places have to offer, so now was a good time to check it out. We travelled to the Lafayette store which also had a Best Buy adjacent to it. Both were well patronised indeed. Pete Hanson and I topped up the beer supply with the check-out bird real happy (not) to receive a wad of $1 bills in payment for three cartons of beer and one of coke. Total of $50.92 + tax. With the ice complimentary from the Hotel, it’s a cheap means of mobile refreshment.
In the evening GST shouted everyone to a “dinner with Dave Argabright”, the renowned speedway journalist and speaker who enthralled our guests with his stories, observations and thoughts on sprintcar and midget racing across the world. We ate at the Bourbon Street Distillery and then adjourned back to a private room in the Courtyard to hear Dave speak. Even his delightful wife Sherry admitted that she hadn’t heard some of his tales before, so perhaps we heard the “Best of Times” from Dave that night.
Day 7 – Tuesday May 31st 2011
Today was scheduled as Outlet Shopping day, but Tuesday and Wednesday were swapped around to fit in tours at both Don Schumacher Racing (DSR) and Target Ganassi Motorsport. Our first appointment was in Brownsburg at DSR, a drag racing team extraordinaire. The mind boggles at the size of this operation. 120,000 square feet of manicured floor space. 25 full transporters, of which no less than 14 were “in residence” inside the building while on our tour of the facility with VP Mike Lewis.
Two fully operational top fuel dragsters sit in the foyer to welcome guests who can only tour by appointment. And that was us of course. For your info, each of the 7 separate DSR teams needs 3 Million dollars of sponsorship per team annually to survive. Prize money is a bonus on top of that. They have 110 employees, manufacture nearly all their own parts on the premises and Don’s son Tony has won seven Top Fuel national championships.
Suitably impressed by all that, we had an hour to kill before touring the Ganassi Indy car Team quarters in Woodland Drive, some eight miles from Brownsburg. Having pre-arranged this visit, we had hoped that their drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti would have had some success in the 500 a few days before. Whilst the both led the race at some stage, neither could keep with the leaders in the end and finished up 5th and 12th respectively. The mood in the workshop was sombre as they had held high expectations.
I left halfway through the tour as Ashley Clifford needed to be at the airport for a 1.30pm flight to Denver. He bade farewell to his fellow travellers so there is little more I can tell you about this iconic team and workshop. However getting back right on time allowed me to listen to all the ins and outs.
Following Ganassi’s we went back to Brownsburg for Ron and Ashley to visit Impact Racing Products where new seat belts were ordered for the Super Sedans. Prior to that we had lunched in the Pit Stop BBQ and grill …. a family style restaurant which is devoted entirely to midget and sprintcar racing. Race cars are on show inside and available for people to sit in for photo opportunities.
Next was Lucas Oil Raceway, formerly O’Reilly Raceway Park and before that Indianapolis Raceway Park. It was here that Messrs’ Hanson and Bergmeier R, demonstrated their conman skills by convincing a female cleaner in a golf cart to take them for a spin around the 5/8th’s mile paved oval. Then it was back to Gasoline Alley to take a closer look on a weekday. It had been Sunday when we visited last time. Ash is in the market for a new Bell helmet, but as of now we haven’t found the right style, or supplier.
A quick dash to the Fairgrounds to try and find a lost backpack from the Hoosier Hundred proved fruitless unfortunately, particularly for the owner (me). After that the 15 seater Chevy 5.3 litre V8 made its way back home to the Courtyard Marriott and for the first time was not to venture out again until tomorrow. Some of the team walked around the beautiful canals in and around the area of the Hotel. Some went in search of a meal and a drink and one stayed in the Hotel to catch up on what you are reading now.
Day 8 – Wednesday June 1st 2011
Although they knew we were going Outlet Shopping today, I’m not sure if the guys and gals really understood what they were in for. But it wasn’t to take long for them to get into the spirit of things. Before reaching the Premium Outlets in Edinburgh on I-65 south, we stopped in at the Family RV Centre in Whiteland. Why? Our now good mate Ronny Bergmeier has decided to rent an RV to chase the late model racing in Pennsylvania after they leave us, instead of renting a car. A large Music Festival in the week they want it has caused a shortage of available units to rent and Ash’s dad will now be the proud owner of a 40 foot Class A Diesel Pusher. Check out the link of the actual unit. Just a tad bigger and more luxurious than he wanted, but then again when in Rome …
Not really sure how much the travelling Aussies left in Edinburgh but most stores received money from us. Prior to leaving the Hotel, we removed everything that wasn’t nailed down from the van. I assured them we would need the space on the way back. The discounting in the shops was quickly understood and the pace was on to see who could get the most purchases back to the van first.
And sure enough it turned out that way. Bob Whittle finished up having to sit on his suitcase, which he and Pat had bought at Samsonite that day to get everything home to Oz. By the way, those dollar beers for sale on board the van had a price correction on the way home. I advised that the cost of each beer had now increased to $3. However if you bought it between the hours of 9am and 9.00pm you received a 55% discount on the published price …. and if you bought two at once, the second one is free. Plus tax of course …. And if you buy it on a Tuesday there is a further 10% off for seniors. The “Chief Steward” would be more than happy with that.
Two further detours occurred on the way home. One was to Post Road, where The Whittles had sourced an RV on the internet that they were interested in importing into Australia. But it was too wide by six inches for Aussie standards. The other was to Ace Rental Cars to pick up our second vehicle for the Iowa trip. A $40,000 Ford Flex was the result. It’s a cross between a people mover and an RV. Ron and Ash have put their names down for driving to get some experience before they take their 10 ton bus (sorry Motorhome) onto America’s byways.
On arrival at the Hotel the video camera recorded all the action of tour members falling out of the van as the weight of their Outlet Store purchases exceeded their own!!
The final piece of the daily jigsaw puzzle unfolded at night. It was a glorious evening, just perfect for a great night’s action at the speedway. It was a Wednesday and the Speedrome was on with USAC’s Regional midgets, Kenyon midgets and Focus midgets. I had been warned not to get too excited about it and that quite possibly when we arrived with our party of 12, we may just double the crowd number. Prophetic words indeed. Whilst there were more than 24 people in the stands, the racing was just average to say the least. The Speedrome is a flat paved 1/8th mile circle with no banking. The total car count numbered less than 30 and we were out of there by 9.00pm. Disappointed, but it was probably better than sitting in the Bourbon Street Distillery.
Tomorrow we’re off to Chicago ….
Day 9 – Thursday June 2nd 2011
I’m writing this and the next few days on Monday June 6th – D Day. On this tour I reckon the D stands for ‘Delivery’ as the hectic pace of the last few days has allowed for zero time in front of a computer keyboard. I guess you’ll find out why as you read on … everything and more that was promised has been fulfilled.
To quote Willie Nelson, “we were on the road again” at 7.00am, this time headed north up I-65 to Gary, Indiana where the traffic begins to multiply 30 fold considering the proximity of Chicago and the converging interstate freeways of 80 & 94. This phenonomen prompted the road builders to make some sections of the freeways 24 lanes wide. Oh, and did I mention the trucks!!
In order to escape this chaos we chose to take the I-90 toll road of into Chicago and subsequently we motored reasonably sedately into downtown Chicago with sanity intact. Global Speedway Tours rented a second vehicle for this part of the tour as our beloved 15 seater Chevy van would hold the people, but not the luggage, so a swish thing called a Ford Flex was secured. It loved the open road, as did the Chevy which handles immaculately and gives a great ride.
First stop was the Essex Inn on South Michigan Avenue to drop off Bob & Pat along with Ken & Marilyn. Chicago has a citywide Medical convention on in town and as we were to find out, the delegates have occupied more than 40 different Hotels. Hence our problem in getting everyone into the same accommodation. Next stop was the Red Roof Inn on East Ontario where we dropped off Ron, Ashley, Pete, Pete, Rob and Pat. The other two Petes then took the vehicles on to the Comfort Inn & Suites where they were to rest their heads.
The plan worked perfectly. Everyone already knew what they wanted to do and headed off in different directions to either visit the top of the Sears Tower (now known as the Willis Tower), ride the Hop on Hop off trolley buses, or just sit and have a drink and watch the world go by in Chicago. Later that night we all met up at the House of Blues in Dearborn Street for dinner and a night of live blues music. Once again, as with all dining places in the USA, the food was plentiful and good. So was the beer …..
Day 10 – Friday June 3rd 2011
Given that we had a 337 mile drive today and Knoxville Raceway was on the night’s agenda, it was another early start but the drivers could give no guarantee when they would arrive and pick up at each Hotel. Morning peak hour in downtown Chicago was just a small inhibiting factor. By 8.15am however we were on I-290 heading for the I-88 Toll road which would deposit us in Iowa. Construction and road works made it tougher to navigate, but both vehicles have GPS’s which make the job of the map reader virtually redundant. We were bound to become separated and that’s exactly what happened, but both met up 70 miles down the road at a Truck Stop for brekkie. Which turned out to be Subway that morning I think.
The weather was superb and everything looked set for racing at Knoxville. We crossed the mighty Mississippi at Moline and once inside Iowa (the river is the border between Illinois and Iowa) we had to stop to get up close and personal with this famous waterway. Although it was clear that it had flooded in recent weeks, the water levels had dropped. But there was plenty of flotsam in the water which the raging torrents had accumulated up stream and was still making its way down to New Orleans to empty out in the Gulf of Mexico. When we arrived at Moline, there was a gigantic barge (estimated at 600 feet long) transporting its cargo south. How they negotiate bends in the river and the locks is anyone’s guess.
But Knoxville was beckoning and after a quick detour to see Davenport Speedway on the way through, we were at Pella around 4.30pm. This is our base for the next two nights and a more pristine Hotel you could not find anywhere. The Country Inn, Pella is fantastic. Handily located, clean, new, wonderful staff and above all, fresh baked cookies free in the foyer 24 hours a day. Pella is a predominately Dutch town and hence the influence of that country is everywhere to be seen. We are led to believe that Peter Hanson was seen the most at the cookie jar.
An hour to have a tub and a quick power nap was all we had before once again piling on board the van for the 15 minute trip to Knoxville. But no, not this time. Reaching an intersection between Pella and Knoxville we found the police redirecting traffic owing to a bad accident on the road we wanted. So it was off around Lake Red Rock, instead of driving over the weir built above the sluice gates which release millions of gallons of water into the streams around central Iowa. This added 40 minutes to the trip, but the scenery was worth it.
In fact it provided an unintended highlight in that we came into the town down Lincoln Street. Knoxville Raceway is on this road in the heart of the town and it gradually comes into view as you drive south along Lincoln. Those who hadn’t been here before (which is all bar three) were in awe of the fact that the track sits on the main road in the middle of town and turns 1&2 lie just 12 feet from the traffic on Lincoln Street. In fact, even for those who have seen Knoxville Raceway before, it still remains a breathtaking stadium.
Everyone piled out at the Dingus Lounge while Pete Physick ventured up to the Museum to meet Bob Baker and collect all the pre-arranged tickets. Which were intended to be … A) Sitting in the grandstands on the main straight on Night 1. B) Attending the Hall of Fame Induction luncheon. C) Watching the racing Saturday night from the suites in the Museum building. But a quick change of plans occurred when we were offered the use of the Big Game Tree Stands suite on Level 4. You know the one. The Sammy Swindell and Craig Dollansky suite …
Bring your own cooler (read esky), order in a food delivery from the stores around the track and a better night you couldn’t imagine. 41 360’s were the product on the race track along with 12 old masters plying their trade around the half mile of Marion county clay. Brian Brown won the 360 feature while Gary Wright, who was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at tomorrow’s banquet, was the star of the “old guys”.
The self-imposed 45 minute return to the van after the last race was duly complied with after the compulsory visit to the pits. As usual, race fans are no different to anyone else in America and the touring Aussies became the people that everyone had to talk to. Mind you we do a pretty good job of being noticeable, with the specially made Global Speedway Tours shirts standing out amongst the crowd. Merchandise trailers do well out of us and Delta will need to add some fuel to the tanks for the flight home, as the plane will be significantly heavier back to Sydney than it was coming over.
Day 11 – Saturday June 4th 2011
Saturday dawned fine and sunny and the group was up early with some choosing to explore Pella on foot and others taking the opportunity of a little down time before we left at 11.00am for Knoxville. A drive around Pella saw us find the Vermeer Mill. A fully functional 1850s-style windmill, reaching 134 feet (41 m) high. It is the tallest working windmill in the USA, grinding wheat into flour using only wind power. Nothing unusual about that you might say, but the fact that it’s in the main street makes it stand out a little. We were a month late for the tulip festival which surely must be a spectacular sight.
This time the road to Knoxville was open and we travelled across the Lake Red Rock dam wall and called in to the park below where fisherman catch Asian carp with a cross bow. The carp fly out of the water every few seconds and if quick enough, an arrow will land you your prize. We watched as several local fishermen cleaned and gutted their catfish (caught with a hook). The video obtained is probably best not shown publically ….
At precisely midday we entered the Dyer-Hudson building in the Marion County Fairgrounds behind the massive Knoxville Raceway grandstands. The National Sprintcar Hall of Fame 2011 Induction banquet was on and we had tickets. Looking resplendent in our red & black GST shirts, we became part of the 300 strong audience, which as we were about to discover, included some big, big names of sprintcar racing from yesteryear.
The President of the NSCHOF welcomed the guys from Australia and gave us the “long tow” award and a round of applause was duly received. After the usual preliminaries, the inductions began. Present day driver Danny Lasoski was first up, followed by Gary Wright from Texas who won the Masters’ Classic last night. Bobby Unser accepted on Andy Granatelli’s behalf, with other inductees being Emmett Shelley, Joe Sostilio, Della Rice, Gene Marderness, Leonard Kerbs, Wally Campbell, Bob Burman, Bruce Bromme Jnr, Jimmy Boyd and W W Bowen. Some were there to collect in person, others couldn’t as they had either perished in racing accidents, or old age had taken their lives. In which case, relatives accepted on their behalves.
It was a terrific afternoon with many people taking the time to come over to our table to thank us for coming so far to be part of the ceremony. We donated three GST caps and two shirts to the NSCHOF’s efforts to raise money for Australia’s Skip Jackson who has just been diagnosed with Stage 3 prostate cancer. They will be included in the auction next Saturday to raise funds for Skip’s treatments.
From there people scattered to see what Knoxville had to offer before tonight’s racing. The Museum was popular, plus the merchandise shop but most sought protection from the sun inside the Dingus Lounge. We were once again a suite for the races, this time on Level 3 but still with an outstanding view of the track. 75 sprintcars were in the pits with 27 410’s, 30 360’s and 18 305’s on hand. The 410 feature saw Danny Lasoski take off to almost become unnoticed out the front. Driving as low on the track as you could, just like those catfish we saw at Lake Red Rock this morning, the Dude looked like an easy winner. That is until Terry McCarl found a middle groove on both ends of the half mile oval and started to make his presence felt. He flew past his son Austin for second and then easily rounded up Lasoski to go and take his 50th career feature at Knoxville.
The day was good, the night was great and those who had not been to the sprintcar racing capitol of the world before, can now forever remember their weekend in Knoxville, Iowa.
Day 12 – Sunday June 5th 2011
Sunday means Kokomo!! We missed last week at this racy little track because of the postponed Little 500. So tonight will make up for that. The talk in the Chevy as we zipped along US63 towards Illinois was all about the fun weekend in Knoxville and the long awaited opportunity to see Kokomo. As we neared Burlington and the Mississippi at around 11.00am, my phone beeped and in my own heart I knew instantly what it would be. Andrew Quinn had sent through a text to advise that the promoters had cancelled already. The 5” of rain overnight in Indiana had created a pool of water throughout the pits and track and in no way was it going to dry enough in seven hours to race tonight.
Devastated we stopped at the big river to deliver the bad news to the others in the Flex. Honestly a rainout really is worse than a death in the family. We pondered what to do and after driving down what Burlington, Iowa claim is the crookedest street in the world (San Francisco will be pissed off) we set off again, this time for Peoria on the Illinois River. I had remembered from previous trips that the setting just under the bridge which takes I-74 across the Illinois was a picturesque spot with bars and restaurants. And a paddle steamer Casino ….
Easy to find we pulled off the freeway and ate at Joe’s. Joe’s Crab House that is. Good food, good company and some fun to take our disappointment away. On our way in we had passed the Peoria Speedway where Michael Pickens had won his second consecutive POWRi midget feature last night. On Friday night he won at Fayette County Speedway in Brownstown, Illinois. He’ll be in great form for when Indiana Midget week starts at Gas City next Wednesday night.
From Peoria we made our way to Bloomington (Illinois, not Indiana) where Wal-Mart beckoned again. The Whittles and Pete Huylk both wanted to buy a laptop and others wanted to wander, just because it’s a Wal-Mart. That done it was home James to the Courtyard Marriott who were surprised to see us because they weren’t expecting the Aussies to return until well after midnight.
Drinks and a feed at our second home (the Bourbon Street Distillery – with the Courtyard being our first) closed out a long day in which we drove more than 450 miles (720 kms).
Day 13 – Monday June 6th 2011
A rest day … hooray. But not quite. This morning “Two dogs” (that’s Pete Hanson’s new nickname based on his fetish for hotdogs and the fact that Speedway gas stations sell 2 for $2) and I drove the Bergmeiers 30 miles down to Whiteland to pick up their 40 foot palace on wheels. That done we followed them back up the road a little while watching Ron come to grips with eight tons of rolling metal. Next it was to another Wal-Mart for Bob and Pat to get their lap top seeing as how yesterday’s store in Bloomington only had one. Then it was off to investigate the cost of a new iPhone 4 for me who had his stolen the night before I left for this tour. For what it’s worth, you can buy one outright at $649 (16GB) but it is locked to the AT&T network – unless you can find someone to jailbreak it for you.
Then it was back to the Courtyard where most had scattered in different directions. Some were washing, some were visiting Museums, some were walking the delightful canals around the area of downtown Indy where we are staying and some were sleeping. And one was writing this Blog …
Late afternoon GST invited everyone up to our room for “cocktails” to compensate for the rained out races at Kokomo. I had put everyone’s photos onto my laptop and then connected up via HDMI to the big screen TV in the room and we had a ball watching photos and videos since day 1 back on May 25th.
The next part of Day 13 was a visit to El Rodeo down near the Union Jack Hotel on Crawfordsville Road, a mile or so past the speedway. A Mexican joint that is very popular with racers and fans, but seeing as how most have left town since last week’s super weekend I figured it should be easy to get in tonight. Two cabs were ordered, as our driver (ie me) had the night off. The drivers of each maxi cab were from Nigeria and Eretria and both were keenly interested in Australia. Our driver dropped us off tickled pink with his new found knowledge that New Zealand is the 7th state of Australia.
Although Mexican wasn’t everyone’s choice, the food here is sensational and cheap. No one had a meal over $12.00. And every beer comes served in a brand new ice crusted mug each and every time. Beautiful …. Then suddenly another day had come to an end.
Day 14 – Tuesday June 7th 2011
Last night at El Rodeo, we decided to take the van out to Dayton, Ohio to see the US Air Force National Museum. An unscheduled optional trip, all but Bob & Pat decided to go. It was another 260 mile round trip, but definitely worth it for those who haven’t been there before. One tour member who shall remain nameless described the visit as better than going to the speedway. (That’s why he / she will remain anonymous to avoid ridicule.)
Subdivided into Galleries, the Museum records the history of A) The Early Years, B) WW2, C) Korean War, D) South East Asia War, E) The Cold War, F) Missile & Space, G) The Presidential and H) Research & Development. They are housed within gigantic purpose built hangers, all conjoined by above ground tunnels. To quote from their website:
“The National Museum of the United States Air Force galleries presents military aviation history, boasting more than 360 aerospace vehicles and missiles on display — many rare and one-of-a-kind — along with thousands of historical items and powerful sensory exhibits that bring history to life and connect the Wright brothers’ legacy with today’s stealth and precision technology. We invite you to take an online glimpse of our galleries. Click on a gallery name to see exhibits, including aircraft, engines, equipment and weapons of the USAF. The section also highlights special exhibits, current exhibits and restoration projects.”
When you stand under the Bockscar, the B-29 superfortress which dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, its sheer physical size and the fact that this was the one which actually flew the mission, simply makes the head spin. There are even stealth bombers in there plus rocket missiles which were stored underground and in barn silos around America to disguise them during the Cold War. They remained engaged and ready to be fired at any moment, if the then President of the day had decided to do so. To an aircraft enthusiast, this place would be the Knoxville Nationals on a stick.
Leaving there at 5.30pm, it was west back along I-70 until at least we came to the Indiana border and the “World’s Largest Fireworks store” emerged out of nowhere. This was a must, so having parked the van the first glimpse inside certainly confirmed its claimed status. The store seemed like the size of the Chili Bowl pavilion and every square metre of it was piled high with fireworks. Stocks are up according to the owner, as the 4th of July is nearly upon the country. It’s his biggest month of the year. Pete Richards purchased a bag full and the question we all have now is just where will he let them go …?
Nightfall on a day where the temperature exceeded 100F in most mid west states, saw the heat maintained through until well after 10.00pm. Some relief will come, but we don’t care what the temperature is for the next five nights as Midget Week starts tomorrow at Gas City, then Putnamville, Bloomington and Kokomo. Plus Saturday night for us over at Eldora for the Dream.
I’ll catch up with this diary when I can, over what will be some hectic racing and partying days …
Day 15 – Wednesday June 8th 2011
Withdrawal symptoms have set in for most with our last racing fix being three days ago. The day dawned fine and hot, which I thought was unusual, given that we were heading off to Gas City this afternoon. “Her upstairs” has been known to stuff the weather up from time to time and not schedule rain or thunderstorms on race day. Spring in the USA is notorious for its unpredictable weather patterns, but they must make the most of it, given the relatively short window of opportunity to go racing after the snow has thawed.
We picked up Geoff Vincent (from Perth) this morning to join us for the Midget week portion of the Tour. Geoff flew into Indy from Huntsville, Alabama where he has been visiting his sister. We then set off for Gas City speedway. (Gas as in natural gas, not petrol.) Situated just off I-69, Gas City like all others in Indiana, has only been able to run a few race meetings unaffected by weather this season.
Tonight however there was a guarantee we would get it in. An easy 71 miles up the interstate saw us pass Anderson (the Little 500 venue) before we pulled in at a truck stop to collect some cold beer. $1 beers are proving popular – why wouldn’t they? Unusually the truck stop didn’t sell beer and we were directed 500 metres down the road to a beer store. Now remember the freeway number of 69 and the fact that the Yanks call ‘em Liquor Stores. Put the two together and you have quite a name to put on your store sign.
It had always been planned to arrive early for Gas City as Stubb (Scott Phillips) was providing a BBQ dinner for everyone in the parking lot. That’s also why we needed more beer. We pulled alongside their RV at 2.37pm precisely. Stubb and Gail had arrived the night before to prepare and save seats in the grandstand. Much fun was had with the Ohio legend as he regaled everyone with stories, both tall and true. Cornhole (bean bags) was popular with the boards being set up outside the RV and most participating. As people walked past to and from their own motorhomes, we engaged in conversation with them virtually every time. Either they knew Stubb and Gail, or they heard us and wanted to chat. The speedway community are very friendly indeed.
Stubb’s Ohio barbequed chicken was delicious as usual. Salads were also prepared and the travelling Aussies ate heartily in searing heat. Although to be fair, we were sitting in the shade of the trees at that stage. Being in the car park means you just need to listen for the engines to fire up and around 6.45pm on track activity commenced. That stirred up our guys and gals to make their way to the grandstand and take up their seats. Progressively everyone joined them and by 8.00pm we had the caps off listening to the American national anthem once again.
37 midgets were on hand for Round 1, backed up by 32 non winged 410 sprintcars. Good car counts which should keep up for the series. The quality of midget drivers on hand was formidable. It’s doubtful that there would be anyone else not there, that should be, if you know what I mean. Many of these drivers were pulling double duty in the sprintcars as well, hence I had great anticipation for their feature.
Dave Argabright joined us for the latter part of the night’s racing, bringing along son Chad to meet us all. At the end of the day, I must confess that whilst impressed with the midget line up and their heats were excellent, the feature was processional resulting in most sitting on the pole line and not prepared to go high. Whereas the sprintcars who followed them, used every square inch of track and produced a thrilling non-stop feature with passing galore. By far the best dirt race we’ve seen so far on the trip.
Darren Hagen won the Midget A to follow up his win at IRP on the night we went to the Little 500. Following him home were Zach Daum, Tracy Hines and Bobby East. Our own Anzacs both had mixed nights. Matty Smith had troubles in qualifying which put him behind the eight ball right from the start, eventually finishing 8th in the B, whilst Michael Pickens qualified 19th, won his heat but was taken out in the A very early in a skirmish on turn 3. The superb sprintcar feature went to Brett Burdette in a great drive from quite a few hotshots who couldn’t stay with him.
When the lights went out, we made our way back to Stubb’s for a couple of traffic clearers before bidding farewell to a great little guy (check out the photo gallery for his stature) and his wife. We hit the road around midnight and an expected arrival back in Indy of 1.45am was about right. Even though it was late, all the passengers were still wide awake for the trip home.
Tomorrow is night 2 in Putnamville …. for which we will avoid the freeway and drive down historic Route 40. As with most roads with a zero in their number, US 40 once traversed the nation from east to west before the Interstate freeway system was constructed. Still driveable of course, it features classic American style motels on one side of the road, and classic American style Diners on the other.
Day 16 – Thursday June 9th 2011
The delightfully picturesque Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville awaited us next. Once again the weather was sensational. Dry and hot … perfect weather for midgets, sprintcars and beer. After various personal duties were attended to in the morning, we set off around 2.00pm starting off on Washington Street and heading south west along US40. It winds its way out of metropolitan Indianapolis along wide corridors of streets until it hits the rural areas of central Indiana. A pit stop at Wal-Mart in Plainfield was compulsory for not only the beer (and soft drink of course) but also for last minute items like suitcases to fit every purchase into!!
There were not as many old motels and diners as I had anticipated but several classic examples emerged as we drove along. As we neared Putnamville (only 46 miles from Indy) the transporters started to become more prevalent and eventually we drove into then track squeezed between them. What a perfect setting it is in. For once it’s not a Fairgrounds, but a tailor made speedway with a fantastic grassed RV section right at the back which is nestled in amongst the trees. Too beautiful for words.
Naturally we put the GST Chevy in amongst the RV’s and found old friends from last night and other race meetings. Plus plenty of new ones. The travelling Aussies are making quite an impression on the USAC community. Bud and Keet Hunnicutt travelled from Raymore in Missouri to meet up with us. Bud is a racer from way back having competed with Jud Larson and the entire Weld family just to name a few. At 78 years young, Bud remains a great story teller and he kept everyone entertained with tall tales and true of racing past and present. Including the fact that he has got four speeding tickets in the last two months.
The noise from hot laps finally beckoned and we made our way into the track to sit on Turn 4 tonight. Including Bud & Keet we were 15. A small track by Aussie standards it was semi-banked and looked to be capable of providing great racing … which is did. We had the same number of midgets in the house as last night but only 28 sprintcars. Plus around 20 modifieds.
Ken and Pat found the Budweiser girl and the accompanying photo in the Gallery demonstrates that she is much prettier than them. Everyone found food and shelter from the heat. Some went into the pits, others bench raced with the Yanks. The Midget A main was a thriller with Bryan Clauson and Kyle Larson swapping the lead six times over the latter part of the race only to see Clauson throw caution to the wind on turn 4 to head up to the treacherous cushion and the momentum he got from it was enough to propel him from third place to victory inside the last 50 metres. Sensational stuff. Larson was 2nd and Brad Kuhn third. Clauson now leads the Midget week pointscore by 5 from Bobby East.
The sprintcars were last on and although not as good as last night at Gas City, their show was entertaining to say the least. We were on our way back home just after Pat souvenired 4 banners from the fences …..
Looking forward to seeing Kyle Larson in action again tomorrow night at Bloomington. That kid is outstanding.
Day 17 – Friday June 10th 2011
Another day, another race track …. it’s Friday, so it must be Bloomington. Home of the Kinser clan and there were a couple running in the sprints. Nephews of some and sons of others.
Each day we leave at a different time for the races, depending on how far they are and what needs to be done on the journey there. Today was a big sleep in day as Bloomington is a mere 58 miles away, so departure was scheduled for 2.00pm, which gives time for exploring Indianapolis on foot. One such person, who shall remain nameless but is a male who lives between Mt Gambier and Warrnambool, chose to walk the parks of downtown.
Unbeknowns to him, Friday at 11.00am is the day and time when the city religiously tests its tornado warning systems. Casually strolling through a nearby city park, sirens erupted all around him with one particularly close to his being. His first thought was that the city was being invaded by aliens and that he had been chosen to donate his body for outer space exploration. But after seeking advice from a nearby local that all was in order, his second thought was to quickly locate a laundry which could assist in cleaning his underwear. Our beloved Kenny may never be the same again …
By the time the tour ends next Tuesday, we will have taken just about every road out of the city to points further north, south, east and west. Today was yet another new road when we deliberately avoided the freeways to experience mid-west America in all its glory. We went south through the backstreets of Indy to find US 37 which winds its way down to Bloomington. On the way there, that same identity who had lost a bit of unintended weight earlier this morning, was keen to put it back on courtesy of all you can eat pancakes for $3.99. ‘Steak and Shake’ is the place and we kept an eager eye out for one.
Martinsville came upon us and we located one of their diners, but much to everyone’s disappointment their offer only applies for breakfast from 6.00am to 11.00am. However we still went in and burgers were the go once again, this time with a fried egg included. But no beetroot. A little more time was expended at the adjacent Wal-Mart before we hit the road to Night 3 of Indiana Midget week. Bloomington is another bullring and has been continuously operating since 1923. Of course the facility has been improved over the years to create a great race track complex which features a red clay surface unique to the area. However what has not improved is the lighting. Like Putnamville the night before, the sensational racing and quality of cars and drivers is let down by woefully inadequate illumination of the track. Indiana has very long twilights, but after 9.00pm or so when the sun goes down, it becomes tough for the fans, let alone the drivers who negotiate their way around with the speeds they do.
We arrived at the track just as Andrew Quinn pulled in and together we parked next to Bryan Clauson’s grandparent’s motorhome and all the other friends we have made along the way. Pre-race beers and hospitality were the order of the afternoon before the gates opened and positions were claimed in the bleachers. The midgets again took the honours tonight with unbelievably fast, precise and ballsy racing. These guys really do know what they are doing and for Matt Smith and Michael Pickens to shine in these fields is a credit to them. Smith won his heat and both he and MP took their places in the A Main. Pickens came from deep in the pack to finish an excellent 8th and was charging home at the time, demonstrating that podium success may not be too far away. Matt was 18th. Kyle Larson took the win to further cement his growing reputation. Brady Short took the sprintcar feature.
Driving back to Indy, we were hit by the thunderstorm that had been promised all evening. This one was no match however for that which hit the Hotel about 2.30am, waking most from a deep sleep.
Day 18 – Saturday June 11th 2011
Big day planned for today. One of the possibilities for today had been a visit to the Tractor Pull at Wapakoneta in Ohio, 25 miles north of Eldora Speedway. The idea was foregone however in favour of a visit to Winchester Speedway on the Indiana / Ohio border. A half mile paved track, it lies 90 miles northeast of Indianapolis in Randolph County. What sets it apart from most however is the 37 degree banking of the turns. The accompanying photos in the Gallery do not do justice to how fast and steep they are. You’ll just have to hear about it from the folks who visited there today.
Once again we took the back roads to Winchester, this time travelling Routes 67 and 36 to deliver us to the World’s Fastest Half Mile. What always impresses is the extraordinary pride Americans have in the appearance of their homes. Most are immaculate with handsome lawns always kept neat and tidy, often with a pond in the front yard and nearly always with an RV sitting quietly in the driveway waiting to take its owners to their next adventure. Probably at a race track, judging by the numbers we see there.
As we neared Winchester, I had decided that in case the place wasn’t open, I would call the manager to see if we could get in. On arrival there was no one around and the gates were locked. Before I could get my phone out my pocket, a Chev Corvette roared up and parked beside us. It was Gary McFarland, the Sales & Marketing Manager who coincidently had decided to drop in. Thrilled with the fact that 11 Aussies wanted to see how Winchester has gained its infamy, he opened up the world to us starting with a tour of the internal side of the hospitality areas and offices. A couple of hundred dollars or so finished up in his pocket from merchandise sales before he asked us to sign a waiver if we wanted to drive the track. I figured this would just be in the GST van, but I was wrong.
Gary opened the gates and out we drove onto the paved track and it was cool to see the astonished looks on the faces of those who hadn’t been there before. Which was everyone but me. We turned right and headed for a lap, not daring to go to the top in case the van toppled over on the banking. Even half way up was enough to suggest disaster waited if we went any higher. Coming back to the start / finish line, we saw the red Corvette convertible waiting there with Gary at the wheel. “Right” he said. “Who’s first to come with me”?
The scramble to get into the low slung car replicated Kenny’s recent urgency to find a laundry and with one in the passenger seat and two in the back, off they went for two laps at a much greater speed than a 15 seater van can generate. On lap 1 of each ride, Gary stopped the car on the very top up by the fence between turns 3 & 4 to highlight the banking and to then demonstrate the speed that is gained from being up that high when accelerating into turn 4 and down the main straight. The accompanying video will be put on the Gallery when space permits.
Once everyone had had their turn, it was off to walk the track and see the line on to the back straight from turn 2. The overhanging trees have taken many a life here with cars disappearing over the small white perimeter wall only to hit the tree trunks which awaited them. Nothing has changed to this day. Except the trees are bigger. Group photos with Gary followed and after thanking him profusely, we set off on the next part of today’s adventure. Kenny’s wife Marilyn described this morning as her highlight of the tour so far.
Hungry and with plenty of time to get to Eldora just 30 miles away, lunch was the order of the day. What followed next could well be the tour highlight of all the males on the trip. Seeing an Arby’s sign in the distance on the way out of Winchester, we decided that we should again experience roast beef sandwiches. As we pulled in, we were welcomed by 20 or so teenage girls from the Winchester Falcons cheer squad who had decided to wash cars at Arby’s to raise money for their forthcoming trip to Kentucky for the USA high school’s cheerleading championships. The GST van well needed a tub so we donated $15 to the cause, left the van with them and went inside. Food ordered and received, it was with interest that I observed that most sat right at the front of the restaurant in front of the huge windows which overlooked the car park. All said they were there to ensure that nothing was taken from the van. Yeah, sure …..
Hunger and other things satisfied, we departed Winchester for Eldora. A speedway that is perhaps the most renowned in the world in our chosen sport. We were to meet up with Ron and Ash here and sink a couple of cold ones in their motorhome, but I always knew that may be a little difficult, given that there would probably be over 2,000 RV’s in the place and the lack of cell phone access in the remote area where Earl Baltes built his track decades ago, would mean we could not contact them. My suspicions were correct and although we drove aimlessly around, both looking for them and watching life unfold for the Late Model fans, we failed in our quest to find them. However we did jag a great car park spot literally 100 metres from the entrance gates.
Once again curiosity understandably got the better of those on their first visit to Eldora, and they were off to explore this massive speedway and its sights and sounds. Most fans were still in their RV’s and campers sheltering from the heat and humidity, so inside was still an easy place to walk around in. It would change later. The enormous range of concession stands, merchandise and T-Shirt trailers occupied most attention as GST punters considered the bulging nature of their suitcases, before going ahead and buying anyway.
91 Late Models had qualified last night while we were at Bloomington and the top 36 were locked into the heats on an inverted six basis, with the remaining 55 cars making up the balance of each of the six heats. Each heat was of 20 laps and with the calibre of cars assembled for the 100 lap Dream, each heat was definitely a feature in its own right. The top three in each heat went to the A Main and the remaining six came through the B. The Dream got underway at 11.15pm and one could have assumed it may turn out to be a drawn out affair. But no, the first 48 laps were at a blindingly fast speed. And certainly it was not a freight train, with slide jobs galore, particularly right in front of us as they went into turn 4. Outstanding skills were on display for us.
After starting 12th and quietly going about his business, Don O’Neal in his yellow #71 suddenly emerged from the pack and with 20 to go he passed Darrell Lanigan for second and set out after the leader, Billy Moyer. At lap 86, he passed Moyer (once again with a fantastic slide job) to take the lead. Hearts fluttered when he hit the wall coming out of two on lap 89 but O’Neal maintained his speed (and composure) and went on to win $100,000 and his first Eldora Dream. An excellent night, which finished earlier than was expected. Eldora is renowned for its dust and although there was plenty last night, it was lighter than I have experienced before. Although I must confess that having a track announcer with the Christian name of Dustin was ironic …..
After bidding farewell to Ron & Ash who are returning to PA for more Late Model racing, we started the trip back to Indy. A stop at the Flying J for late night sustenance and a variety of coffee flavours saw us get “home” at 2.50am after quite a day. Tomorrow is Kokomo at long last. Our final track to visit and although we should have been there two times already, the weather did not cooperate. Tomorrow it will however ….
Day 19 – Sunday June 12th 2011
Kokomo was on our itinerary three times for this tour. The first night we didn’t make it because the Little 500 was postponed by rain to the Sunday night of the Indy 500. Therefore “no show Kokomo.” The second night was rained out after we had hi tailed it back from Knoxville, but today the weather was in great shape for racing.
Enthusiasm is still at its peak amongst the group, but for some the mind is currently a bit quicker than the body as the tour draws to a close. We have seen and done so much that really whatever happens tonight will be a value added extra. Kokomo is only 51 miles up US 31 and although not an interstate, it is still a four lane highway running through the corn fields. One can never cease being amazed at the road system over here, no matter how many times you have visited this country. It is daunting and intimidating at first, but once mastered the country opens up as big as an IMAX theatre and the splendour is there for all to see. One tip if you want to drive over here is to become very aware of your compass directions. Everything is 100% dependent upon on it.
So at 3.30pm it was off north (or was it east?) to Kokomo for our 15th and last scheduled race meeting. Night 5 of Midget week and it just happened to be at the raciest little track in Indiana, perhaps the whole country. Arrived at 5.00pm, bought the tickets for all, said hi to Jill the promoter and then settled in for a couple of frothies with the USAC regulars outside their motorhomes. You never miss any action as the noise of engines firing from the track is always the cue to begin making your way inside.
I had been invited to spend some time tonight behind the microphone to be interviewed at intermission about Global Speedway Tours and was looking forward to that. Regretfully the opportunity didn’t happen, as either someone forgot, or the guy from New Zealand who they did interview made out he was me …..
On track, the racing was again simply superb. This time there was excellent lighting and if you missed anything it was your own fault. Aucklander Michael Pickens qualified 3rd fastest, with our own Matt Smith in 4th. We were looking good for some success tonight after Pickens finished 2nd at Lawrenceburg last night while we were at Eldora. MP finished 3rd in his heat in a truly great scrap, while Smith was consigned to the B Main in Heat 4. Smith bounced back to win the B and lined up in 7th for the A while Pickens was out of four.
Having set the scene, all eyes were now on 24 of the best drivers and fastest cars in the country (that means the world). The pace was frenetic and the driving skills extraordinary. A yellow at lap 2 with Pickens running 3rd was followed by another six laps later where by now MP had moved to second. With 13 to go the New Zealander took the lead from Kyle Larson but was put back when the yellow came out again. Still second with five to go, he made his move with three laps left and remained in front until the 4th and final yellow came out. Two scintillating laps later Michael Pickens had won Night 5 of USAC’s 2011 Midget week. To his credit the crowd went off as they recognised not only a champion driver, but the fact that an outsider from downunder had come into their world and beaten the best. The applause would have been humbling indeed for Michael.
With all that in the books it was homeward bound after the sprintcar feature. The final time we would get home in the middle of the night after racing in and around Indiana and Iowa for the last 19 days.
Day 20 – Monday June 13th 2011
Today was always designed to be kept as a ‘rain day’ in the event that Kokomo was washed out. It wasn’t of course, so it provided time to do all those things that had been left to the last minute. One of those for me was to drive to the Indy 500 offices to pick up the duplicated Carb Day tickets for those who wanted to keep them as souvenirs. Remembering of course that the originals had been lost along with my backpack and camera case at the Hoosier Hundred. Pete Hanson and Marilyn accompanied me for the short drive along 16th Street. And probably the 16th time we had driven along the famous road.
Along the way we stopped at the 16th Street Speedway. It was in an old baseball stadium which, prior to the new Victory Field being built on West Street, was the home of the Indianapolis Indians for 70 years. It has lain dormant for perhaps 12 years, two of which it operated as a speedway for midget racing. The promoters lost their you know what on the deal and it closed forever and has never been opened again. If the USA had such a thing as a National Trust this historic stadium would be preserved forever. The fact that speedway racing was conducted inside makes it even more of interest to us.
Once again the Global Speedway Tours recent run of good luck emerged for the three of us. The massive steel gates were locked solid, as they had been several weeks ago when I looked in through the cracks between them. But something weird had happened. Three weeks ago, the entire field had been covered in abandoned wrecked cars. Now they were gone. Intrigued, I approached a guy sitting in his car adjacent to the gates. He told me later that he wound the window down intending to tell me to get lost, but when he heard the Aussie accent and the reference to speedway, he mellowed and decided to give us some time. He was employed by the City of Indianapolis.
At that stage I also noticed a local Channel 7 TV news crew about 20 metres away. Our friend said “would we like to go inside”? We didn’t have to be asked twice, so he unlocked the huge padlocks and chains and forced open the gates like you would see in an old haunted house. Inside we could make out the old original signage of both the baseball (Bush Stadium) and the evidence of the old speedway. You could make out where the track had been, where the pits were and how the shape of the track was configured to the baseball diamond shape of the stadium. The seating was still intact, but the stands were in need of repair.
Now I tell you all that because we became amongst the first people in the city to find out that a developer has bought the (now) derelict old stadium and intends to build apartments on the adjacent car parks but will not tear down the stadium. It will become the apartment residents’ own “Field of Dreams’. He will keep it as a floodlit baseball field and they can stroll into it at any time for their recreation. The speedway history will be lost, but the baseball heritage will be retained. This multi-million dollar announcement was being made in a hour’s time, hence the presence of Channel 7’s news crew. Just thought you’d like to know …..
After picking up the tickets we returned to the hotel via Long’s Bakery where Marilyn wanted to stop, in the forlorn hope that that she could get Ken a meat pie. No luck of course, but she did buy some cream horns for him. The mind boggles!
That evening our planned Aussie BBQ was abandoned because the Aussie who was going to host it was in Australia. So we went to the only remaining racing bar that we haven’t yet been to. Kelly’s Pub on 10th Street. And a great time was had by all. Good food, cold drinks and good company. Andrew Quinn dropped in and together with his good friend Dick Monahan from Boston, they kept the table enthralled with stories … all racing related of course. Not only that, but also, on each Monday night a live speedway internet radio show is beamed out to the world from Kelly’s. Hosts D.O Laycock and Kevin Oldham were made aware of the presence of the GST guys and towards the end of the program I was interviewed for about 20 minutes on how, why and what is Global Speedway Tours, plus the proposed tour for Yanks to Australia and the recently completed Indiana Midget week series. Good fun and hopefully good publicity for us.
Day 21 – Tuesday June 14th 2011
It all had to come to an end sometime and today it did. We had become very friendly with the staff at the Courtyard Marriott, especially Jason, Casey and Holly. We bequeathed the large jar of vegemite that GST had taken over there to Holly who had said that her baby girl just loves the stuff. And we have already heard that the North Senate Street hotel has reported back to their national head office to say that they were delighted with our conduct and fun loving nature. We’ll definitely be back there again in 2012.
The staff benefitted big time as well from left over alcohol with a trolley full of assorted drinks given to them.
A late checkout of 1.00pm was arranged before we all met in the lobby to begin the logistical nightmare of how to fit luggage for 10, plus all the people in the van. Off course it was never going to happen but a little bit of pre planning saw the back seats come out and the luggage go in. The number of bags had increased by 40%, so it only left room for five passengers who travelled in the first shuttle to the airport. We off loaded them at the Delta check-in, together with 36 pieces of luggage to await our return with the rest.
It’s only 25 minutes at most from downtown to the airport, so we were back within the hour to collect the remaining tour members who had waited patiently minding the esky. It went on board as well and away we went to Ace Rental Cars to return the Chevy van. I had grown to love driving this thing over the 3,582 miles we travelled in it. Next year we might try the extended Ford 15 seater van which is longer again and offers more leg room for passengers. The staff at Ace had been great as well so they were given the esky, complete with ice and cold beer. They thought the gesture was great and promised to drink the contents that afternoon as well.
And then before we knew it, we were on Delta Fl 877 direct to Los Angeles to connect with DL 17 to Sydney. Unlike the hectic nature of Day 1 when not one tour member arrived on time into Indianapolis due to the weather and storms across the country, this time we were able to remain all together as a group. Negotiating TSA security checks in Indy was a breeze and at LAX we arrived at Gate 58 and the Sydney flight was departing from Gate 57. The walk from the Indy plane was no more than 60 metres across the building ….
Which brings us to the close of our first tour. It was most certainly a successful one from our point of view and we have learned a great deal from it in order to modify and further improve subsequent tours to the Indy 500 and Midget week. We will be repeating this tour in 2013, so if you liked what you have read, why not think about touring the USA with Global Speedway Tours. We will publish the testimonials from the 2011 tour members as they reveal their favourite moments and exclusive thoughts about their racing holiday of a lifetime with Global Speedway Tours Australia.
Now it’s all attention on the Florida trip in February 2012. If you haven’t yet read the itinerary for this fabulous tour, you can do so by clicking here and then get in touch with us to be one of the first 20 to secure the guaranteed price.
Or you could consider touring with us to the Knoxville Nationals and a zillion other race dates in July / August of each year. Watch the website for full details to be published.
Thanks for reading our diary and we look forward to having you on board with us one day for a tour …..