May traditions…

Posted on: May 11, 2010 | Comments(33) | Indy 500 | By: Dave

Naturally, after almost a century, there are numerous Month of May traditions – instituted by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, implemented by clubs and groups and those personal remembrances that make the Indianapolis 500 so endearing and enduring. Indy Racing League vice president of public relations Steve Shunck talks about his yearly treasure hunt:

Some treasures from The Mail Room

Some treasures from The Mail Room

It’s hard to know where to begin. There’s “Back Home Again in Indiana” sung by Jim Nabors, the Gordon Pipers, Pole Day, Bump Day, Carb Day, the “500” Festival Parade, Front Row Parties, Last Row Parties, seeing old friends, getting Long’s Donuts before the sun rises, dinner with pals at Mo’s Steakhouse or just sitting in a favorite section or seat during practice or qualifying.

But I know my month of May officially begins when I do one thing – make my annual trip to The Mail Room, which sells “500” racing collectables at 5230 West 16th St. (the corner of 16th and Lynhurst).   My annual pilgrimage there waves the green flag on all other activities for the month.

And as usual I went there earlier this week to kick things off with a crisp $20 bill. And yes, $20 does go a long way if you are willing to dig a little, blow off some dust and do some wheeling and dealing with owner and all-around good guy Frank Gilbert.

Since my first purchase at The Mail Room in 1989, I have walked away each year with something different that is still part of my home “museum.”  Memorable purchases include numerous Indy 500 programs, bronze pit badges, Bobby Unser press kits, Indy Star newspapers proclaiming that year’s winner, ticket stubs, starting lineups, event posters and even an Andy Granatelli autographed STP sticker (way cool).

So this year I had to top my past purchases. And you know what?  I hit gold after some digging and searching (that’s half the fun).  How about a commemorative IMS Christmas glass from 1963 (the year I was born), 1973 (my first Indy 500) and 1980 (the Yellow Submarine wins and I sat in Paddock Penthouse row A – not bad for a high school sophomore with his dad) and the last treasure I unearthed was a 1960’s ceramic coaster, change tray or ashtray about three inches in diameter – it has the IMS wings and wheels and reads – 500 Mile Race Soovenir of Motor Speedway.? Ah, the days before spell check!

If you can’t make it to The Mail Room this May go online and check them out – and you can start your own May tradition with a little piece of Indy history.


There are 33 comments for this post.

  1. Ken on May 11, 2010 9:40 am

    I was in INDY a few weeks ago and visited the HOFMuseum and had such great visit with the staff recalling all the great traditions of IMS. I told them I missed how so many businesses would decorate inside and out with black and white checkered flags and banners. There were so many 500 Festival related things too! I was in elementary school and we had a 500 Festival of Art, and I got an award for my artwork. So much hype for the entire month of May…not counting all the wonderful events on Race Day. You hit on most of the ones I remember, but one thing I always thought was fun was all the balloons being released. A simple thing, but a fun tradition that continues. And yes, I have my own “museum” of collectibles, and I NOW live in Texas. Each time I go “back home again in Indiana” I always have a pilgrimage to the track!

  2. Lee Robison on May 11, 2010 9:41 am
    Lee Robison

    Great place for us old guys. I have some of those glasses in my study along with the other “Stuff”

  3. Charley Hylton on May 11, 2010 9:50 am
    Charley Hylton

    This will be my 48th Year at Indy, missing only two years 65-66 while serving in Viet Nam. I also have many memories especially all the night’s before on Georgetown Road. Some of which I would like to take back, that was when I was real young.

  4. pezzolo on May 12, 2010 12:23 am

    in brazil, we light a candle and pray for helio and TK!

  5. Marco Strazzulla on May 12, 2010 3:44 am
    Marco Strazzulla

    I came from Sicily to Indianapolis in 2008 to see The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It was an unbelieveble emotion for a race fan like that has always loved the Indy 500. I also have my collection of memorabilia (programs, t-shirts, mugs, photos), some purchased at the place, some purchased every year by web. It’s my way to be always close to the Indianapolis 500.

  6. JY on May 12, 2010 11:00 am

    Our 500 Tradition has grown over my 20 years of going to the speedway. My first race in 1990 saw the fam getting up at 4 in the morning to drive down to Indy. We would always stop at the McDonalds in Kokomo to get breakfast and take a little break before finding our way to the neighborhood just outside the track. We would beat traffic, park, and take a nap while listening to the Bob and Tom pre-race show. Then we would get everything together and head to the track.

    After high school, I took over the family tickets and started going down with my buddies a few nights before to camp in that same neigborhood. We found a yard that had tons of tents and campers and decided that would be our spot. We couldn’t have found a nicer family or group of campers. Every year they open their home to us and their other 50 – 60 guests. Traditions like “lightning balls”, shots of moonshine for first timers (rookies), biscuts and gravy on race day, and a huge meal after the race are just a few of the things we will go on talking about for the rest of the year. So, for all of you who have been taking refuge at B+J’s (don’t want to give the secret away)… See you in a few weeks!

  7. JEFF on May 12, 2010 11:34 am

    what can you say about the greatest single day event in the world.i am 51 and have been going since i was in 7th would drop us off on 10th street and walk the rest of the way and sit in the the heck we got for being around drunks lol.then in high school tradition was skipping school to party in THE ORIGINAL SNAKE PIT.boy what an education it was being there.even on quals we would be in line when the gates open,and the same for race day.staying up all night and getting in line in back 40.then we grow older and they took history away with putting stands in turns.
    carb day is still the day for family and friends to just enjoy each other again after a long hard winter.thank you ims for the concerts now makes it wonderful day.
    then the biggest day of the me its xmas,new yrs,4th of july on in one.there is nothing like getting goode bumps with all the festivities,and the hair raising bumbs from the 1st lap.bloody marys at 7 am then cold chix and beer all day life is great in turn 1.btw it is more sunny and warmer in turn 1 lol.i may be biased as my bday is may 28th so i have always said i have the biggest bday party in the world.and to show how much i love the track and 500 i got the indy logo as a tat.and hopefully after a long life my ashes will be spread in turn 1.
    you can go on and on on what we do and love,its just a very special time and place.
    gods speed to all this yr

  8. Mike on May 12, 2010 12:52 pm

    My most enduring tradition has to be the annual Indy 500 model car display. My dad started it around thirty years ago at Allison Elementary School (yes, named for the IMS founder). It has since moved to the children’s area display case at the Speedway Public Library on 25th Street, and I have picked up doing it. This year’s theme is the 1970’s and 1980’s, and it will be up until June 7.

    I’ve lived my entire life two blocks and a parking field west of “the track”. BUT I never went to “the race” until 1990. (Simply called “the race” – not Indy, not 500, not 400, not Brickyard, and not GP.) Before then the tradition was to stay at home with my grandma and have the race on the radio in the background. No one was around and the whole town was so quiet, except for the cars and the PA announcer. We would walk down to the field and watch the balloons go, then walk back. Watching the Goodyear blimp fly by was a favorite of mine.

    The traditional family race seats are turn three, second row from the top.

  9. Jared on May 12, 2010 1:34 pm

    My first Indy 500 was in 1992 when I was 7. My father and I went with an old college friend of his and his son who was my age. We went to the 500, just the 4 of us, until 2000. Every year we stayed at a little motel just inside the Ohio/Indiana border the day before the race. It had a big field where we’d play catch, bocce ball, etc. After dinner we would go back to the hotel room, pick the drivers out of a hat ($5 bet) and relax until it was time to go to sleep. Driving to the track the following morning at 3 or 4am and the excitement I had bottled inside is something I’ll never forget, something that I still experience and something I’ve passed on to a group of my close friends.

    I went back again in 2002, this time with a few buddies (my dad grew tired of the rain in May). I have continued to go every single year (we now stay in a different motel just inside the OH/IN border but still has a nice field – a must!!) and have entertained a group of about 5 of us that go every year now.

    This past June I married a beautiful girl and she too has fallen in love with The Greatest Spectacle in Racing (She is an Helio fan, of course). I literally teared up when I saw the smile on her face on that first lap of green flag racing.

    I will always be thankful that my dad took his buddy up on the offer to go to the Indy 500 back in 92. And I hope I can pass that same gift on to a son or daughter of mine some day soon.


  10. evets elbon on May 12, 2010 1:57 pm
    evets elbon

    Annual class of ‘62 Speedway High School “sparkplugs” reunion Friday night before Sunday’s race @ Grindstone Charley’s in Speedway.

  11. AJ on May 12, 2010 1:57 pm

    My family has Indianapolis 500 tradtions that go back to 1964 when my Dad and his two brothers went to The 500 for the first time. I do not remember when I went to my first 500, I was still in diapers. My Dad’s side of the family does not get together at Christmas orThanksgiving like normal people, they go to The 500. I here stories about The 500, people talking about how cold it was in 92 or how exciting it was in 82, I was there. I hear guys talk about going to thier 20th 500. I am 36 and 2010 will be my 30th. The 500 itself is the tradtion. I am named after AJ Foyt, what else do you do on Memorial Day weekend? I have a 5 year old and 3 year old who are both girls that love to go to the Lawernceburg Speedway and watch sprint cars. I don’t see this tradtion coming to an end anytime soon.

  12. Ted Wolfram on May 12, 2010 3:38 pm
    Ted Wolfram

    I attended my first race in 1946 (cheered for Ted Horn…he finished 3rd). Our family camps at the first house on 25ht Street. We have about 25…and we sit in J, NW Vista and NW Vista Deck. I usually attend practice on Thursday and/or Friday before qualifying. My best friend is International Hall of Famer Paul Goldsmith who qualified for his frist race with Smokey Yunick after never having been in an open wheel race car in hiis career. He won Daytona on tthe Beach on a bike and in stockcar…his best finish at Indy was 3rd. Anyone else remember the siren sound of a Novi screaming down the front stretch?

  13. Mike Bellaire on May 12, 2010 6:33 pm
    Mike Bellaire

    Little Al had it right several years ago when he said some people just don’t know what Indy means!!! Driving down 16th you can just feel it!! 44 yrs ago MY traditions started and now it seems that everything we do at Indy is tradition. The food, seats, clothing, people, parking, just everything!!! Til I’m dead & gone, my family and friends always know where I am the Sunday in Memorial Day week-end.

  14. Don Anspaugh on May 12, 2010 8:29 pm
    Don Anspaugh

    A Bloody Mary at the bar in the Speedway Motel (guess thats over), usually the Midgets at the night before, all the bikes at the Speedway station on 16th, a walk with the crazies on Georgetown, Tips at Kings Ribs, off to bed, to worry about the weather in the morning!

  15. Bob and Janean on May 12, 2010 9:09 pm
    Bob and Janean

    My wife and I went to the closed circuit showing of the 1970 500 on our wedding day and were late to the wedding. I guess Al Unser just didn’t drive fast enough. For our first anniversary we went to the race at Indy, then to a motel to actually see Al win it tape delayed. Ever since, we make a basket of salami, cheese and champaign to celebrate the start.

  16. Terry on May 12, 2010 10:48 pm

    My first 500 was 1975, attended with my parents and brother, came back in 1977 with friends and have not missed a year since. This year will be my 35 th. Started out driving into the Infield and eventually moved to the stands in 1989 when it became increasingly difficult to get a good viewing spot. In 1983 my lovely and understanding wife and I attended at the end our honeymoon. In 2001 we started bringing our two daughters and they haven’t missed since. Our group has now grown to a total of 18 Buckeyes. We arrive on Saturday and enjoy the autograph session, drivers meeting and Gasoline Alley. We stay in Lot 3 and enjoy waking up to the gate opening bomb and start getting ready for the GREATEST SPECTACLE IN AUTO RACING. Too many great memories and numerous traditions to list.

  17. G on May 12, 2010 11:25 pm

    1979 I attended my first Indy 500. My friends dad sponsored a lap to the race. I sat with my friend just above the old winners circle. Rick Mears won that year. The entire experience was awesome. I went with this family to subsequent races and sat on the first turn with chicken in the cooler. Later in life I went with friends and tailgated for 3 days with an RV and tents. I’ve been to the race 10 times. Moved to CA and found some open wheel friends. My neighbor, a long time CA resident and open wheel fan, attended last year and came back to CA to say the Indy 500 was a great experience. What a tradition!

  18. David K on May 12, 2010 11:59 pm
    David K

    My dad and I used to listen to the race on the radio and watch the rebraodacast on tv at night. My Dad, my brother and I started driving to the race from Houston in 1992, 16 hours straight thru. I’ll never forget sitting in turn one and not believing there was anyway they could get thru turn one without crashing. Dad said me and my brother didn’t take a breath for 10 laps.We had so much fun just getting there. My Dad hasn’t been able to make it to the race for around six years and my brother passed this year. I’m taking my Dad back one last time this year and my two oldest kids are going as well. I can’t thank him enough for introducing me to the greatest event in the world.

  19. David Mario on May 13, 2010 6:34 am
    David Mario

    My uncle Jon gave my wife and I tickets in Turn 1, about 10 rows from the bottom in 1987.
    We have not missed a race since that dramatic day.
    We have an annual party the night before the race with race pools, snacks, spirity, race flags, Indy stuff everywhere!

    Our best friends, a married couple that has been with us at the race since 1988, deals with my high emotion and energy created by Indy!

    My buddy and I don’t drink during the race so we don’t miss the action. We start after the race, tailgate and ultimately, my wife and end the day, watching the replay on TV!

    Go TK!

  20. What are your Indy 500 traditions? | Indycar on May 13, 2010 7:13 am
    What are your Indy 500 traditions? | Indycar

    [...] traditions/routines associated with the Indianapolis 500, and we’d like to hear about them. CLICK HERE to read one blog and respond with your [...]

  21. racer x on May 13, 2010 9:10 am
    racer x

    i love all the festivties before the race, one of my favorite racy rides at the famed speedway , the 72 winner # 66

  22. Russ on May 13, 2010 9:23 am

    Lobster Tail and Wine! It goes great with great racing!

  23. David Short on May 13, 2010 9:35 am
    David Short

    My first Indy 500 was 1978…I was eight years old. IMS has always been my favorite place. It still gives me chills when I see it on race day. For me, race weekend begins on Friday with a drive from Western New York. When we cross into Indiana from Ohio, the carload sings “Back Home Again”. That’s the official kickoff of the weekend. Of course, nothing beats race day traditions like the prayer of invocation, the playing of TAPS, the National Anthem, Back Home Again…..and I’ll never forget Mr. Tom Carnegy saying “Eyes on the Starter…..they’re on it”!! Please don’t ever change the long standing traditions of this greatest spectacle in racing. They mean so much to so many and really define why Indy is so great. God bless Indy.

    David Short

  24. Robert on May 13, 2010 10:17 am

    I live in Bogotá(Col). I have followed 500 since i was 12. Each year i like to get information about the race, in those years i heard by radio. i like to know about the entries, the events. but now i see it on tv and internet.
    all year’s last may sunday i turn on my tv and wait for all events on the race, take my breakfast and all foods in front on the tv, take note of all events, take some beers and enjoy the race, also recording it. finnaly my dream came true on may 2005 when i went to the track. i want to stay “back home again in indiana” for the 100th 500 and to be in turn 1. im so happy to see this race.

  25. Scott Golladay on May 13, 2010 11:33 am
    Scott Golladay

    This year will be my 23rd Indy and my two favorite things to do in May are listen to “Talk of Gasoline Alley” with Donald Davidson and visit the Kodak photo shop and see all the photos. I remember as a kid going into the small place they had on the main straight that had that checkered flag painted on the front of it. Seeing all the pictures of cars that had qualified was fantastic. Now I take pictures and one day hope to join the track as one of there photographers.

  26. Jon on May 13, 2010 11:47 am

    My best friend took me to my first 500 about 4 years ago. He had been attending with his buddies from college ever since his parents turned over their tickets to him, and finally asked if I wanted to go. He has an unbeleivable place to camp in a neighborhood outside the track. The family that owns the house literally caters to everything we need (including having ice delivered daily so we can keep our mountain of beer at at steady 35 degrees). He has been camping there so long that it feels like you are staying with extended family when you arrive. Hugs, cheers, and tons of beers from the moment you pull up. We set up camp on Thursday night and spend the rest of the weekend relaxing, drinking, and catching up with everyone that camps there. Carb Day is always crazy and forces you to drink away the hangover on Saturday morning. That all leads up to Race Day. The helicopters are guaranteed to wake you up and get a good start to the morning. However, if you manage to sleep through it, the owner of the house will come knocking on tents around 10 am. They prepare a huge breakfast for all the campers. The tv’s are all playing the pre-race show on the news interviewing drivers, celebs, past winners… The buzz in the air is like nothing I have experienced anywhere else. Then you start walking to the track. A sea of people on the sidewalks and you can’t help but smile when you see the miles of cars backed up on 16th St. Our seats are up high on the exit of turn 4. Hands down, the best possible seats at the track. You have a clear view of everything from turn 3 through turn 1. Between Back Home Again, the Balloons, the National Anthem, and the flyover, I literally have goose bumps for a solid half hour. Then you see the cars come around the corner for the first time shifting side to side… You just can’t wait for them to come around hot. You see them start to form up on the video board on the back stretch. My buddies and I began a chant similar to kickoff at a Notre Dame game which has caught on in our section over the last few years. It all builds to them coming around turn 4 with the pedal to the floor. So, as I sit here at work anticipating my flight to Indy in just a few short days, I can say without question that the Indy 500 is the greatest “event” in the world.

  27. Greg L (Owings Mills, Maryland) on May 13, 2010 2:34 pm
    Greg L (Owings Mills, Maryland)

    The Indy 500 is a still the PREMIERE event and nothing or no one will ever change that. I know how I feel sitting in the grandstands on race day and how I still start counting down the days after the New Year until race day is here. It is still the world’s greatest race and no matter how much NASCAR wants to change that, they can’t. The traditions, the pagentry, the drama, and the triumph is second to none. Greg (Maryland’s biggest Indy Car fan)

  28. Chris S on May 13, 2010 4:25 pm
    Chris S

    On Saturday before the race we always drop $20 into a pool and pick drivers randomly from a hat, winner takes all. On race day it get’s interesting when a few people have a driver in the top 5 going into the final 10-20 laps.

  29. Gary on May 13, 2010 5:24 pm

    My first visit to the track was pole day in 66 with my dad and a friend of his. We went nearly every year after that until I was able to go on my own. When I asked about going to the race he told me it was boring after the start. His friend took me to watch the 67 & 68 race on closed circuit. That was when I got hooked. Nothing boring there. From there I listened to the race on radio or tried to stay away from all media on race day to watch the replay as if it were live.

    My first race was 83 when a guy had 2 tickets(T Terrace) in his group. The next year I guess they didn’t order soon enough and we sat inside of 1 & 2. I ordered my own in 85 & have moved several times since. We are now top row T Terrace. I began bringing my son to pole day when he was 7 but made him wait until he was 16 for his first race. This year will be his 11th and my 28th.

    My son & I leave on Fri. to camp with friends at the Indy KOA. We met one of our group the 2nd week of the 86 race. He parked cars in his father-in-law’s yard. When his father-in-law passed away he joined us. Friday is our night for cutting loose. Just so excited it’s that time of the year again. Sat. morn is a huge breakfast, picking our cars for the pool and recovery. Sat aft to the track for a couple of hours just taking everything in. Then back to the campground for a prime rib dinner on the grill. Sun. morn up early, make our sandwiches, load the coolers and try to get to our parking spot early. I usually take a walk, get my program and try to get to my seat about 2 hrs before the start. Sun nite is burgers on the grill and watching the replay of the race.

    The excitement leading up to the race is fantastic. However, there are a few things I miss from previous years. The pre-race ceremony used to go by uninterrupted providing a better buildup. Tom Carnegie repeating “all 33 have started” and “here they are”. I really miss the 3 abreast parade laps. The first sight of the rows of three was something else. I mostly listen to the radio network during the race. Mike King’s enthusiasm is great. In recent years they cut away shortly after the command to start is given. I used to enjoy listening to the turn announcers describing the beauty of everything as the cars approached their area.

  30. John Clem on May 14, 2010 9:07 am
    John Clem

    When I was a kid my dad and I would watch it on Tv. Now that I sit in Iraq and wait for the race I really think I need to take my wife and get the “real” life experience by being there in person. I would like to thank everyone who has posted on this blog I check it every day and look forward to making it there next year. Any suggestions on where to sit? Thanks and heres to a safe and exciting race.

  31. James Van Gundy on May 14, 2010 12:28 pm
    James Van Gundy

    I haved either watched on TV or listened on the radio during my time in Vietnam, the Indy 500 since 1959. I even had to rent a Motel Room one year 1990 in Montana becuase my cable TV provider at home did not have the covefrage that year. What a great spectacle this race is, I still get goose bumps at the start of the race.

  32. Dave Lockhart on May 15, 2010 12:18 pm
    Dave Lockhart

    Getting rained on a lot, including ‘73, ‘75, and ‘76, and coming back for more. Starting every day by eating The Whole Thing at the Burg ‘n’ Steak restaurant in Indianapolis. Basking in the ambience of the six-holer, no-stalls open restrooms at the track. Sprint car races at IRP. Dirt car races at the fairgrounds. Pre-tearing neck and arm holes in our instant rain coat/trash bags. Betting who would be leading into turn one, lap one. Driving like crazy after the race to get out of the 150-mile TV blackout radius, so we could watch ABC’s two-hour, tape delay race replay that night (including commercials). Repeatedly vowing that “this was our last race,” and getting over it by December.

  33. Charles (Speedway, IN) on May 18, 2010 9:45 am
    Charles (Speedway, IN)

    Indy 500 traditions:
    Family seats in “Canada” (turn 3)
    Homemade Chex party mix!! (The only other time it’s made is Chirstmas)
    The mantle display of 500 winners – 20 years solid, a few handmade to fill the gaps
    Walks through the crowds the night before the race
    Watching the planes practice the flyover over my house a few days before the race (the B-17 was awesome in 1995!)
    Cleaning the house AND yard for guests and parking cars
    Packing up and joining the crowd on Georgetown Rd before the race
    Watching the weather radar “there’s a window over Terre Haute”
    Watching all the cars and people while eating sandwiches after the race
    Thanking God for my house when it rains, and that I don’t have to drive in
    Waking up that morning knowing in a few hours history will be made again
    That satisfied feeling after you walk back home and sit on the bed (ears still ringing) and think about all that you saw

Write a Comment

Let us know what you think?

Spam Protection by WP-SpamFree