Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memorial Day tradition

Along with all the other great traditions that make up the celebration of Memorial Day Weekend in America, this Sunday is the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. The "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" has been a part of my life for as long as I remember.

My dad watched Indy on TV every year, so I remember A.J. Foyt's temper tantrums on the way to his four wins, the heartbreaks Mario Andretti suffered seemingly every year, Swede Savage's horrible crash in 1973, etc. In 1990 I moved to southern Indiana for a stint shooting photos and writing for a daily newspaper. I was thrilled to discover that I would be able to cover the Indy 500.

I was so lucky to have that privilege come at a time when my heroes were still competing in the race. I have walked Gasoline Alley rubbing elbows with Andrettis, Unsers, Roger Penske and the like. I was there for Foyt's final 500. I saw Rick Mears become only the third driver to win four 500s. I was there when Al Unser Jr. beat Scott Goodyear to the line in the closest finish in Indianapolis 500 history.

I took this photo in 1992 of the Row 3 starters as they entered Turn One. That's Scott Brayton in the #22 Amway car, Danny Sullivan in the #18 Molson machine and Rick Mears in the #4 Marlboro car. Not a great photo, but this is the day Mears went on to win his fourth.

The following year I had moved back to South Dakota and was pleasantly surprised to see Scott Brayton at the Governor's Invitational Pheasant Hunt as a guest of GMC. I introduced myself and Scott seemed happy to talk to someone who knew who he was. We chatted each year at the event and as you can see he signed this photo for me.

Scott competed in 15 Indy 500s and was on his way to mastering the most famous race track in the world. He qualified on the pole for the 1995 and 1996 races, giving him first starting position. During practice for the 1996 race, Scott's car blew a tire and he hit the wall at 230 mph. He was killed in the crash.

So every year, but especially during this 100th anniversary year, I remember Scott as I watch the latest batch of brave men and women who test the limits of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You can bet I'll be watching on Sunday as the Centennial Indy 500 gets underway. If you've never watched before, you owe it to yourself to see the grand traditions and ceremony that go into the hour or so before the race starts - "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

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