I grew up covered in dust, not due to any shortfall of my mother’s exemplary housekeeping skills. Instead, I was the firstborn of a father whose idea of the best possible way to spend a day was to sit in stands of hometown, homespun races. Demolition derbys, sprints, drag races, you name it and we were there. If a town in Illinois or Wisconsin had a working track, we were bound to show up at some point.
The cars were often pieced together and certainly looked to this youngster like nothing she had ever seen on the street. They were dirty. They were loud. They smelled of gas and oil. They went incredibly fast just feet away, often showering us with rubber and dirt. Back then, and even now, it was hard to imagine anything more exciting.
The dust we accumulated came from being there for hours watching every event from seemingly endless time trials to the featured race of the day. Track debris was our badge of honor, although mother didn’t see it quite that way. She’d shrug her shoulders while asking about our day, secretly happy that she hadn’t been in the stands watching all the chaos.
To me racing was a window to things I’d never dreamed were possible. How could there be something so thrilling that people could go and watch on a regular basis? It was almost too good to be true.
In the course of our travels we also went to more established venues, finally reaching that temple of racing, the Indianapolis 500. I was completely unprepared for the impact of that race. It was everything that had come before, times ten-almost too much to take in. The noise, the excitement of the crowds, the pageantry of it all.
I could feel the stands vibrating as the cars passed, something so visceral that it is almost impossible to describe even now. We went back again and again and it never was enough. Time seemed to crawl until we were at Indy once more.
We often went there thanks to a rented Winnebego, parking on a side street for days. What better way to see fans, read about drivers in the local papers, and if we were lucky enough, actually see one of our heroes on his way to or from the track?
We’d be ready to in go hours before the cannon went off on race day. Once we gained admittance, sitting in those almost empty stands as the sun rose was magical. My father is long gone but my favorite photo of him is the one I took as he stood near our seats in Tower Terrace shortly after the track opened that day. It was the culmination of years of experiences watching all kinds of cars, all kinds of races, enjoying the dust of those roads.