Indy memories profane and profound


My most memorable moments from covering the Indianapolis 500 since 1975 aren't all pretty.

The profoundest are profane. So rate this column R, for real race-driver language.

My last 500-Mile Race will be May 25, if it doesn't rain. What I'll miss most, I've already been missing for some years anyway.

The no-nonsense guys are long gone.

The most no-nonsense driver of them all was Arie Luyendyk. It wasn't even close. I don't recall so much as a trace of B.S. in anything he ever said.

Take that morning the week before the '96 race, soon after pole sitter Scott Brayton had been killed during practice.

Luyendyk said this only to my old friend and colleague Robin Miller and me. We asked him his first thought upon learning of Brayton's death.

"I didn't think, 'He died doing what he loved to do,'" Luyendyk said, in his dour Dutch way mocking the platitudes of racing death. "I didn't think, 'He would want us to go on,' and I didn't think, 'He's in a better place.'

"I thought, 'God damn it!'"

For nine years running, the biggest story going into the race had been whether A.J. Foyt would become the first driver to win four Indy 500s. His third had come in 1967.

Finally, for Foyt's 10th try at a fourth, he was overshadowed going in. Tom Sneva had become the first driver to crack 200 mph in winning the pole. Janet Guthrie had become the first woman to qualify for the race.

Even as the race unfolded, Foyt remained in the background. Gordon Johncock dominated until only 16 of the 200 laps remained. Then Johncock's engine blew.

Foyt took the lead by a comfortable margin over Sneva, and set sail on 15 easy, historic laps under the thunder of a crowd the Indiana State Police estimated in those days at 400,000.

His helmet off in the winner's circle, Foyt's face at age 42 wore a little boy's bashful smile.

A little while later, he stomped, like the big old bull he was in those days, into the little media room, snatched up a microphone in a paw and said:

"Gaahhddamn! We did it!"

A gaggle of sportswriters straggled in from the pits just seconds after Foyt spoke. So he made sure this one was on the record for everybody.

"Some of you boys might not have caught what I said. I said, 'Gaahhddamn! We did it!'"

Then the little boy in Foyt reappeared, head bowed.

"I ought not take the Lord's name in vain," he said. "He's been awful good to me today."

I don't recall the year, just the moment I heard this joke. Sometime in the 1970s.

A young driver gets killed in the Indy 500. St. Peter greets him and offers to take him out to heaven's track. When they arrive, a race is going on.

"WheeeeeYOW!" The leader flashes by. The car is red, numbered 14.

The kid can't believe his eyes. Could this be --

Next time by, "WheeeeeYOW!" Sure enough, the helmet is red and there's a Valvoline logo just above the visor.

"Geez," says the kid. "I didn't know he was here!"

"Of course he is," St. Peter says.

"But when I left Indy just a few minutes ago, he was leading the race down there. What happened?"


"Oh, no, you don't understand," St. Peter says. "That's God. He just thinks he's A.J. Foyt."

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...