Monday, April 10, 2017

1964 Indianapolis 500

I was able to digitize all my grandparent's 8 mm film and have been digesting it over the last couple months. Among the many videos of family was this clip from the 1964 Indianapolis 500 where a crash by Dave MacDonald ruptured his fuel tank and set his car on fire. Another driver Eddie Sachs ended up colliding with MacDonald's burning car and exploded. Sachs died instantly from blunt force injuries. MacDonald was pulled from the wreckage but would later die of his injuries. Several changes to the sport were directly linked to this tragedy. My grandparents had been there to witness and record the entire event while visiting my great uncle who sold tickets at the gate every year.

My great uncle, brother to my grandfather married and moved to Indianapolis to be near his wife's sister and her family however, she died just short of five years later. Due to conflicts between my grandparents and my great uncle, I'm not sure I know exactly why because they were loath to talk about the subject. The most common story however was that she was dropped as a baby which somehow damaged her physical growth. In the videos and pictures I have seen of her, she was indeed deformed and hunchbacked. I have letters she wrote to my great uncle when he was in World War II and she seemed very intelligent. Only recently have I discovered the real story due to finding her death record online. It said she died of acute congestive failure due to kyphoscoliosis which she had since birth. She died at age 44 leaving my great uncle a widower at age 38. He would live the rest of his life alone in Indianapolis and I know from my talks with him, his wife remained his first and only love the rest of his life. When I was a pallbearer at his funeral, I was glad that he was finally reunited with her.

When my great uncle came to visit, he would tell us lots of stories of working at the Indianapolis 500, including the time someone tried to buy a ticket with pennies. My great uncle dutifully sat there and made the person wait as he counted pennies for the next hour and a half and then made the person cough up the couple dollars short they had been before handing them the ticket. I never thought to ask about the people in line behind that person but I'm guessing there were multiple ticket lines. After selling tickets, my great uncle would have to reconcile his till and turn it into the office but then was allowed to watch what remained of the race. In 1964, he would join my grandparents and my grandmother's sister and brother-in-law for the race. Not shown in the video is the post race video of themselves smiling at the camera and passing a beer back and fourth between them.

I've blogged about this in the past but my great uncle was in touch with his artistic side. He loved music (actually owned a record store for a time), acting in off-Broadway musicals, dancing, writing and was obviously still in love with his deceased wife. His seven year younger brother, my grandfather, was mechanically inclined, a very practical man and pretty much the opposite of my great uncle. The differences in personality and age would keep a wedge driven between them for my entire life. Even when my great uncle died five years ago, my grandfather refused to go to the funeral. My parents, mom's brother and I were the only ones to attend along with my great uncles church community. It was a member of my uncle's church,who talked at the funeral about doing taped interviews of my great uncle talking about his childhood and war experience. Eventually she sent me copies of the interviews and they are some of my most treasured things of my great uncle.


Kelly said...

While I do know many of the big names in racing from over the years, I've just never been able to get into the sport - whether F1, NASCAR, or any other form. I put it in the same category as golf, another sport that eludes me.

I find it sad when family members don't get along. Life is too short...

Ed said...

Kelly - Life is definitely too short. My great uncle was most definitely what you might describe as "different" in quotation marks. Unlike my grandfather however, I was able to just accept him as that way and move on.

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

Those old family feuds are always interesting to look at removed by generations. What a shame that you stayed in touch where your grandfather wasn't able to get past that wedge that divided them. On the other hand, you've learned a lot about that part of your family history by remaining in touch as you did. I wonder, was your grandfather ever interested in your time with him?
My dad was a huge NASCAR follower. But like Kelly, it never caught my interest. But I'd imagine going to a race would be a lot different than watching it on television.

sage said...

I've never been into racing, but I knew a couple of men from Michigan who, during the 1960s, served as the pit-crew to a local driver who raced at Indy. This was in a day when the pit-crews were friends and not professionals. Both of these guys had photos in their offices of the driver in his car and the "pit crew" all behind it.

Ed said...

Pumpkin Delight - My great uncle lived in Indianapolis, a long way from where I lived so my time spent with him was mostly when he came for visits to our farm or to see his brother (my grandfather). So in essence, my grandfather knew we spent time with him but just didn't care.

I went to the Daytona 500 one year and in my opinion, it is much better to watch it on television than to see it in person. It is definitely much more entertaining on television where you get announcers talking about the race as it is happening rather than just sitting in the hot sun watching cars drive around in circles.

Sage - My great uncle always invited me out to the Indianapolis 500 but I was always in school or had a job where I couldn't get away. It is one of my regrets that I never was able to take him up on it.