Sunday, May 24, 2015

Gentlemen, start your engines

Today marks the annual running of the Indianapolis 500. Today it’s on television, but back in 1967 it was not. Here’s a story from my book, THE ME GENERATION…BY ME (perfect for summer reading… so buy it) about the Indy 500 – its spectacle and personal violence.

Of course I didn’t only usher musicals. The Indianapolis 500 auto race was a huge annual event. But back then there was no network television coverage of it. You either listened to “the greatest spectacle of racing” on the radio anchored by Sid Collins, or you went to selected theaters to watch a closed circuit feed.

The Valley Music Theater was offering the telecast and I volunteered to be one of the ushers. Hey, they were paying $2.50 an hour! I believe the race started at 8:00 AM on the west coast. All I know is we started letting people in at 6:30. By 7:00 AM the place was packed. There were numerous full bars going from the moment the doors opened. USC football players were hired as the bartenders, just to make sure things didn’t get too out of hand.

The race started and literally within the first ten seconds there was a fourteen-car pile up. Roadsters were caroming off each other, smashing into the wall, catching fire, tires flying, drivers scurrying, some scaling the fence. Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. But the race was halted for another hour-and-a-half. Needless to say, the natives were getting restless… and hammered.

By the time the drivers rounded the very first turn, 3,000 boisterous rowdies had been drinking for three hours.

The next six hours were insane. There was almost a riot when they ran out of snacks. It was not uncommon to see someone vomiting. Me and three other ushers tried to break up a fight and I got punched. I think it was someone from my temple.

The race finally ended and these lushes staggered out to their cars. God knows how any of them made it home – if they did. We ushers had to comb the building to make sure everyone was out. Yeah, big concern that some were going to hide in the bathrooms for five hours so they could sneak into that night’s performance of The World of Susie Wong starring Connie Chung.


18 comments:

Gazzoo said...

I attended the Kentucky Derby several times back in the day, but despite many opportunities, I never went to the Indianapolis 500...I had no desire to go to an event where it's not unheard of for spectators to be killed.

Tom Berg said...

It is STILL blacked out in Indianapolis. The race will be shown tape delayed on the local ABC affiliate tonight.

I'm double dipping right now. Watching the ABC video and listening to the IMS radio network.

Mike Barer said...

Great moment in my life was going to the Indy 500 in 1999. I was totally impressed with the pit crews, who could fill the gas tank and change all 4 tires in seconds.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I'm hoping you'll have some things to say about Anne Meara, who sadly...R.I.P.

wg

Mike Barer said...

I think Ken may be growing weary of doing the obits. Just my observation.

Ken Levine said...

I am weary of writing obits. I didn't know Ann Meara. Never met her. But I was a fan of her work. Sorry she passed.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Back in the day I covered selected NASCAR races in the Mid-Atlantic region. One of the tracks - Dover Downs - was only a mile long, so that's 500 laps. Sitting in a cramped press box, the first 100 were interesting. The last 100 were interesting. The middle 300 you prayed for no yellow flags.My prayers were never answered.

Anonymous said...

At today's race during engine start who and why was that lady that who stepped all over the older lady doing her thing? The camera cut fast just as older lady started to turn on the interloper..

Chris said...

Friday question: what did you think about the I Love Lucy colorized episodes which aired this weekend?

http://s21.postimg.org/6ktcx8vqd/vlcsnap_2015_05_25_03h14m33s193.png

By the way, here's a screenshot of CBS advertising 2 Broke Girls during the show. Isn't that the greatest thing you've ever seen. Lucille Ball must be rolling in her grave. As must William Paley.

Chris H. said...

Fascinating story on the 1967 "closed-circuit theater television" broadcast of the Indianapolis 500, Ken.

I heard about the old "closed-circuit broadcasts" (for cinema exhibition) not that long ago, by looking at the archives of BoxOffice magazine (due to my keen interest in classic cinema and cinema technology).

According to a 1965 trade ad in the aforementioned publication, MCA (Universal) handled distribution of the closed-circuit cinema telecasts of the Indianapolis 500 race.

Here's the link to the 1965 ad (Unfortunately, I was unable to find one for the 1967 closed-circuit cinema telecast): http://pro.boxoffice.com/the_vault/issue_page?issue_id=1965-2-1&page_no=72#page_start

Keep up the good work!

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Ken said...

I must be dense, but I don't get the Connie Chung joke?

Leo Nelson said...
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Leo Nelson said...
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Anonymous said...

It was the 1966 race.

norm said...

I did the research and the bad wreck and 1 hr. 40 mins. delay of the race was the 1966 race, in which Graham Hill won and didn't real know he was the leader.
In 1967 it took 2 days to run it...boy would you have had the drunks then!!!

Tom Quigley said...

Historically, the 1967 race was also one of the best when Andy Granatelli brought the first turbine engine powered car to Indy, and it dominated the race, causing fear amongst owners and builders of conventional cars that they would never be competitive again. One little problem everyone seemed to have overlooked however: A car is not made up of only the engine -- and when the gear box on the Granatelli car (which was being driven by Parnelli Jones) failed on the third to last lap of the race, A.J. Foyt whizzed through the traffic to take the checkered flag. The next year a number of turbine cars were entered, but due to performance restrictions that had been instituted by the USAC in the interim, none of them ran away and hid from the rest of the field, and Bobby Unser won in a conventionally powered car.

Anonymous said...

Also, that picture is 1973.