Speaking of Memorials

“…we also pay homage to those men who have given their lives unselfishly and without fear to make racing the most spectacular spectator sport.”

– Jim Phillippe, IMS Public Address – Indianapolis 500 Raceday.

For decades, the words and actions that lead to the start of the Indianapolis 500 were crafted carefully, scripted to meet a specific event timeline, and ritualized for many years. Rightly so, and as a whole, the prelude to the race represents one of the most important traditions of race-day to generations of fans. The words quoted above are taken from the address given by IMS Public Address announcer, Mr. Jim Phillippe, prior to the start of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

These words were also spoken many times in the years prior and since. Following the invocation, as a call to remain standing, Mr. Phillippe’s words were a solemn reminder of the significance of Memorial Day, but specifically he also pays homage to those who died in the service of auto racing. At least that’s how I interpret those words which are phrased similarly but separately from the acknowledgment of the many who died in wars and conflicts for which the Memorial Day holiday was established.

During a recent Beyond The Bricks show, Jake Query and Mike Thomsen discuss candidly, but also with the greatest respect, a few of the group of drivers who perished at the Speedway. I found it very refreshing and helpful as I too have long wanted to have a more open discussion and learn more about these drivers and their personalities, who all too often are remembered primarily for the fact that they died driving a racecar at IMS.

I have always wondered what the survivors’ families and fans in general would think of a quiet, solemn, on-site memorial for those who died, somewhat away from the regular main thoroughfares of pedestrian traffic. Is it time to have a dedicated place to gather and reflect on those lives lost at the Speedway?

I know that for me, having that place would also be one I would regularly visit to pay respect and contemplate those drivers’ and history more deeply. Maybe it would be reflected in a part of the Museum. Maybe one already exists and I’m not aware of it. Perhaps the whole of the Speedway grounds represents that. Could those chills when entering the gates when emerging on the business side of the oval be not only in awe of the amazing facility and events past, but also with deepest respect for those who perished at the Speedway?

For many years, Donald Davidson would gently eschew discussion on the topic of fatalities, certainly as was his right as host of his show, but having now been alive for over 50 years, and followed Indycar for well over 40, I’ve seen too many drivers lose their lives while racing to not appreciate some sort of deeper conversation about them, and especially those of several decades ago who I never got to see race at IMS. People who are more heavily or directly involved with the Speedway on a regular basis are certainly more sensitive to, and in some cases more personally related to these people and their histories than the average fan. I can see the reluctance in having to repeatedly recall someone fond in the past-tense, yet those are the drivers whose histories seem significantly occluded by their final demise at the Speedway. I’ve always respected, but also found curious, that there appears to be a strong resistance by the Speedway to publicly approach the subject. Certainly it should never be taken lightly and be treated with delicate respect.

In any case, I appreciate the opportunity provided by Query and Thomsen and agree with their method of providing a way to more completely consider the drivers who all too often are not seen beyond their final moments. I welcome that deeper understanding and also the ability to have a beautiful, solemn, dedicated place to visit on the grounds of the Speedway to more directly pay respects and to acknowledge the more complete history of the Speedway.

Please tell me your thoughts on this subject in the comments below.

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