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My First Time

No, I don’t kiss and tell.  I do, however, race and tell.  I was introduced to my first love by my brother.  It’s like a romance novel.  He was in love with her first, but after introducing the two of us, he left Indiana to travel the world.  I was young.  She was older and much more experienced.  She was patient and knew I had a lot to learn.  Her name was Indy.  For this and many other things, I am forever in my brother’s debt.[1].

We flirted one year at qualifications.  I listened to her throaty Novi and was smitten.  But the first time I went all the way was two years later.  In 1966 my brother was compelled to take me to the race to accompany his good friend’s son.  We rode to the race in a 1953 GMC panel truck that had been customized by a tavern owner in my hometown of Shirley, Indiana.  The outside was hand-painted a robin’s egg blue with scores of automotive decals: STP, Bardahl, Champion, Moon Eyes, and Hurst were just a few.  A wooden platform was attached to the top and extended over the hood with supports welded to the front bumper.  A tent with a sign that read “Ben’s 500 Lounge” was erected on top.  The panels were cut out on each side with roll up canvas window covers.  On the inside, bus seats were added along one side with an aisle down the other.  The seats had built-in coolers under them; you just had to lift the seat pad up. The truck had the latest in sound systems: an eight-track tape player.[2]  It also came with a collection of hell-raisers.

We left Shirley the afternoon before the race and parked along 16th St. in Speedway.  We waited in a liquor store parking lot until traffic began to line up some time after 3:00 AM and then raced to get in line.  The party continued.  At ten years old, there are some things you have not yet experienced, such as staying up all night, watching power drinkers practice their craft, listening to loud and creative swearing, watching adults fight, and sipping the foam off beer cans after being named the official opener.

When the bomb went off at 5:00 AM, we were in the truck and ready to go. The hoi polloi of Shirley, Indiana, riding their blue race chariot, entered the old main gate outside of Turn 2 and parked up against the fence on the inside of Turn 2.  Getting a spot next to the fence required a vanguard of runners entering the pedestrian gate and staking out a spot.  You had to be tough to stake out and hold a spot.  I graduated to this position by the time I was fifteen and continued doing it on and off until I was thirty.[3]

Nothing prepares you for your first time.  You think you know what it’s going to be like but there is just no way to be prepared.  The entourage was parked and breakfast was cooking by 6:00 AM.  The crowd was a marvel.  The truck was a wonder.  People stopped by to take pictures and chat.  And once you saw it, you never forgot it.  And my callow self was allowed total access.  I continued to act as official opener and was told many times to drink the foam off the beers.  After all, I was Gary’s little brother and was expected to act like it.  No whining, crying, or bellyaching was allowed.  Your first time makes you think you are a man.

We made our way to the first turn bleachers, at the time a small set at the beginning of Turn 1.  To get there we had to pass through the Snake Pit.  It was not the sanitized and corporate Snake Pit of today down by Turn 3, but the real deal.  It was filled with bikes, booze, mud, drunks, noise, and from my youthful perspective, all the fun in the universe.  But even at a young age I could sense the danger.  It was a place to pass through.

After watching the beginning of the race from the bleachers, we made our way back to Turn 2 and the GMC.  I sat in the truck and continued to open beers for the boys.  I might possibly have taken a nap.  It’s hard to say.  The race ended and Graham Hill, some foreigner, won the race.  A foreigner winning Indy was not well received by the boys in the GMC.  I remember throwing bottles over the fence during the post race activities.  It was the only time, then or since, that someone corrected my behavior at the track.  We eventually packed up and entered the traffic to head back to Shirley.  I was content.  And I might have been a little drunk and delirious from sipping the foam off the beers and lack of sleep.  The ride home was great.  Johnny Cash was singing about Folsom Prison and a burning ring of fire on the eight-track.  We were exhausted and happy.

The last thing I remember after getting home was crawling under the coffee table to take a nap.  The next thing I remember was waking up in my bed.  The stories indicate that I was quite entertaining in the time between.  According to my angry mother, I was told to wake up and take a shower.  I exited the bathroom, still unwashed and filthy, and loudly told the assembled family, “Don’t ask me anything.  I’m not saying a word.  Don’t ask me a question.  I’m not going to answer.”  I still wonder what that was all about.  I guess even then I knew you don’t kiss and tell.

You never forget the first time.  And some people say you never get over your first love.  All I know is that I get to hook up with my first love once a year.  We have our little tryst, share a drink, have a few laughs, and then it’s a bittersweet parting until next year.  Indy, I can’t wait to see you again.  Save me a seat, lover.

[1] My brother also allowed me to read “Little Annie Fanny” in his Playboy, as well as buying me a chemistry set and a BB gun.  I made the house smell like rotten eggs and shot out a screen door.  You can assume the result of the Playboy,

[2] As far as I remember, we had one tape: Johnny Cash’s Greatest Hits, which was played on a continuous loop.  The tape lasted until we were on the way home the next day, when it caught on fire in the tape deck.  My brother, inebriated, pulled it out and burned his fingers.  The passengers had him hold his hand out the window and pour Calvert’s whiskey on it for the medicinal benefits.  We cheered the entire episode.

[3] At various times I was threatened with fists, ball bats, future harm when their friends arrived, and a golf club.  The golf club guy actually waggled the club in my direction until my buddy Marv, a former D1 defensive lineman, rolled his 6’4” 300 pound self out of the back seat of my VW Rabbit.  Golf club guy then told us we could keep our spot.  He also had the chutzpah to ask us to help him hold the other spots.  Some guys.

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5 thoughts on “My First Time

  1. brett wilkinson on said:

    Fantastic story, Mark. Great stuff. Happy to help you carry on the tradition, if only by joining the soiree a few decades late…

  2. It’s a family tradition.

  3. Beautiful! Makes me long for May all the more.

  4. You, sir, just earned yourself a new Google Reader subscriber. That was a freaking masterpiece.

  5. Emery Jorgenson on said:

    Mark, Great story and reminds me of when your brother introduced me to the race. We were at IU together and went to the race one year in his MG. 16 th street was a circus and the infield was a day long party. This was the year one of the infield stands collapsed. i was hooked forever and ended up going every year for over 10 years with an RV.

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