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Indy 500 Memories

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Dan Zukowski resides in Portland, Maine and formerly worked in the automotive business.

A.J. Foyt. Andy Granatelli. Dan Gurney. Mario Andretti. Those were the names I learned in the late 1960s as a young boy interested in cars and racing. Growing up in the Bronx, my family didn’t even own a car. I learned to ride the subway before I learned to ride a bike. It was the Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines that my father subscribed to that got me hooked on automobiles. 

There wasn’t much in the way of motorsports on TV back then. The Indy 500 would be shown in a highly edited version on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports,” as was the Daytona 500. I remember having lots of model cars that would vroom around the living room floor while the races were on the black-and-white television. 

I got my first car in 1973 and by the late 1970s I was working in the auto industry as a sales representative at a BMW/Alfa Romeo dealership in New York. That gave me inroads to IMSA sports car racing and Formula One, as Alfa fielded a F1 team beginning in 1979. That led to an invitation to the Watkins Glen Grand Prix and dinner with Bruno Giacomelli and Patrick Depailler the night before the race. Patrick would die the following year in testing at Hockenheim. Bruno went to sports car racing and limited appearances in CART from 1984 to 1985. He tried and failed to qualify for the 1984 Indy 500. 

As BMW was fielding the M1 in IMSA, and Lime Rock was just a couple of hours north of New York City, I began making the annual Memorial Day weekend trek to Connecticut. By that time, ABC was showing the same-day tape delayed version of the Indy 500 in prime time. My weekend would start with Saturday practice and qualifying at Lime Rock. Sunday was a quiet day at Lime Rock due to the local noise restrictions, but the World 600 from Charlotte was on cable and the Indy 500 was on ABC and both were shown in the hotel bar. The IMSA race ran on Memorial Day and after that I’d drive home. 

I followed the tradition through most of the 1980s, by which time I was working as an automotive journalist and I often recruited my young cousin to join me so that I could corrupt his morals and turn him into a car guy as well. I succeeded. In 1989 I left for California and a PR job in the industry. That career took me to many areas of racing, from Indy car to NASCAR, along with AMA Supercross and Superbike, Baja off-road, Trans-Am, Pro Rally, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten. 

But it was those early days in front of the black-and-white console television in my parents’ living room, watching the Indy 500, that fired up my love of the sport.