While the engines won’t roar to life for another week or so, Donald Davidson, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s (IMS) resident historian, is once again on the gas to rev up fans for the 101st running of the Indy 500.
On April 30, Davidson, joined by Griffith auto racing legend Paul Goldsmith, made a stop in Chicago to meet with fans and to talk about this year’s race, Indy 500 heroes both present and past and the future of sport.
“Last year was the 500‘s 100th anniversary and the crowd, as expected, was tremendous,” Davidson said. “This year it may not be as large, but I honestly believe the crowds will be growing year-by-year as the competition is getting better and better. And that is what the fans like.”
This racing season, Davidson is taking the 500 story to 29 venues. He kicked it off March 25 in Toledo, Ohio, and will end July 8 in Kokomo. Along the way he scheduled 23 talks in Indiana, four in Illinois, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Toledo.
The Chicago event (the 19th stop) was sponsored by Midwest Racing Preservation Association and hosted by Collectors Car Garage, near Wrigley Field.
“While almost everyone knows of the Indianapolis 500,” Davidson said. “Not many know the rich history of the race, and that is what I try to bring to the plate at each venue.”
Davidson talked to Chicago fans about 500-winning drivers ranging from Ray Harroun (the race’s first winner) to Chicago residents Billy Arnold and Pat Flaherty, as well as such stars as Bill Vukovich, A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones and Mario Andretti.
Davidson is British by birth, and scrapped together the funds to come to Indianapolis for the first time in 1964. He was taken under the wings of many officials, broadcasters and drivers, and made his move to the United States in 1965. Now 73 years old, he has been a resident of Speedway for many years; marrying and raising a family. He lives within a mile of the track.
“Until the aches and pains started up, I had a tradition of every race day morning I would walk to the track, to see the fans and the festivities,” Davidson said.
Goldsmith, now 91 years old, and operator of the Griffith-Merrillville Airport, had a racing career on both two and four wheels. He first was an American Motorcycle Association motorcycle racer, riding a Harley-Davidson to three championships in the late 1940s through the mid-1950s. Switching to four wheels, Goldsmith won the United States Auto Club championship in 1961 and 1962, and between 1958 and 1963 he drove roadsters in the Indy 500, finishing third in 1960 and a fifth in 1959.
“In 1958, I was the last winner on the beach at Daytona," Goldsmith said. “I also won on the beach on a cycle before that. I guess I was the only one to do that.”
Goldsmith has another racing mark.
He is the last living driver who raced on the bricks at IMS. While the turns had been previously paved with asphalt, the front straight bricks were paved over prior to the 1961 race. It was in 1909 that 3.2 million bricks were put down for the racing surface, covering what had originally been cinders.
Goldsmith ended his driving career in the late 1960s, but he didn’t give up flying his personal airplane and still does.
Asked when he will retire from the work-a-day world, Goldsmith said he promised his wife he would retire in 14 years.