When I first met my Father in Law we were friends from the moment we met. He was a car guy through and through. Since we had that in common we could talk for hours on end. We had our differences but we always respected each other. He was a Mopar Guy, I was a Chevy Guy. I had to admit several times to him that the Hemi was an awesome engine, but I also reminded him that it was the Chevy Small Block that gave the Hemi a run for its money back in the day. Since the Hemi was known as an Elephant Motor due to its sheer size the Chevy Small Block became known as the Mouse Motor. Only a Mouse can scare an Elephant. I recall many Memorial Day weekends in Lake Charles watching the Indy 500 with Jim, my Father in Law. He knew everything about all the teams racing.
In July 1996, we all went to Indiana for my Brother in Law’s wedding. Mark and Sheila was married in her hometown of Columbus, Indiana. That was one of the trips I will never forget. While we were there, our plans were also to go see the Indianapolis Speedway. As we pulled onto the Speedway property, I could see that Jim was in heaven. He knew everything about the Speedway and its history. We went to the museum and while touring it Jim sort of went off on his own to look at all the different cars. I could tell that he knew all about each car. I mentioned to the curator that Jim was a lifelong fan of Indy racing and this is a special occasion for him. The curator left and returned a few minutes later. He said that he has a special treat for Jim and a couple other people that would like to join them. I went over to tell Jim this and his curiosity was peaked. We met the curator behind the desk area and he said that where he is taking us, we are not to take any pictures and this is an invitation only tour. I know Jim and I were getting really excited about this even though we had no idea what was in store. We went to an elevator and when the door closed, the curator pressed the down button. We were obviously headed for the basement. When the door opened we were looking at a large garage filled with all the Pace Cars that drove every Indy 500 race! There were also some other really rare cars down there too. It was like we were kids let lose in a candy store! We had to sign a guest book before we could go looking around. As I signed it I saw several names I recognized as famous drivers and celebrities. Honestly, today I can’t recall any of those names but I do recall that I knew who they were at the time.
The cars were grouped by year and left in the condition when the driver drove off the track on race day. Since this was 1996, right in the middle was a blue Viper with white stripes that had paced the race a few weeks before. I looked in the Viper and saw a Coke can in the console cup holder. The curator said that coke can will remain there forever. Since the top was off the car he said the only thing they will do is put the top back on and park it in the next spot in line with all the other cars. Since I own a ’78 Vette and that was the first year that Corvette paced the race, I immediately looked for the ’78 pace car. When I found it I had to look it over. It was funny how we all went different directions to find a certain pace car that meant something to each of us. The ’78 pace car had only 48 miles on it. I can only image the value of that car as well as all the cars in that garage. Not far from that Vette was a ’69 Camaro SS that was white with orange stripes. I looked that one over too. There was so many cars down there that I could not even guess at how many there were.
Some of the other cars that I saw that were not pace cars had belonged to celebrities that had donated them to the museum. I saw a 1953 Corvette that was owned by John Wayne along with several other rare classics. To be able to lean over the car door of that ’53 Vette and look at an un-restored original that was driven by John Wayne that was really special to me. This is what a museum was supposed to be like! Not roped off where you can’t get within 3 feet of the car. I understand that in order to protect the cars they have to be roped off but this was really cool!!
As we left that area, it was sort of sad that we would probably never see this again. Out in the parking lot Jim said, “I know what heaven looks like! I was just there!”
Jim’s health started to fail after that trip. He moved closer to us so we could help look after him. In his last days, I would stop by every afternoon to spend some time with him. I tried to get permission to take him out for an hour or so just to go drive but because of his health, the staff of the retirement center would not let him go out, even for an hour. As we would talk about earlier times he always mentioned that basement under the Indy museum. I had to agree with him in that I know what heaven looks like.