Twenty years? How did that happen? I was 27 and working for Fox 59 in Indianapolis as a news photographer and thoroughly enjoying the month of May. Each news organization had their own newsroom near the pagoda where we set up monitors and editing equipment, prepared packages to air later in the day, shared stories, stopped for some food and drink, charged batteries (literal) and even relaxed a little.
Excitement – Everyone on the news team was excited for the Indy 500. We spent hours and hours at the track developing stories covering drivers, fans, weather, speed, practice, qualifications, pit crews, food vendors, luxury suites, Yellow Shirts, parties, camping, sunburn, team owners, controversy, traffic and more. Our two sports guys were Kerry Addington and Brian Hammons although most members of the on-air news staff made it out to the track to put a story together. Bob Donaldson and Chris Wright frequented the track during the month.
Race Day – Our new-to-Indianapolis news director Jim Sanders prepared us by deferring to Brian Hammons who had the most experience with Race Day. (Brian had worked for other news organizations and was actually working as a pit reporter for the IMS Radio Network on this day.) Our team was focused with their assignments as we loaded our gear. We were escorted by police into the track (what a thrill!) and to our newsroom along the main straightaway. Our fire suits customized for Fox 59 were issued several days prior so those working the pits were protected.
You may remember the weather was cold! This presented a challenge to everyone as we were sure we’d be hot and uncomfortable. Not so! Here are some random memories:
- Feeling special. Yes I felt fortunate and special to be so close, much closer than a fan could be. Working every day out at the track exposed to drivers and owners and celebrities felt great.
- Loud. I remember how loud it was, even with ear plugs for protection. Then I had to put an earpiece in to hear directions over the radio and had to turn that up so loud it hurt. There was likely a better way.
- Access. With the television camera and credentials, access to most everything was a given.
- Watch out! With cars coming in and out of the pits, you are responsible for getting out of the way. I had to be smart and not put myself in danger. There were a few close calls.
- Cars on the grid. Prior to the “start your engines” call, I was out on the grid with all the cars, colors, people and that crowd! The grandstands were packed. Crazy.
- Confusion. It was so loud and communication was tough. I did not have a good sense of what was going on but I knew I had to be taking good video. Our rookie news team likely was not as prepared as we could have been – maybe we should have been listening to the radio broadcast to determine where to go.
- Crazy race. Remember? Roberto Guerrero crashed on the pace lap, Michael Andretti led most of the way, and Al Unser, Jr. just barely won by 0.043 seconds over a hard charging Scott Goodyear.
- I was in Scott Goodyear’s pits at the end of the race and from the reaction of the pit crew thought he may have won the race. That quickly changed as we learned that Little Al had won.
To all those news photographers working today – be safe! You’ll have memories for a lifetime to cherish.