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April 27, 2019

A tour guide's fun facts about Indy 500 and pageantry

Our guest Craig Reinhardt is the author of two books about the Indy 500 race and has worked as a tour guide at the Speedway track since 2014. He'll share his insider perspective when he joins host Nelson Price in studio on April 27. Courtesy

Who is the only person to participate, as a musician at an Indiana high school, in the Spectacle of the Bands at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then eventually compete as a race driver in the Indianapolis 500?

How did Purdue University begin their role as "host band" for the opening ceremonies at the racetrack - and how big is one of the band's most recognizable symbols, what's promoted as the "World's Largest Drum"?

And who has been the oldest winning driver in Indy 500 history?

The answers are among the fun facts about "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" and its pageantry - including the 500 Festival Parade - that Nelson's studio guest will share during our show. A tour guide at the racetrack, James Craig Reinhardt (who is known as "Craig") retired from his job as a Tampa businessman to move to the town of Speedway and indulge his lifelong dream of being affiliated with the world-famous race.

Craig is the author of two new books, both published by IU Press: The Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500 and The Indianapolis 500: Inside the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Purdue University All-American Marching Band serving as "host band" of the Indy 500. The "World's Largest Drum" is one of the band's most recognizable symbols.As he does in his books, Craig will explain the origins of the long-time "Gentlemen, start your engines!" command - and the controversy that unfolded when it was initially modified in 1977 as Janet Guthrie became the first woman driver to qualify for the race.

Craig says his interest in the Indy 500 was sparked during the early 1950s when his father took him to the race, which kicked off a string of more than a dozen such visits.

"I can still remember sleeping in our red and white Pontiac Star Chief on West 16th Street across from the main gate the night before a race," he says.

As a tour guide since 2014, he has kept notes about questions that the public frequently asks about the race and its storied venue, which led him to compile the answers in his two books.

According to The Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500, the oldest champion driver since the first Indy 500 in 1911 was Al Unser Sr., who took the checkered flag in 1987 when he was 47 years and 360 days old.

According to The Indianapolis 500: Inside the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the only person to be both a Spectacle of the Bands musician and a race driver was Johnny Parsons, who drove 12 times in the Indy 500 between 1974 and 1996. Before his racing career, Parsons was a trumpet player in the marching band at Scecina Memorial High School and participated in the pre-race musical festivities. (History fact: Parsons is the son of Johnnie Parsons, who won the Indy 500 in 1950.

Book cover: The Indianapolis 500: Inside the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.Speaking of bands: The Purdue University All-American Marching Band has been the "host band" since 1919, making this the 100th anniversary for the tradition.

The well-known promotional phrase "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" dates to the mid-1950s. During our show, Craig will describe its origin, as well as the annual involvement in pre-race festivities and the 500 Festival Parade of the Gordon Pipers, a Scottish/Celtic bagpipe band.

Some other fun facts from Craig's books:

  • Although the starting field of the Indy 500 has almost always consisted of 33 cars for several decades, the number fluctuated in earlier eras. In the 1933 race, there were 42 cars, the largest starting field ever.
  • The youngest victorious driver has been Troy Ruttman, who was just 22 years old when he won the race in 1952.
  • For 37 consecutive years beginning in 1950, a spectator from Arizona was the first in line when the IMS gates opened for practice in early May.

Hoopla before the start of the Indy 500 typically includes hundreds of spectators, military personnel, musicians, media and entertainers congregating on the racetrack, as seen in this 2017 photo. In front of the Pagoda, note the Purdue University marching band, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary as 'host band' at the Speedway this year. Photo by Phil Brooks


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Roadtrip: Old buildings, historic bridges and a cool diner in Plainfield

Guest Roadtripper and film historian Eric Grayson suggests a visit to the town of Plainfield, just west of Indianapolis along the Old National Road in Hendricks County.

Among the trails along White Lick Creek in Plainfield, you'll find lovely historic bridges, including this restored truss bridge.Eric tells us that the first thing we'll notice in Plainfield is that everything is named for the Quakers, thanks to the large role that the group (AKA the Religious Society of Friends) played in the town's history. Even the local laundry and the high school sports teams bear the name of Quaker!

As a film historian, Eric is quick to point out Plainfield's old Village West Theater, which opened in 1927 as the Prewitt Theater. This endangered landmark is one of the few surviving theaters on the National Road; it is currently not open to the public, but hopes are high that it can be restored and find a new way to serve the community!

After checking out downtown Plainfield, Eric suggests a walk on the trails along White Lick Creek, which crosses Main Street (US40) just west of the Village West Theater. Among the scenery on the trails you'll find lovely historic bridges, including a very large steel truss bridge. Many of them are repurposed, having been moved to the area to become pedestrian bridges in the town's trails network.

And if your stroll along White Lick Creek trails helps you work up an appetite for lunch, you can't beat The Oasis Diner, another historic gem: this 1950s roadside diner was moved four miles west on US 40 a few years ago and restored to its classic 1954 look.

Old buildings, historic bridges and lunch at a 1950s diner; sounds like the perfect Roadtrip for Hoosier History Live fans!

History Mystery

Our mystery Indy 500 racer, pictured in this 1992 track photo, holds the record for leading for the most laps over the course of his career but has never won a race. Who is he? Courtesy Auto Week.

A well-known former racecar driver has the dubious distinction of leading for the most laps during Indy 500 races over the course of his career without ever winning.

According to The Winning Cars of the Indianapolis 500 by our guest James Craig Reinhardt, he led for a total of 431 laps in a nearly 20-year driving career at the Speedway that began in 1984.

Question: Who is the mystery Indy 500 driver who lead for the most laps, but never won?

Hint: He continues to be a high-profile figure as the owner of an IndyCar racing team.

Please do not call in to the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your first name to our engineer, you must answer the question correctly on the air and you must be willing to give your mailing address to our engineer so we can mail the prize pack to you. This week's prize: a pair of tickets to the 2019 Indiana Wine Fair at Story Inn in Brown County on May 11, courtesy of Story Inn.

Please email if your business or organization would like to offer History Mystery prizes.

Talking historic renovation with Chief Justice Randy Shepard

Nelson Price, host and historian
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May 4, 2019 - coming up

Lakes, lakes and more northern Indiana lakes

Sunset vistas are among the pleasures that have been enticing residents of northeast Indiana to Lake James since the early 1900s. Courtesy

Lake James has been an enticing vacation destination for residents of northeast Indiana since the early 1900s, when those seeking rest and relaxation would take a train to the nearby town of Angola, then make their way to the scenic lake. By the 1920s, two dance halls and cottages had been built on the resort lake in Steuben County.

In LaPorte County, Hudson Lake has a colorful history that includes, during the 1830s, a cluster of cabins and shops on its shores that served as a stagecoach stop between nascent Detroit and Chicago.

Today, Olin Lake in LaGrange County has the largest undeveloped shoreline of all of Indiana's natural lakes.

They are among the lakes in northern Indiana that we will explore during a show with a special format. Nelson's guests will be a series of "lake correspondents" who will phone in with reports about the heritage of natural lakes in northern Indiana.

As we noted during a show last summer about our state's two largest natural lakes - Lake Wawasee and Lake Maxinkuckee - most of the lakes in northern Indiana have glacial origins. Large lakes in southern Indiana, including Lake Monroe, are man-made.

Our lake correspondents will include:

  • Jim Somers and Flaim Cupp, co-authors of the 2011 book A History of Lake James; both of their families are long-term property owners at the lake, which covers 1,229 acres and reaches a depth of 88 feet. They report that of about 800 cottages on Lake James today, about one-fourth are owned by year-round residents like Jim and Flaim.
  • Olin Lake in LaGrange County has the largest undeveloped shoreline of all of Indiana's natural lakes. Courtesy The Nature Conservancy. Public historian Glory-June Greiff, who grew up at Hudson Lake. "LaPorte County is so lake-filled that you're bound to run into one just wandering the roads," she notes. "The county seat of LaPorte has at least five within its city limits."
  • And botanist Michael Homoya, who recently retired from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. He will share insights about Olin Lake, which has a shoreline of about 2 miles in length. "Interesting wetlands border the lake, including a 'fen'," Michael reports, adding that a fen is a "natural community that is saturated with groundwater seepage flowing in a diffuse matter."

On the shore of Lake James, Pokagon State Park was established as an Indiana State Park in the 1920s, taking its name from illustrious leaders of the Potawatomi, a Native American tribe that once fished, hunted and lived across northern Indiana. During the 1920s, '30s and '40s, Big Band music attracted thousands of patrons to Lake James, according to Jim and Flaim. Motorboat racing has been a popular attraction for generations of lake-goers.

At Hudson Lake, the 1830s cluster of cabins was called Lakeport and, according to Glory-June, "vied unsuccessfully to become the county seat." She reports that 100 years later, Hudson Lake was a "happening place" again, with a casino (featuring performers such as jazz great Bix Beiderbecke) adjacent to the tracks of the South Shore Railroad running between South Bend and Chicago.

"Today," she says, "Hudson Lake is quiet, basking in its history."

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