Summer of 73, Indy 500 and Secretariat
It is May 1973 and I am finishing up my first year of college. The Vietnam War is winding down and Watergate is ramping up. The Second Quarter is faintly calling me to seek my passion. However, I’m still going through the motions to pursue the passion that was typically prescribed to a midwestern kid with an aptitude for Science and Math. I should become a doctor, own a big house and become a member of the Country Club. That “Dream” appeared to be alive and well after earning a 3.7 GPA for my freshman year at Indiana University in a premed curriculum.
The month of May for Hoosiers is mostly about the Indy 500, however, attention is also given to the Kentucky Derby, won that year in record setting time by a horse named Secretariat. Secretariat then won the the Preakness later in May which stimulated talk of the first Triple Crown of horse racing in 25 years. But the Indy 500 was the big show and I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend via a friend’s access to a press pass which got us into the track the night before the race. This was an unbelievably fortunate opportunity for a couple of 19 year olds. That night before the race was surreal. We strolled through Gasoline Alley, kissed the bricks at the finish line and gazed out over the raucous crowd partying outside the track. I know that we spent the night inside the track but I don’t actually remember any sleep. We did not have a ticket so we positioned ourselves at an excellent view point in the infield of the first turn.
Rain was the big issue holding up the start of the race for many hours but finally it was about to begin. This was so exciting because it was the first time that I had ever been to the actual race. I had never even seen the race live, you see, if you lived in Indiana you could only listen to the the race on the radio. The pace laps were complete and the roar of the start of the race was deafening until the sound of crashing cars and smoke rising from the end of the straightaway took over my anticipated moment. A terrible mishap had occurred during the start, single cars passed by us and then I so vividly remember seeing a wheel roll all the way around the first turn. It started raining soon thereafter, there would be no race on that Memorial Day May 28th, 1973. In fact rain only allowed for an abbreviated 133 lap race to be completed 2 days later ending after the fatal crash of Swede Savage.
We Hoosiers transitioned out of the somber mood of the deadliest Indy 500 May ever as we started out summer. I got a job working at the Purdue University Agronomy Farm doing something special to alfalfa plants for some professor’s research. My best friend, Rick, and I umpired little league games or were playing basketball in the evenings. I was in-between serious girl friends so dates were not happening a lot. It was a great summer in Lafayette, IN. On June 9th Secretariat did win the Triple Crown by Winning the Belmont Stakes in stunning dominance. Rick was more in tune to horse racing but it was I who pushed that we should go up to Chicago on June 30th to see Secretariat run in the Arlington Invitational.
A road trip to Arlington Park was a fairly big effort for 19 year old boys who would have to borrow a parent’s car, luckily our 3rd amigo, Pager, had a car, a 63 Chevy Biscayne, and he was up for the adventure. As usual I was the one who worked out most of the logistics. We did a pretty good job navigating our way to the park for a full day of horse racing. Rick knew a bit about betting the horses since his father had taken him to the track a few times, but this was all new to me. Pager was commissioned by a neighbor to place the lucky number bets of 4-7 and 7-4 on the Daily Double.
So the number 4 or 7 horse had to win the first 2 races. We had a winner in the first race but our horse in the second race named “Go Father Go” was a bit of a long shot. Well what a thrill we had cheering “Go Father Go” to victory in that second race meaning we had a Daily Double Ticket worth $600. So here are 3 young men looking at $600 and greed won out. We decided to keep the money and tell Pager’s friend that we did not get to the track in time to place the bet. We were actually very fortunate to have gotten there in time so we rationalized that we deserved the money. We all felt a bit guilty about this, but oh what day we would have with some real money to play with.
We did not increase our winnings but we did not lose it all either. The opportunity to see Secretariat run was awesome. Secretariat was challenged by only 3 horses so the betting was on Secretariat or any of the other 3 to win. Secretariat won in an impressive performance and paid $2.10 on a $2.00 bet. I bet $20 on Secretariat and won a buck. It had been a great day at the race track and now we had plans to find a good restaurant on the way home. We were feeling quite bold as we strategized how we should order a drink with our meal. The problem for us was that we had no clue what drink we should order. Pager only knew of a drink named “Manhattan” so that is what we would order. We figured that if we flashed a $100 bill they would think we were old enough to drink. I can only imagine how stupid we must have looked as we tried to be cool ordering our dinner and by the way we would all like a Manhattan as well. Well the restaurant really didn’t care so we all got to experience our first mixed drink and then boast to each other all the way home how well we handled ourselves.
Summer ended and we all went back to our college lives. But something was different, I was starting to truly think about my future. The concept of adventure was creeping into my decision process. When I pictured myself as a doctor I saw a stable career serving a community of patients for the rest of my life. But that did not translate as adventure to me. I would not classify the Indy 500 or the trip to Chicago as great adventures, but I do think that I gained confidence in knowing that adventures were out there and that I wanted to experience them.