Monday, April 23, 2012

The Talk of Gasoline Alley

If you've read this site for any appreciable amount of time, you may know one of my heroes is the current historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Donald Davidson. Donald's radio show/podcast The Talk Of Gasoline Alley is one of the biggest indicators that May has in fact arrived.

Listeners of Donald's show are well aware of his answering of questions from fans (of a "nostalgic nature", if you please), as well as the fact that we will always have several questions always brought up by his avid, occasionally redundant hardcore listeners:

-Can the pole sitter be bumped, and has it ever happened?

-Did Jim Hurtubise have beer in his engine compartment while in qualifying line?

-What happened in the disputed 1981 race?

-Could you tell us about Jigger Sirois/Ed Elisian/The Rathmanns?

-Do you know anything about the old IndyCar sitting on top of the Safety Auto Glass building at Southeastern and Washington?

-My great-uncle said he was a riding mechanic in 1934. Have you ever heard of him? (Inevitable answer: a polite but definitive "no")

It's easy to tease about the same questions asked time and again, but it's because they resonate with people. In a race and month full of traditions, it's become a tradition to ask about certain traditional questions, if you follow.

More than that, Talk of Gasoline Alley gives a sense of perspective. You think an engine manufacturer struggling to find speed at Indy is the biggest crisis the 500 or American wheel open racing ever faced? Listen to the brutal details of the 1973 race, the fuel crisis years of the 70s, the battles through two World Wars, a contested 1981 finish that remained unresolved for months, and so much more. The Indy 500's path has rarely been a completely smooth one, be it 1918, 1946, 1981, or the modern era.

So why is Donald Davidson one of my heroes? He has taken on the mammoth job of being a conduit to the past of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. He is uniquely qualified for it, and genuinely loves the small details that add up to comprise the grand tapestry of Indy. I will say that of all the folks I have met in and around the Indianapolis 500, perhaps the greatest privilege was finally meeting Donald Davidson last year.

When we look at an entrant sheet, we see the names: the also-rans, the runner-ups, and the Did Not Qualify crowd. We don't stop and think that every driver, big and small, from Pete DePaolo to Rodger Ward to Dennis Vitolo to Dr. Jack Miller have a story of their own. That's part of what Talk of Gasoline Alley gives us. If you came to Indy, wanting to race the 500 Miles, whatever the year, whatever the circumstance, you're part of the history of the place. Failed to qualify, finishing 33rd, finishing first--you're more than just  a couple of lines in a box score.

It's so easy to completely lose yourself in the trivia and facts of the Indy 500 and the wider net of American open wheel history. It's the same reason I so eagerly look forward to Paul Dalbey's father's Indy 500 Journals. The joy of Indy isn't comprised of just a few bronze busts and epic legends; it's in the details of people who care enough to remember their camping neighbors in 1965, where they ate every year before Pole Day, who finished 3rd in 1946 (Ted Horn), how Roger Rager made the 1980 field with a school bus engine, or the details of Eddie Sachs' first year at Indianapolis.

Certainly many veteran fans already know of the joys of The Talk of Gasoline Alley, but if you haven't listened to it, this year's run of nightly shows starts on 1070 AM (WFNI-Indianapolis) on Wednesday, May 2.. If you can't listen in over the radio, there's always the online option, or the podcast for download later.

This year, I will again join Dave from Marion, Jerry in Delphi, Paul from Racine, and so many other fans in again learning and reminiscing about the history of the greatest racecourse and greatest race in the world. Old fan or new fan, I hope you'll join us.


  1. I believe 1070 the Fan has an app for listening to Talk of Gasoline Alley (similar to the Trackside app) on your iPhone (pssbly Android as well?).

    If not, I highly recommend the TuneIN Radio app for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones. It will find your local internet feeds as well as any search of stations worldwide. Works very well w 3G/similar grade coverage or better.

    With the Pro level app ($.99) you get 'dvr-like' controls and capabilities of timed recordings up to 2 hours for playback later.

  2. Cool recommendation. I use the 1070 The Fan app available for the iPhone for my listening, then I usually download the podcast from the 1070 website for archiving.