The Herald Bulletin

May 25, 2013

Fans build unique pre-race atmosphere for Little 500

By Jack Molitor
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Same race. Same spot. Same friends.

Four close friends from Elwood, Steve and Mark Ebert, Bob Hartley and Mike Goins, arrived at Anderson Speedway early Saturday morning and set up their tailgate spread. It’s something the four of them have done together in preparation for the Little 500 every year for at least 20 years. Some of them have been coming even longer than that. And they do it for one reason.

“We wanted to get the best spot,” Steve Ebert said

The four friends have found the prime real estate for pre-race festivities is by the fence right outside Turn 1 on the track. It’s a spot they’ve fought to defend and they always arrive early to try to claim it. As the day draws on and the 8 p.m. green flag time approaches, the parking lot gets packed and fans file in quickly, so having the right spot makes all the difference.

“We’re all friends and we all enjoy just being out here before the race,” Hartley said. “We’ve got everything we need here.”

But the four agree the best part of the day is when the engines roar, the green flag waves and the Little 500 starts.

“I’ve been to a lot of sporting events, all kinds,” Steve Ebert said. “Nothing compares to this. When you have that many cars on a quarter-mile track, it’s thrilling.”

It’s that excitement track owner Rick Dawson tries to enhance year after year. Gates officially open at 4 p.m., but well before then dozens of people milled about the track, patronizing vendors, eating and getting a look at some of the cars in the pits. Restaurants along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard prepared with barbecues and cookouts, even with the threat of inclement weather.

“The race has such a storied history, we just try to build on that and embellish it a little more and blend it in to the modern era,” Dawson. “We’re fan-oriented so we give the fans more things to do, more to see.”

Plenty of fans like the “Elwood Four” are veterans of the race. For Beverley and Bonnie Tyler, it’s become more of a family obligation. They’re the mother and sister of two-time winner Brian Tyler, who took the checkered flag last year and in 2006. The two of them hang around the track for most of the week leading up to the race, watching qualifying and spending time with Brian.

When race time comes, they are joined by about 30 other family members and friends.

“We’re out here every year, and it’s always a lot of fun,” Beverley Tyler said. “This year should be a fast race, and I think Brian has a good chance again.”

But a few fans are taking in the experience for the first time. Russell and Ileana Lyke, a couple from Michigan, said they are attending for the first time and supporting a friend who owns one of the cars. They came only for race day, and planned on heading back home after the race, but they said the experience has been enjoyable.

“I just can’t wait for the race to get started,” Russell Lyke said.

Not everyone at the track for race day is able to partake in the festivities, though. The drivers and their crews spend their day with their heads under the hoods of their cars. Josh Bayne and Jonathan Eskew, crew workers for Rex Norris III’s No. 63 car, headed out of the pits at about 2 p.m. to try to relax and get a bite to eat.

“We just spend most of the day with the car, so we’re pretty focused on that,” Bayne said. “Once the race gets started, it’s never a dull moment.”

The 33-car race is known for its tightly-packed excitement, and Dawson said it has brought some of the best drivers in the world and spectators from everywhere. He said he filled out ticket orders for fans from Australia and the United Kingdom this year.

“The best part is, you never know what’s going to happen,” Dawson said. “It’s something you can’t believe unless you see it. We try to maintain that mystique.”

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