An Indy tradition worth keeping
Ryan Summerlin May 28, 2014
I may not always follow every tradition in the world. I’ve worn white shoes after Labor Day. I’ve missed out on attending Purdue football games for the last decade. And I once skipped my traditional meal of corned beef and cabbage on New Year’s Day.
Then I had one of the unluckiest years of my life.
I’m fairly old-fashioned in my perseverance to uphold traditions established long before I came into the world in the ’70s. As a kid I always watched Sammy Terry (think cemetery), a celebrity host of the Friday night “Nightmare Theater” in Indianapolis. I’ve always liked watching scary movies, and it all started with those classic black-and-white movies Sammy Terry would announce, including “Night of the Living Dead,” “The Blob” and “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
I still panic when I see walking fish monsters.
I looked forward to those Friday nights like they were The Beast and The Racer roller coasters at King’s Island amusement park in Cincinnati. I would always feel the butterflies in my stomach because I was scared, and a little nervous, about what was to come. But I was never quite so afraid that I couldn’t go through with the thrill of it all. I believe this makes me a bit of an adrenaline junkie. We’ll see if I can actually go skydiving someday.
That’s on my bucket list.
Sammy Terry and I had a sort of love-hate relationship — all one-sided, of course. He really had no idea I felt that way about him. Although I’m sure he was at least somewhat aware that some of his younger viewers may have had some nightmares as a result of a Friday night spent watching “Tarantula.” We had a tarantula as a pet so I wasn’t as fazed. Surprisingly, I was more scared of Sammy Terry’s “pet” spider named George. He was a fake spider that descended from the ceiling on a highly visible string. He would creep down before Sammy would retire for the night in his coffin.
I called it his toy box.
As a kid, I also enjoyed the traditions of Indy’s most famous event, the Indianapolis 500. Growing up in Indy meant the only way to see the race was to attend it. Everyone at home listened to it on the radio, which we still do to this day because the race is blacked out to all local programming. I went to the race with my grandpa who had friends who lived near the track. I remember my fresh excitement in seeing the gigantic scale of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time.
I heard one description this year — on the radio — by expert race commentator Derek Daly that said it all. He said one aspect of the race people really don’t grasp until they’re there are all the colors. People are dressed in black-and-white checks, and the reds, yellows and greens of the racing flags. The IndyCars are brightly colored, too, and all the drivers and their pit crews cover the spectrum. The balloon release at the end of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” sung by “Andy Griffith Show” star Jim Nabors, is always a sight to see. This year was the last chance to hear him sing it. He is officially retired, and all of Indiana must have tuned in for it.
We will see who will carry on his tradition.
This year, I continued my tradition of going to Carb Day. A friend of mine asked if that’s the day I splurge on bread and pasta. That actually doesn’t sound so bad before a race. It worked that time — the only time — I ran/walked the Mini-Marathon.
I really should make the Mini a tradition.
All carbohydrate jokes aside, Carb Day is actually short for Carburetion Day, the final practice session on the Friday before race day is a tradition for the teams. The name derives from the old race cars with carburetors that needed tuning before the drivers drove those famous 500 miles. The cars haven’t had carburetors since the early ’60s, but the tradition of Carb Day concerts, pit crew races and all-around track camaraderie remains strong to this day. Best of all, there are still the traditional names of racing families, including Andretti, Unser and Rahal, that can be heard over the loudspeakers. In just two short years, these traditions will be 100 years in the making.
I’ll be the one in the white shoes.
April E. Clark feels like she really made an impression when meeting Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee at the track. She can be reached at email@example.com.