Panama City Beach, FL---The 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 is set for Sunday and once again a man by the name of Joe Romack, who years ago retired in P.C. Beach, will be in his seats watching the race. The same seats he's been sitting in and watching the 500 for more than half a century.
Joe was born in Sharpesville Indiana, just north of the famed Motor Speedway. He's actually been going to the Indy 500 since he was a wee lad in 1934.
"I didn't have a ticket to get in and I snuck in, in the car with my folks. Mother said she wouldn't go if I didn't go so they put me in the back seat, under their seat so to speak, covered me with a blanket and set the picnic basket on top of me. And I have told the Speedway management that I owe them for a general admission in 1934 and they laughed and said well you couldn't pay the interest on it."
Joe began buying his own seats for the race in 1953, sat in one spot for two years, and then upgraded his view in '55! So going to the race all these years, you know he's seen so much, like the increased speed of the cars over the years....
"Happened to be in the stands in 1937 when the track was turned one lap over a hundred and thirty, guy turned the track at a hundred and thirty odd miles and hour. And that was, oh they're going to fast, we've got to slow 'em down."
....To the days of drivers who were far from multi-millionaire celebrities.
"People that lived around Speedway City had modified some of their basements for a bedroom, shower and these guys would rent a room from them. They had fella's come to the same place ten, twelve years. Rent a room to run the race there."
And over the course of time, Joe's now among an elite group of fans recognized as the longest running ticket holder in Indy 500 history! And the memories he holds most dear over the 80 plus years of going to the Brickyard?
"We got to be a little community in the grandstand. And now the grand kids are the community. They remember coming with granddad. When I was coming, I was there, so we've still got that community coming and I'm fond of the people there."
Joe a decorated fighter pilot in Korea and Viet Nam, so he knows a lot about high speeds and dangerous professions himself.