INDIANAPOLIS (WDTN) – It is the largest single-day sporting event in the world, and it will take place this Sunday afternoon just two hours to our west.
But the Dayton connection to the Indy 500 is actually much closer than that.
The Dayton connection to the Indy 500 dates all the way back to the very beginning when a Stoddard-Dayton car made here served as the pace car for the very first 500 in 1911.
Three men who lived in Dayton, Frank Lockhart, Mauri Rose and Sam Hanks have won the race.
Dayton’s Salt Walther nearly died trying surviving a spectacular first lap crash in 1973.
Twenty-three years later a car owned by Chaminade Julienne grad Ron Hemelgarn went to victory lane with driver Buddy Lazier.
This Sunday when the field of 33 takes the green flag for the 101st Indy 500 the Dayton area will be well represented once again.
Alexander Rossi in car 98 is the defending champion after his stunning victory as a rookie last year. His crew chief then and now is Scott Marks from right here in Dayton.
“I think everybody wanted to win that race for Alex,” Marks said. “This is the biggest race in the world everybody wants to win the Indy 500 and lucky the Andretti team won the race and so hopefully we can have a back to back Indy 500 wins with one of the Andretti cars.”
Scott Marks goes by the nickname Skid and he sees plenty of skid marks up close serving as rear tire changer during pit stops.
A pressure-packed seven seconds that can make all the difference.
“Yeah, there’s pressure when he’s coming in he’s leading the race,” Marks said. “You try not to think about that stuff when he’s coming in because you don’t want to screw up because you could win a race or lose a race on a pit stop so the thing is you just take your time and go through it.”
Tony Kanaan in car number 10 is another former 500 winner and perhaps the most popular driver in the field. And his crew chief is another Miami Valley native, Mark Sampson from New Lebanon.
“For me growing up my dad worked at General Motors, my brothers were gear heads, we all had muscle cars growing up,” Sampson said. “Me and my buddies used to dream, hey if we could do this for a living that would be awesome and I’m fortunate enough to do it for a living.”
But the man with the longest Dayton connection could well be team owner Dale Pelfrey who used the profits from his Huber Heights business to fund the race team that bears his name.
“Huber Heights has been good to us we started energetics aerospace there in ‘76 so it’s been around for a while and is still in Huber Heights,” Pelfrey said. “I sold it six years ago but it had a lot of years of good success.”
Pelfrey entered several cars in the 500 back in the late 90’s and this year he’s a sponsor on Jack Harvey’s car number 50. And like so many of us, it all started back when he was a kid.
Pelfrey continued, “When I was four years old we used to go on a family trip memorial day and my father would always turn on the race he didn’t know anything about racing, none of the family did, but I thought that has to be fantastic you know how it is.”