Opinion: Photographic Indy 500 memory


Commentary by Ward Degler

Josef Newgarden is this year’s winner of the Indianapolis 500. He was also last year’s winner. He is a member of Team Penske, which needed a win. They’ve had a dry spell recently.

I’ve never been a big sports fan, and that includes the Indy 500. But I did photograph the race one year for UPI.

I spent the entire month of May at the track, standing in the short chute between the third and fourth turns, watching cars zoom by through my camera lens. Occasionally, I would snap a pic. Nothing the UPI wanted.

Then, one day close to race day, I was focusing on cars zooming by when I saw something extraordinary. A car skidded out of control, hit the wall and lost a wheel. I remember standing transfixed as the wheel took a giant leap — and headed right for me.

What happened next occurred in microseconds. I snapped the shutter on my camera and literally dove to the side to avoid being hit. I remember getting grass stains on my shirt, mud in my mouth, and just missed being coldcocked by a flying racecar wheel. I’m not sure what those wheels weigh, but I’m pretty sure I would have felt it if it had hit me.

I had no idea if I had gotten a picture of the renegade wheel, but I sent my film to the UPI stand for its review. Then I packed up and headed home to recoup. The next day I was back in the short chute watching cars zoom by.

Nothing else happened on race day. I don’t even remember who won the race. I think it might have been Rick Mears. A friend, Jim Schweiker, had introduced me to him the day before. I just remember getting a check for $30 from UPI.

I never saw my picture published. I just know I earned a whopping thirty bucks for the entire month of May.

It could have been worse. I could have been hit by the wheel. Then I would have made the news myself.