Today came the culmination of two years worth of mounted procrastination. It was originally and formally suggested two years ago to go over and hang out with a group of people at the entrance to Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis Motor Speedway affectionately referred to as the 'Alleycats.' Having now done so, this task should absolutely have been done back then. Nevertheless, that neglected mission was successfully accomplished on Thursday.
The appointment was made to visit from Noon to 2 P.M., but lasted much longer. It was close to three o' clock when we finally shook hands and parted ways. However, there is no doubt that lifetime friendships have been forged within the matter of just those few hours.
Bailey Ebaugh, the lovely daughter of Mike Ebaugh, a longtime Alleycat, was the impetus for this assignment. She has become a fixture among the INDYCAR Series, a charming and infectuous young lady who is loved by one and all within the racing family. Over the past year, Bailey has become one of Kingdom Racing's most ardent fans and supporters. Folks within the INDYCAR Series have become so familiar with her that most follow her on Twitter and Facebook. As of late, she has become the absolute and undisputed princess fo the Alleycats. Some might call her a rockstar even!
In the interest of full disclosure, it was an absolute honor to be accepted and invited into the ranks of the Alleycats' area at IMS. The most fervent attendees of all things Indianapolis 500 know that the sanctity of the Alleycats area is protected within the hallowed ground of Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself. They have been around for a long time.
The Alleycats origins flow from an era nearly forty years ago when a group of folks from Crawfordsville, Indiana gathered on one side of the entrance to Gasoline Alley while others from nearby Southmont gathered on the other side. Back in those days, where the metal gaurdrails of present day stand were nothing more than wooden sawhorses to restrain the crowd. Each group had to continually and repetitively work their way back up to the front between various bathroom and visitation breaks. Eventually, the two opposing sides unified into one area on the south side of the Gasoline Alley entrance. That area has now become the present day Alleycats homestead.
The Alleycats have been at this for decades. Shane Wilson and Scot West have been at it the longest, nearly since the group's inception in the late seventies. Kim Cosby has been a member for almost twenty years. Most of the others have been coming for just as long or longer. An interesting note, I asked Scot what his favorite year at the Speedway was. His response came with a snicker: "This one."
Some of the stories surrounding the Alleycats "bullpen" were amazing. Juan Montoya came in and joined them his one and only year at IMS in 2000. The legendary A.J. Foyt is an honorary member and himself once came in and turned his hat around backwards to match everyone else and fit in with the raucous crowd. Dan Wheldon brought in a bottle of Jim Beam during his rookie year in 2005. In fact, bottles of liquor seem to be one of the most donated items within the Alleycats brigade. Dario Franchitti gifted them with Canadian Club on 2007. Perhaps the most interesting tale involved Rick Mears piloting his golf cart into the gated area when he was unable to walk in. He sat there in his golf cart while the Alleycats party raged around him, reveling at his inclusion. Not surprisingly, all of the 4-time winners of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing have spent time within the Alleycats pen.
One cannot miss the Alleycats. They have huge banners hanging over the barricades defining their area. They were made and donated by Buddy Rice's dad, who came up with the phrases on them declaring "I am in the game." and "Are you in the game?" These phrases harken back to Mr. Rice's time in drag racing when 'being in the game" meant giving it your all. It is a charge to be excellent.
Another family in the Alleycats army are the Stevensons. They have been part of the group for decades. It did not take long to form not only a friendship but to discover that, in one amazing sense of the word, we were brothers. The Stevensons still camp out inside the track on the night before the 500 every year. They are one of the last remaining families to do so and have the adequate permission. Oddly enough, the Alleycats pen is empty on Race day. And they all sit in different areas of the Speedway, each living and experiencing their own version of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Make no bones about it. Miss Bailey Ebaugh is the glue that holds the Alleycats together today. Her spirit and enthusiasm for the sport of INDYCAR are unequaled among fans. She goes way back, too. One of her earliest memories was of Sam Schmidt, her first favorite driver, holding her in his arms for a photo in Gasoline Alley. She was devastated by his crash in 1999 and refused to attend for several years afterward. She was only 8 years old at the time.
Once Bailey returned, she found a new favorite driver, a young man named Dan Wheldon. Dan hung out with the Alleycats and Bailey on many memorable occasions. Bailey says her favorite memory was of Dan winning last year. She was with the entire group as they watched the race broadcast from Las Vegas on October 16, 2011. As were the everyone associated with INDYCAR, the Alleycats were devastated to lose Dan, Bailey more so than the others. He was her friend and, suddenly, he was gone. Dan meant a lot to Bailey and she meant a lot to him. That is without question. Seeing photos of the two of them together are precious. It was a painful loss for such a wonderful young lady.
As grim as things could have been after the horrific INDYCAR World Championships in Las Vegas last year, Bailey is back at Indy. In fact, all of the Alleycats are back, doing what it is that they do best, hanging out and cheering on every person affiliated with the "500" that crosses their path through Gasoline Alley during the month of May.
We have been supplying our Kingdom Racing hero cards to Bailey every single morning at the Speedway. And she has been handing them out with a fervency and zeal rarely encountered in everyday life. She has become our biggest fan and supporter throughout the month of May at Indianapolis. Every hero card we have given her, she has handed out. We've even had to refill her supply multiple times in the same day. She's become our biggest promoter.
All in all, it was inspirational, humbling, and an outright honor to have spent time within the Alleycats' domain. If you love the Indianapolis 500, go by and visit with them. You won't regret it.
As Christ Leads,