Not All Change Is Bad

Most that have been long-time readers of this site know that I’m a curmudgeon when it comes to change. It drives my wife nuts how I’ll go out of my way to make sure a lot of things stay the same. She considers me quite neurotic, because I’ll continue to refill a fifteen year-old shampoo bottle of my favorite brand, simply because I despised the new packaging they came out with in the late nineties. To me, it makes perfect sense – but I know many of you will agree with Susan.

But that gives you an inside look into just how much I despise change. I come by it naturally. My oldest brother held onto his black rotary dial phone until it was no longer compatible. He now sports a flip-phone and is very proud of the fact that it does nothing but make phone calls.

Over the years, I’ve given other examples that have bewildered readers so much, they’ve commented on it. I’m also quite the traditionalist, so I especially hate change when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. Although many like it, I’m still not a fan of the new qualifying format. In fact, I haven’t cared for the last few revisions. I still like the format that said one car got four laps once they took the green flag. Whatever you got after you took the green, that was your time. Rick Mears always said that the four laps of qualifying were more pressure-packed than anything in the race. Now a car can go out multiple times per day.

I don’t know if this example is proposing change or reverting to an old way; but I would like to see all practices and qualifying days end at 7:00 pm local time. Prior to 2006, Indiana did not observe Daylight Saving Time. That meant for spring and summer, Indianapolis was essentially on central time. When they made the switch to observe Daylight Savings Time, it eliminated the traditional Happy Hour when the shadows from the grandstands would cover the front-straightaway and make for a cooler track from 5:00 to 6:00. With the time difference, the track now closes at what used to be 5:00 pm.

A cool track translates into greater speeds. This year, the practice on Monday May 11 has been extended to 7:00 pm, which is the time that the track used to close – according to the sun. That’s a nice start, but I’d really like to see the time extended until 7:00 each day. Plus, it would give the locals a chance to go to the track every day after work.

But I’m not completely averse to change when it comes to the Indianapolis 500. There are a few notable exceptions to my hatred of change that center around the Month of May. For example; even though I’ve yet to see it in person – I think I’m really going to like the new scoring pylon. I’m also very much in favor of the new HD video boards we’ll be seeing either this May or next May at the latest. The old ones are well past their prime.

I was also a strong proponent in updating the concessions at IMS, but I didn’t know that meant altering a fan favorite – the tenderloin sandwich. Fortunately, I found a few stands last year that still sold the old one instead of that commercialize abomination they sold in the Pagoda Plaza last year. Jalapeños and pepper-jack cheese with spicy mustard on a tenderloin? Please. Hopefully, the old ones will still be available at selected stands this year.

But there was a change that took place years ago that I’m sure no one resisted – at least no one in their right mind. This is a perfect example of change for the good.

Many times, I’ve written about my childhood experiences of going to the Indianapolis 500 in the sixties. When I look back on those times, it is usually with great fondness. Not many people my age can claim that they saw the roadsters race or heard the scream of a Novi at full-song; but those are wonderful memories I can always look back on and share.

But not all of those memories have been pleasant. In fact, some were downright horrifying. I’m speaking of the restroom facilities under the main grandstands on the main straightaway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Legend has it that 1966 winner Graham Hill was responsible for getting stalls put into the restrooms in the garage area. He appealed to Tony Hulman’s sense of decency that a man should not have to do his “business” in front of the world, and he complied.

Unfortunately, that same sense of decency didn’t transcend to the spectator’s restrooms. To this day, I am scarred by the shock I endured as a six year-old attending my first race in 1965. As is typical of most kids that age, I needed to go to the restroom before the race started. Since my father and two older brothers were engrossed in the pre-race activities, my mother was given the task of escorting me to the restroom and waiting for me outside. What I saw haunts me to this day.

I have written before about the primitive IMS restrooms of the sixties. It sounded so preposterous by today’s standards, that some readers even commented that I must have been confused and that my childhood memories had become grossly exaggerated over the years. Nothing so medieval like that could have existed as recently as 1965. Really? Think again. Now I have proof.

When my mother took me to the door of the Men’s restroom, neither of us had any idea what was waiting for an impressionable six year-old on the other side of that door. As I walked in, I was greeted by the sight of grown men – giant, burly men, and a lot of them – sitting over peculiar holes regularly spaced in a slab of concrete, with their pants around their ankles. I only needed to pee, but being a six year-old – I couldn’t reach the urinal. So I found an empty hole in between two men that were just sitting there. Even at a young age, I knew restroom etiquette. I stared at the wall or straight down – never allowing my eyes to stray. To this day, I’m hoping those two men did the same.

Looking down was even more appalling. There was no plumbing. I was peeing into a giant pit that all the holes in the concrete emptied into. I can only assume that this emptied directly into the creek that eventually ran through the infield and under Turn One. Nowadays, the creek goes through a buried culvert but it is still there. To this day, when walking under the grandstands, you still see a bed of water that runs parallel to the stands. I can only imagine what has been in that water over the last century. By the time I came out, I’m sure my mother wondered if I had seen a ghost. Fortunately, the race started shortly after that and I was able to move that sight into the back of my mind – but not erase it entirely.

When my memory was challenged the last time I mentioned these horrid conditions, my friend John McLallen corroborated my story. Being an IMS veteran of the sixties, as well – he remembered those restrooms as vividly as I did. Last week, he came across a picture on an obscure racing site and showed it to me. That was it. These were the restrooms that I remembered.

IMS Bathroom

I’m not saying that everything I say or mention on this site regarding the Indianapolis 500 is carved-in-stone. But when something as terrifying as seeing what I saw at such a young age is tattooed into my brain – next time, know that it’s true.

When I say that I live by the mantra of Change is Bad – just know that there are always exceptions. I’m not sure when the concrete slabs were removed and stalls were put in, but it was well worth the money. That was definitely an example of change being good. So, if you ever complain that the IMS restrooms are not quite up to your standards – keep that picture in mind. I’ve never been able to get that sight out of my head for the past fifty years.

George Phillips


31 Responses to “Not All Change Is Bad”

  1. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I bear witness to the very same. Was it always only sweaty and clearly uncomfortable larger men who used them?

    I can tell you that some of them survived into the 1980s. Some merely “updated” with doorless stalls, but the golden troughs of varying forms live on to this day… as it should be.

  2. sejarzo Says:

    The stenciled text on the back wall above the trough is “All supplies furnished free by courtesy of the management”. A bit ironic considering the location, eh?

    I was told that was posted during the time when Hare Krishnas would attempt to get tips in public restroom facilities at big events, airports, etc. for supplying toilet paper.

  3. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, do you know the story behind the restroom in the infield near the fourth turn with the hot air balloon painted on the side? I don’t think it survived the road course changes there, but for decades there was this lone restroom with a vividly colored hot air balloon painted on the side near turn four in the infield. I was a Yellow Shirt for five years in the mid-nineties and I got the scoop from the old timers:

    In 1967 Tony Hulman and Co. decided to pay homage to one of the first events at The Track when it opened by having a hot air balloon race on either opening day or first day of Quals, I can’t remember. Anyway, all the balloons got in the air nicely, save one, which didn’t get enough altitude right away and went slowly towards the North gradually increasing its altitude, but not before hitting the top of the old wooden “restroom” there inside turn four, knocking it over and revealing a lone female person of color doing her “business” on the toilet! Think Jurassic Park and the guy on the pot before the T Rex eats him! Oh MY! Well, you know how Tony Hulman took care of things, he made sure the woman was well compensated for her massive embarrassment, then ordered the restroom rebuilt with concrete blocks (as the rest around The Track would be gradually). Then he had a big hot air balloon painted on the side, and when asked why he did it he said something to the effect of “That was the most expensive restroom I’ve ever built and I want to remember why.”

    One of the hilarious stories from The Brickyard that isn’t in any of the books! But every word is true….

  4. I’ve seen a lot of things in my life and those holes in concrete are one of them.

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I remember reading about restroom facilities like this… on 17th century Spanish galleons.

    • How about the ancient Romans? Well, the facilities probably had marble floors, but still no privacy. I cannot imagine being a 6 year old and experiencing it first hand.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      You need to see Andy Griffith in No Time For Sergeants. Restrooms were ALWAYS like that in the military until about 30 years ago when our country suddenly went “soft.” LOL!

      In No Time For Sergeants Griffith is the “Permanent Latrine Orderly” in charge of the latrine in the barracks which looks just like the old IMS restrooms. An uproariously funny scene follows when “inspection” happens with the Colonel of the base! A must see!

      George has given us a tiny peek at what life was like in the good ol’ USA before political correctness took over. A much simpler time indeed!

  6. George, I had a very similar experience as a young boy. Hot, acrid, beer-y, crowded, dark sweaty and expletive-enhanced, it was quite a shock. But nothing, including that experience, is as shocking as a the story of a man who has been refilling an ancient shampoo bottle for 15 years because of a design change.

  7. James T Suel Says:

    Yes i remember those less than ideal restrooms. My first race was 1960. Bab as they were i was so overhelmed by the speedway and the race it just did not matter. Have not missed a 500 since. This year will be my55th

  8. Ron Ford Says:

    George, I hope to meet you in person someday. When I do, I can only hope that by then I have erased the shampoo bottle story from my memory. Unfortunately, I have never been able to quite erase my memory of those horrible restrooms. There is still a lot of room for improvement. If the IMS were to ask fans of what would be at the top of their list for improvements at the track, I think better restrooms would get the majority vote. In that regard, please George, do not send the above photo to the Boston Consulting Group.

    • DZ-groundedeffects Says:

      I’d wonder if BCG would have them ‘compress the schedule’ on the restrooms also – “Now open from 10am – 4pm”!

      Don’t want them to have to try and compete with the demand for port-o-cans, I guess.

  9. DZ-groundedeffects Says:


  10. Graham Hill:
    -Indy 500 Champion
    -24 Hours of Le Mans Champion
    -Two time Formula One World Champion
    -Five time Monaco Grand Prix Champion
    -Successfully lobbied to have for bathroom stalls in the IMS Garage Area

    This made me laugh.

  11. I was surprised when I attended the first F1 race at COTA in 2012 to find no permanent restrooms at the far end of the track. The photo you posted George made the COTA port-a-johns look pristine in comparison.

  12. One thing about those concrete toilet seats, I wasn’t taken aback when I saw the urine walls at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in the 70’s. Frankly, it was a step up because they had sinks.

  13. George, I want to apologize to you for being the catalyst for the above comments which have nothing to do with your original post. I feel that failing to respond to something like that implies agreement with the ideas expressed. No offense to you or the blog.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      THERE WEREN’T ANY IDEAS EXPRESSED YOU A$$! I was telling a freaking STORY!

      Some people…. SHEESH!

  14. Randy Holbrook Says:

    One of your best efforts George! Maybe for Mrs Oilpressure’s next blog she can tell us more about the Shampoo bottle. Hilarious!

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