The Indy 500 is this La Portean’s Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup Playoff all rolled into one

 

Whazz sorts through his “Holy cards.” He has kept every race day ticket since 1961.

Story and photos by WNLP’s Mike Kellems

The 105th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing will be held this Sunday and for more than half of of the previous races, one La Porte County resident has been present.

Whazz’s 1961 ticket to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Carl “Whazz” Wisnieski has had a seat at every Indianapolis 500 race since 1961 with the exception of two years; 1967 and 1968. The two years he missed? He was serving our country in the United States Army ( Thank you for your service, Sir! ) Technically Carl missed a third when the pandemic prevented anyone from attending in 2020, but we aren’t going to talk about that.

I actually wanted to interview and write about Whazz and his amazing attendance record last year. I thought it would be a great idea to sit and watch the race on the flat screen with him, however his wonderful wife, Mary, said that he simply wanted to watch the race alone, a request that I completely understood.

Carl, who has lived his entire life in La Porte County, retired from NIPSCO after working  37 years as a lineman. He has made the trip each year with friends, family and with his good friend Wayne Boyd, who has made most of the trips with him. Wayne himself has a great streak going at 46 years. In 2016, in honor of their joint attendance, Wayne purchased a brick that is inscribed with their names and years of attendance. Carl has a copy of the brick while the original was laid in the shadows of the giant pagoda at the famous race track.

Whazz looks over his framed collection of tickets. The brick honoring his decades of attendance is on the table below.

I asked Carl what the most memorable race was and without hesitation, he replied, “1961, the first year I attended. I was 13 years old and I went with my grandfather and uncle and I was simply in awe of the place.” Carl’s first race was the last year that the front stretch was still all brick. “In ’62 they paved it like the rest of the giant 2.5-mile track with the exception of the most famous yard of bricks ever laid,” he said.

Along the way he has had chance encounters with many of the drivers, particularly while attending various functions such as the Old Timers Dinner. Carl absolutely beams when he speaks of his association with Art Cross, the first-ever recipient of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1952 following a fifth-place finish. Cross, whom Carl met through Cross’s son-in-law, used the proceeds from his winnings to purchase a farm near Rolling Prairie. Cross finished in 2nd place in 1953 and stopped racing in 1955.
Located in a old steamer truck in the Wisnieskis’ dining room is a plethora of race memorabilia including hats, programs and souvenirs, however nothing stands out more than the well-maintained stack of tickets. Included amongst the prized possessions is Carl’s entry ticket to the ’61 race. The admission price? $15. Carl and his friend Wayne hold 10 season tickets with the seats located in the 4th turn in stand “J.” Carl says he likes this spot because it gives a perfect look at the cars coming out of the turn and then rocketing down the front stretch. Over the years a variety of friends and family have attended, however Carl’s children, Tony, Ashley and Adrianne, have attended the most frequently. His oldest son, Carl, has attended a few races on the day his kids refer to as “Dad’s Day.”

Whazz is all smiles and proud of the replica of the brick that honors his years of attendance.

While Mary is very supportive of Carl’s love for the race, she has only attended a few times, citing a dislike of the crowds. Mary did have a gift made for her husband. All of the race tickets were copied, along with a newspaper photograph of Art Cross and a small painting, all of which was framed and hangs in their home. Whazz’s “brick” is on display underneath the framed artwork.

Carl and friends have been witness to much history in the six decades since his first trip to Indy. Crowds have grown ( the Indy 500 reportedly has the largest single-day attendance of any sport), the infield now includes a golf course, and those who made the “snake pit” infamous now consume less alcohol and take more arthritis medication. Race organizers have even remodeled and updated the bathrooms, however they did keep the famous urinal troughs.
In 1973, Carl went to the race and came home because it was rained out. He went back the next day; it was rained out again. Finally on day three, they were able to get the race, but Carl, who drove to Indy yet again, said he was absolutely wore out by the experience.
On Sunday Carl and crew will load up and at 5 a.m. and head south for Indianapolis. Being a race veteran, Carl has a good game plan for getting to the track, parking and into the brickyard. That is no easy feat considering the traffic from the speedway backs all the way up to I-465 early. Rest assured, with 60 years under his belt, it is a good bet that they’ll wait to drop the green flag until the milk has been iced, the race cars are fueled with the drivers buckled in, and Whazz is in his seat!

13 Responses to “The Indy 500 is this La Portean’s Super Bowl, World Series and Stanley Cup Playoff all rolled into one”

  1. Mary Hiigli

    May 27. 2021

    Thank you Mike. This brought many smiles and chuckles to us this morning!

    Reply to this comment
    • Larry gutowski

      May 27. 2021

      Great article about a great guy

      Reply to this comment
    • Carl Strieter

      May 28. 2021

      I can still remember our chats at Fort Carson
      You and my dad are the reason for my family great times at Indy.
      Another great race coming up ENJOY

      Reply to this comment
  2. Ashley

    May 27. 2021

    Aww. This was so sweet to read! We can’t wait to get up on that special Sunday morning and head out with to have the day with him. This year will be a tad different too but I’m so glad he gets to physically go again!

    Reply to this comment
  3. Adrianne Wisnieski

    May 27. 2021

    I’ve always wanted someone to write an article about my dad and his day 🙂
    Thank you Mike for making this happen! It truly is his day, he carries nothing but his purchased program while the rest of us struggle with coolers and the bags of supplies to get us through the day HAHA!
    Wouldn’t have it any other way though.
    Watching my dad enjoy the race and educate us on different drivers and Indy history in the process, will be memories I will cherish for the rest of my life ❤

    Reply to this comment
  4. John Erickson

    May 27. 2021

    Great article. I’m a fan of the 500, but nothing like Carl. Have a good time on Sunday, Carl.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Jessica Johnson

    May 27. 2021

    Who knew?!? Such a ‘great’ article about Whazz and Mary too. ENJOY your special day and be safe….

    Reply to this comment
  6. john zakes

    May 27. 2021

    met carl down there at a few time trials ”a few years ago” always a great time!!! hard to deal with crowd anymore for me so i watch on TV

    Reply to this comment
  7. Bruce Melton

    May 27. 2021

    Very nice article Mike, I had no idea Whazz was so into the 500

    Reply to this comment
  8. G.Gottio

    May 27. 2021

    Carl enjoy pal. Miss the ole days of running into you at Prarie Tavern. Good luck my friend

    Marco Andretti this year!!!

    Reply to this comment
  9. WATERFORD STORAGE

    May 28. 2021

    Excellent article…..I’m honored to be able to call him my friend…he is a living legend!!!!

    Reply to this comment
  10. Sally Russell

    May 30. 2021

    Great article and great guy!

    Reply to this comment
  11. Carol mccullough

    May 31. 2021

    Carl. Thanks for the memories of my dad. He treasured your friendship and talking with you. So glad you are still able to enjoy the race. I miss him like crazy he was the best dad ever……. Carol Cross Mccullough

    Reply to this comment

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