SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Russell VanTreese remembers when the entire track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was made of bricks and not just a yard.
On this 100th year of the Indianapolis 500, the local World War II veteran is also celebrating having seen “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” 90 times. Who better to help him celebrate that other than motor sports legend and Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti?
When the word got out about his love for the 500, VanTreese was offered a two-seater ride from Andretti.
It was an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He’s the king of the fans. The IMS fans,” said Andretti. “90 times here. Isn’t that amazing? We should get a crown. We should have a crown,” laughed Andretti.
The 1969 winner started coming to Indianapolis four years prior to winning the race, but at that time VanTreese had already racked up seeing the 500 dozens of times.
Andretti says it’s the fans that drive this race and help make it so special.
“He’s one of the people we have the appreciation for. It’s amazing. You talk about tradition at Indianapolis, it’s because of individuals like Russell,” said Andretti.
The veteran was an Army Air Corps pilot and told Andretti he can handle a few laps around the track.
“I’m telling you, it’s better than any thrill ride you’ve been on in your life. I can never remember anything like this,” said VanTreese.
The best race VanTreese says he saw at the track was in 1952 when Bill Vukovitch lost after leading 150 of 200 laps!
This year, he says he’s hoping for an Andretti win. VanTreese will be watching his 90th Indy 500 from the same seats he’s had for decades in turn one.