Sometimes I needed some breakfast before opening the station at 6 a.m., so I got up extra early and drove to Morgan’s Restaurant, which was at the point between Madison Avenue and Brill Road. It was sort of a long drive from our house north of Banta Road, but coffee was only a nickel, including refills.
One morning while driving to the station, something strange happened. At that time Madison was still just two lanes. I was listening to the radio when I heard a loud roaring noise and my car shook violently. The sound lasted only a couple of seconds, and it was a bit scary.
I continued to the station and opened it. I was putting some stuff away in the storage room when I heard the loud noise again.
I looked out a window to see a front-engine Indianapolis 500 roadster sitting out front. I noticed a driver climbing out of it. It was Joe Langley, a chief mechanic for an Indy 500 race team. His workshop was in a building behind his house on Madison.
Joe had been testing his car by driving south on Madison while I was going north. I’m sure he was up to speed, and IndyCars do not have headlights. I only heard and felt him passing me.
We visited for a while and had some coffee and donuts from the bakery in the small strip center next to us. Joe then asked to borrow our service truck to drive back to his shop and get the portable starter that he needed to restart his car.
When he returned he gave me a quick lesson on how to operate the starter, but we couldn’t get the car started. He then put me in the driver’s seat and took over the mechanic’s duties. The car started but would not stay running while I climbed out of the driver’s seat and Joe climbed in.
After several failed attempts, Joe said I was going to have to drive the car back to his house. He gave me a few instructions and was fairly sure I could get the car home safely and in one piece.
Joe climbed into our service truck and told me that he was going to block all traffic at Epler and Madison. I was to wiggle through the stopped cars and drive to his house.
He drove away and a couple of guys pushed me to get me going. I got through the intersection and drove to his house. The car stalled as I was going up the gravel driveway.
I climbed out of the car and told Joe that I really needed to return to the station. It didn’t occur to me until later that it had been daylight and there had been quite a bit of traffic by the time I was driving the car back to his house.
It was just the two of us driving back to his shop, and he beat me in our 1953 Ford pickup. But in my only time driving a real Indianapolis 500 Speedway roadster, I can boast that I finished second.
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools.