Lawrence “Larry” Bisceglia, a mechanic from Yuma, Ariz., and an Indy 500 fan, first attended the race in 1926. In 1948 he decided to arrive several days before the event and drove his 1933 DeSoto but was surprised upon his arrival that there were already two cars lined up at the gate.
Striving to be first, in 1949 Larry again drove his DeSoto and left a few days earlier than before but was beat yet again, this time by one vehicle.
In May 1950 he finally achieved his goal, the first in line. He once said, “I love racing. When I first drove to the Indy 500 in 1947, I thought if you got in line first you didn’t have to pay. I had to pay, but I just decided to be first for 10 years, then 20, then 30.’’ He was to become famous, at least in Indianapolis and with the racing community for being “Mr. First in Line.” He continued to drive his DeSoto to and from the track every year through 1954.
By 1955 he had acquired this 1951 Chevrolet panel truck, which over the next few years he covered with hundreds of racing decals. In 1958 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway presented him with a lifetime pass to the Indy 500. He was awarded a key to the Speedway gates by Tony Hulman. Track officials even installed an electrical outlet outside the track for Larry to use in his truck for a more comfortable stay. He drove this Chevy to IMS for the next 12 years.
On Pole Day 1967, he was summoned to the start-finish line, where the Ford Motor Co. presented him with a brand-new Ford Econoline van. Larry then donated his old Chevy panel truck to the IMS Hall of Fame Museum, where it still resides.
He made the “Guinness Book of World Records” and “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” His health began deteriorating in the early 1980s, and he drove to IMS for the last time in 1983, although he continued to be first in line through 1985.
In 1986 he became ill and didn’t make it to opening day; his first-in-line streak ended at 37 years. It appeared that he would not even make it for the race. When he didn’t lead the pack into the IMS as he had done for nearly four decades, the Indianapolis media put out an all-points bulletin. He was found in Yuma, where he had been living in his van on a friend’s business parking lot.
He immediately received several offers to fly him in for the race, one coming from a local contractor to Ford. Mario Andretti led a group of drivers contributing to the cause, chipping in $100.
Larry made it back to IMS in 1987 for his last race. He died Dec. 7, 1988, at age 90.