Senior staff writer
Johnny Aldridge has been a fan of stock car racing since he was a teenager growing up in Beech Grove.
He raced in the novice class at the Indianapolis Speedrome in the mid-1970s, when the track was owned by AAA national midget car champion Leroy Warriner. Aldridge worked for Warriner by cleaning up the grounds.
“I always wanted to race, and I loved watching Dale Earnhardt race on TV and in person,” Aldridge said. “My wife will tell you that I lost interest in NASCAR when he died.”
But Aldridge hasn’t lost interest in the Speedrome, the paved short track that was home to some of the nation’s best midget car racers before becoming home to the high-powered late models on the figure-8.
At 20-something, Aldridge returned to the Southeastside track, which was then owned by Greenwood electronics business owner John Stiles, and won the 1986 stock championship. Under Stiles’ rules to promote advancement, a stock champion could no longer compete in that class.
So the aspiring racer, who was working for Indy Towing, did the next best thing: He became a track official in 1988, the same year he founded A&A Automotive on West Lafayette Road, and began flagging races at the Speedrome, the track he has served for 25 years.
Aldridge also flagged two annual indoor figure-8 and Legends Cars events at the Hoosier Dome, USAC midget and modified series in the Midwest and Legends Cars and midget races at the Indiana State Fairgrounds Coliseum.
His best memories of the Speedrome are flagging midget races that featured Jeff Gordon, John Andretti and Tony Stewart plus many World Championship Figure-8 three-hour endurance races.
“Each race night takes on its own personality,” Aldridge contended. “The entire Speedrome season is a continuing soap opera.”
For example, Saturday night was the inaugural Mike Greig Memorial 50-lap Figure-8 in honor of the longtime car builder and mechanic who died last year. Greig’s son, Doug, won the 25-lap Late Model oval race, finished fourth in the figure-8 and presented the winner’s trophy to Ben Tunny of Wanamaker, who led the final 18 laps.
Aldridge became chief steward at the Speedrome after it was purchased by the Cohen family, Jake, Bill and Joel Cohen, in 1999. He was away from the track in 2015 and ’16 but returned to help new owner Kevin Garrigus revive the track.
Aldridge’s main responsibility as chief steward is to see that the racing action is clean and within track rules. He keeps a keen eye for rough driving and drivers going inside the markers in the turns.
Saturday nights feature Late Models on the figure-8, full-frame stock cars, Thundercars (formerly Roadrunners) and the economical Factory Front-wheel Drive (formerly Hornets) production subcompacts.
“There’s a racer’s attitude about the Speedrome because it is a good place to race,” Aldridge said. “The track is more fan-friendly than it has been for a number of years. I’ve seen better crowds on Saturday nights than I’ve seen here for years. I can only see everything getting better from now on.”
Aldridge and his wife, Rhonda, are graduates of Beech Grove High. Their daughters, Kasey, Kimberly and Kari, grew up at the track on race nights. The Aldridges have two grandchildren.
Aldridge and track officials have several big nights left in the season: Saturday, fireworks and a figure-8; July 22, Hall of Fame night; Aug. 5, triple-8 night; Aug. 26, One-Hour Figure-8 to decide 7 Late Model championship; and Sept. 9, 41st World Championship Figure-8 three-hour endurance race. Info: 317-353-8206.