Speedrome track owner Kevin Garrigus, left, congratulates John Aldridge on fronttretch after the Beech Grove native was inducted into the track’s hall of fame.
(PHOTOS COURTESY OF KYLIE ANNE PHOTOGRAPHY)
Beech Grove’s John Aldridge has seen it all at the Indianapolis Speedrome.
Aldridge, a former Stock class monthly champion, has helped outside the racer’s seat in a wrecker truck and as a track worker, flagman, and chief steward. The near-westside auto service center owner was inducted into the Indianapolis Speedrome Hall of Fame on Aug. 26.
He’s had little time to bask in the award because of his official track duties and the track’s all-time signature event – the 47th annual World Championship Three-Hour Endurance race – Saturday night. The three-hour thriller attracts Figure-8 drivers from Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky, Washington, and Florida.
“Every three-hour race takes on its own personality – no two races are alike,” Aldridge said. “Those who have never seen it think it’s a demo derby, but they have no idea of the finesse and bravery that these drivers have. They are driving race cars powered by 350- to 405-cubic inch V8 motors. It’s high powered and an adrenaline rush for fans. There’s so much going on, you never know where to look.”
The Figure-8 classic begins at 8 p.m. Saturday after final-round qualifying Saturday afternoon. The same drivers and cars are in action in Figure-8 heat races Friday night.
As a flagman and chief steward for numerous three-hour Figure-8s, Aldridge has seen all sorts of oddities with leading cars stacked up in accidents to close races decided on the last lap. Last year’s winner Mark Tunny completed 471 laps. In a warm-up to Saturday’s race, one-hour Figure-8 winner Jeffrey Shackelford completed 191 laps last week.
The Speedrome Hall of Fame plaque honored Aldridge for “flagging hundreds of races from preliminary heats all the way to the World Figure-8 Championship finish … rising to chief steward, he was overseer of all on-track activities and staff. His dedication to his position is unrivaled with fair competition, everyone’s safety, and a great entertaining show as the priority.
Aldridge served as flagman and chief steward under previous track owner John Stiles, a Greenwood business owner, and returned when current owner Kevin Garrigus bought the track seven years ago and made numerous improvements that have brought new competitors and fans to the track at Kitley Avenue and Brookville Road.
“As flagman, basically I made sure on the oval that the starts and restarts were clean and that track and driver safety was number one,” Aldridge said. “With the Figure-8, it’s the same except you always have one eye peeled on the crossover for a wreck or a stalled car.”
Aldridge listed his additional flagging highlights as the two indoor Figure-8 and Legends oval races on the flat surface inside the Hoosier Dome and the three-year General Tire Figure-8 national series that raced on tracks in Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Ilinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida.
He also flagged several of the USAC Regional Midget Series races on the Speedrome oval on Thursday nights that included midget drivers Tony Stewart, John Andretti, Jeff Gordon, Rich Vogler, and Kenny Schrader.
His sojourn to the Speedrome began as a Beech Grove teenager who wanted to race. He won his first Stock novice heat in 1975 as a 15-year-old, a year younger than the age rule. He lied about his age, but his dad found out about his first win while listening to the Saturday night radio broadcasts on WIRE 1410.
Aldridge later worked on Indy Towing trucks at the track. The racing bug struck again and he became a monthly Stock class tri-champion. He then went to work under Stiles’ ownership in 1987 and became the chief starter (flagman) in 1988 after a heart attack sidelined mentor and flagman Carl Hall. He and wife Rhonda were married that same year. The couple has four grown daughters, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
Aldridge worked until Stiles sold the track about 10 years later and did not return until new owner Garrigus called.
He was employed by Indy Towing for several years until opening his own towing business on West Michigan Street. A self-made business owner, Aldridge expanded his business to the A and A Service Center, a full-service auto repair and tire sales facility on Lafayette Road on the city’s westside in 2001.
Aldridge has high praise for track owner Garrigus who improved and expanded amenities for weekend racing participants and fans. The Speedrome has stadium seats in the main grandstand, a new south and family grandstand seating, a backstretch spectator entrance, expanded pit area, improved restrooms and concessions.
Aldridge was asked what really makes the Speedrome one of the nation’s best short tracks.
“It’s the family involvement,” the lifelong Beech Grove resident said. “It’s the number of generations that have come through these gates. The kids that were always in the grandstands become racers – that’s the tradition.”