As some of you may have already heard, we have started a new segment at OpenPaddock.net called Garage 36 in which we cover the news and happenings of Indy Downforce, the official fan club of the IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights, and the Road to Indy. The name comes from the fact that the fan club takes over Garage 36 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May. As part of our introduction to the new segment, I thought perhaps some background on the origins of the fan club would be in order.
This past Spring, I asked around to some of the long-time members for their recollections of the origins and history of the official fan club.. Nancy Gass took my request, and as is her tendency, went far above and beyond the call of duty and got a hold of Scott Hines, the original founder of the predecessor to the official fan club, the IRL CREW. Enjoy Nancy’s and Scott’s thoughts and recollections, and I task you my fellow fans to think about how we can take up the baton and continue the good work done by so many before us.
IRL CREW/INDY DownForce
Many have asked how INDY DownForce was formed and in order to answer that correctly I have to go back to how the “original” fan club was started.
I asked Scott Hines an original founder of the crew how the CREW got started. His response was this:
I started posting on the Indy Star’s SpeedNet forum in late ’95. The place was full of people who either supported or hated the formation of the IRL. As the IRL’s Las Vegas race approached it became apparent that several of the most active IRL supporters were going to be in attendance. It was agreed that we should meet at the Imperial Palace since it was owned by the man who (at the time) owned the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. We were to meet in the Mai Tai Lounge.
I showed up the night before the Vegas race and met guys like Mike Nelson, Deke Houlgate III, Kenny Allison, and a few others who I remember more by their on-line monikers than their actual names. We bench-raced for awhile but eventually began to discuss the fact that this group needed to be organized. We spent the next few months posting on-line at the Coffee House — a secret web site that was available only by invitation.
We talked about where to go with this group. Some wanted to work toward sponsoring a car while others moved toward forming a fan club. The group decided that we should form a fan club and that we wanted to present the Rookie of the Year award. This was mainly driven by the group’s leader — Kenny Allison — and his affiliation with IRL Rookie Tyce Carlson. When we finally got to meet with the folks at the IRL it was suggested that we should instead focus on the Most Popular Driver award.
I was friends with a guy who was on the team that designed the IRL’s logo and the Indy 500’s programs. He drew up the IRL Crew’s first logo. By the Spring of ’97 we were officially incorporated and ready to start recruiting members. Kenny Allison was our first leader but he had to step down so he could run the 16th Street Speedway. After Kenny stepped down John Kirkman took over. John ran the league for about a year and was replaced by Walt Wible.
The fan club grew from there.
Two guys who were also integral in the formation of the fan club were Mike Overfield and Matt Shrum.
Thank you Scott for the above information, many may not realize this, this was all out of pocket by these die hard IRL fans, some put up to $5000.00 of their own money and paid their own expenses. Tony & Laura George and Fred Nation were sponsors of the IRL CREW and allowed the logo to be used until the formation of another fan club. Tracks gave the IRL CREW an area for free to set up.
The IRL CREW was able to take part in a Grill to Go Commercial, a BBQ at Eddie Cheever’s Shop and a AGR shop tour. The IRL CREW helped many teams and at times assisted with the autograph session and passing out of teams give-aways.
In the fall of 2004, Nancy Gass was approached by Fred Nation, VP – Communications and was told that the IRL wanted to form a Fan Club. It was discussed that the league wanted to have levels and that the IRL would make the IRL CREW the uppermost level of the new club.
On October 6, 2004 we had our first meeting at the IRL offices attending was CREW Board members, Nancy Gass, Larry Williams & John Wells, IRL Staff attending were Fred Nation & Jeff Duncan. We agreed at that meeting to merge and started having weekly meetings. From those meetings it was agreed to call the fan club DownForce the IRL CREW had a say in everything involving the fan club. You may notice the fan club is now called INDY DownForce that is to keep the brand name flowing.
On March 21, 2005 a press conference was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway to announce DownForce in attendance were Tony George, Fred Nation and many drivers, all IRL CREW members at the track that day were invited also and we all attended.
Since then the IRL has kept their promises and some of the perks our members have received have been suite passes, driver meet and greets (one on one), prerace parties at every race, pace car rides, two-seater rides, tickets, pit passes, access to prerace ceremonies, bus trips, hotel discounts at every track this year etc…
INDY DownForce, is made up of IRL Staff, the members who work the trailers and are all volunteers that work for points to redeem for passes, tickets etc… The reason our members volunteer has and still is to get the word out on the IndyCar Series, that is why the IRL CREW was formed and that is why the motto has been “FOR THE FANS BY THE FANS” any original IRL CREW member/INDY DownForce member will tell you this club consists of some of the most die-hard fans that have a love and passion for the sport.
Judy Bickel is the Special Events Director and she is always looking for ways to give the members the best race experience available, her intention is to make this the “hottest ticket in town” she has worked with the INDY 500 Festival to have the “Triple Crown” members can attend the prerace party, driver’s meeting and attend the parade in a special section of the bleachers, including bus ride for $40.00. Note the prerace party and the drivers meeting are free. Judy also is in charge of the May Breakfast and the Year end Banquet. It is members like Judy who keep INDY DownForce alive and kicking.
Bruce Underwood is the Publicity Director and in his newsletter you can find interesting articles and events pertaining to the race event for the upcoming weekend. Bruce also takes many pictures for the club.
Allen Hailey is the Customer Service Director and he can assist with any issue you may have.
Chuck Burns is the Travel Director and is in the process of planning two bus trips one to Kentucky and one to Chicagoland. He also is working on some ticket discounts.
It is the hard work and dedication that the volunteers past and current have given that makes INDY DownForce one of the best fan clubs in town. I know I have made many friends through INDY DownForce and believe new members will too, with one common goal we love the IndyCar Series.
Thank you very much, Nancy for the legwork in putting this together for us. If you’re as big of a fan of IndyCar racing as I am, I’d encourage you in joining Nancy and I as members of the Indy Downforce fan club. This year alone, I’ve been on two pace car rides, been to the pre-race driver introductions down on the starting grid thrice, and been able to meet many of the drivers and league officials including Randy Bernard at the pre-race parties. Of course all of this is secondary to all of the great people and fellow fans I’ve met through the fan club.