$85 for a postcard? Madness? Possibly, but sometimes you just have to let your heart rule your head
“Hey, this is the Samson V16!” “Did you know that Troy Ruttman and Jim Rathmann are due here tomorrow to sign autographs”
There is a special atmosphere at the Annual Indianapolis Auto Racing Memorabilia Expo Swapmeet that regularly supports the Indianapolis 500. It is located downtown, at the Indiana Convention Center, next to the Hoosier Dome, and it just gets bigger every year. If you are into motor racing memorabilia, this is the place to go. If you ever want to recapture those childhood feelings of almost uncontrollable excitement that prefaced delving into your Christmas stocking, you owe it to yourself to visit.
Here, you can rub shoulders with hundreds of other rabid collectors, browsing stall after stall packed with books, magazines, photographs, paintings, models — even the old Riverside series LP records. Two years ago I picked up Griff Borgeson’s Bonneville album for a song. The meet is a haven, where you can find bargains, or can pay the earth, depending upon the rarity value of your purchase. During our visit a friend was happily separated from £100 for a framed photograph of Bob Sweikert, because it had the Indy great’s autograph. One time I was buying heaps of historic Indianapolis 500 photographs from lack MacKenzie for $3 a time, yet paid $85 for a postcard showing Lee Bible driving the White Triplex at Daytona Beach back in 1929.
Crazy? Perhaps. But when I was 10 we went on holiday in Wales and I clutched 12s 6d pocket money. One day I came across a box of Road & Tracks and Car & Drivers in a market, for 10 shillings. I wanted to buy them, promising to survive a fortnight on 2/6d, but was parentally overruled. I can still recall the Costin Maserati on the front cover of one, and I’ve always regretted not starving for my cause. If I’d passed on the only action photograph of Bible’s ill-fated attempt on the Land Speed Record, I would never have forgiven myself. The meet is now in its 15th year and for the last 13 has been run by collector Ken Breslauer, the director of public relations and historian at Sebring Raceway. This year he had 9000sq.ft; next year, such is demand, that will expand to 15,000.
He also runs two shows at Daytona Beach, one the day before NASCAR’s 500, the other at the 24 Hour sportscar race. He’s talking about staging one a little nearer home in Sebring. “Each has a totally different audience, you know,” he stresses. “We get the sportscar fans at the 24 Hours, and the NASCAR fans at the 500. We stage the shows specially to cater for each type of taste.
“Here at Indy the show just expands each year. We have a waiting list of exhibitors, and that increases steadily each year. Hence the expansion we plan for 1994.”
Breslauer sells goods, too, specialising himself in Indianapolis, the Sebring 12 Hours (upon which he has compiled a history) and the Daytona 500. The Indy show needs six months of organisation, and he promotes it heavily two months before the 500, even though he is a one-man operation. “We’ve done airplane advertising, press releases and all that,” he says, “but word of mouth is still every bit as effective.” In 1993 there were 123 tables, with 90 exhibitors in total. And he controls it rigorously.
What he wants are people such as Tom Saal, Doak Ewing’s Rare Sports Films (which has 500 footage dating back to the 1930s) and MacKenzie, who sell historic memorabilia. “What we want is more of the old stuff,” says Breslauer, “not too much of the new. The Indy people are absolute fanatics.” Mackenzie, who sells photographs, books, chunks of Indianapolis brick even facsimile rubber drivers’ ears, if you can believe it was formerly the official custodian of the Borg-Warner trophy, the man whose hands secured it until it was presented to the winning driver, in the span from Ruttman’s success in 1952 to Gordon Johncock’s minute victory over Rick Mears in 1982.
If you are tempted to go, write to Breslauer at Auto Racing Memories, PO Box 12226, St Petersburg, Florida, FL33733, USA for the finite details, and tell him where you heard about the show. But be warned: no matter how much you budget, it won’t be enough! D J T