By Robin Miller
Last year I compiled a list of “don’t miss” great traditions associated with the running of the annual Indianapolis 500 Mile race. Many activities on the list were “no-brainers” for anyone visiting Indy for the Race, or for locals who want to get swooped up in the excitement of the world’s biggest sporting event. One event that was easy for me to include was the annual race memorabilia show.
For many years the event was held in downtown Indianapolis. It started out in 1979 at the old Howard Johnson’s on Washington Street. From there it moved to the Indianapolis Convention Center where it remained until 2004. In 2005 it was moved to its present location at the Indiana State Fairgrounds by a new ownership team that had taken over the previous year.
The National Auto Racing Memorabilia (NARM) Show will return to Indianapolis for their 29th annual event on May 24, 25 and 26. A fixture of the Indy 500 Weekend, the Show attracts a steady crowd of racing enthusiasts who just happen to be in town for the Greatest Race in the World. It also grabs the interest and attention of this old race enthusiast. This is one event that I just do not miss!
There are things that you see and items that are for sale here that you just can’t find anywhere else in town. At one booth you might find yourself looking through IndyCar crew-used shirts; at the next booth you are thumbing through candid photos of the drivers you followed in the 60s or 70s; and at the next one you’re debating whether or not to spend the money on one of the only two pit badges you need to complete your collection. You’ll find a guy who has just put the video of the ’68 Race, complete with amateur 8mm shots of fans coming in to the track posing for the camera in their race day finest, on to a DVD. At another stop you find a vendor who recently purchased the negatives from a UPI photographer who shot Watkins Glen in the 60s and has a multitude of prints featuring Graham Hill, Jimmy Clark and Mario. This is not a NASCAR diecast get-together.
If you’ve been coming to this shindig for as long as I have you know most of the exhibitors and about half of the other people in the hall. I run in to a good amount of folks I’ve known for what seems to be half of my life. From time-to-time it’s also afforded me an outlet to sell or trade duplicate items from my collection. Nobody comes to this Show and leaves in thirty minutes. Many come back to the show for a second day.
Praise and applause for the Show is not limited to just the promoters of the event and yours truly. Founder and Editor Emeritus of National Speed Sport News, Chris Economaki, regularly tells readers and friends, “If you are going to the Indy 500, one event that you don’t want to miss is the Memorabilia Show.” Auto racing legend Andy Granatelli not only attends the event each year, he is quick to tell others, “This has to be the best-kept secret of the Indy 500 weekend festivities.” Granatelli typically brings along his lovely wife, Dolly, and many 500 Festival Parade celebrities, who tag along with him. In recent years that list has included Dennis Miller, Carol Burnett and Rich Little.
I thought I’d sit down with the Show’s co-owners: Bill Daniels of Carmel and John Douglas from Lebanon and get some opinions not only about the Show, but the auto racing collectible hobby in general.
Miller: “You guys bought this event a few years back. Why did you move it from downtown Indy?”
Douglas: “We outgrew the space that was available to us in the Convention Center. We were forced into two rooms and logistically it did not work for our dealers, our attendees or us. There are some other reasons that probably would not be ‘politically correct’ to expound on. We’re already getting close to out-growing the space we have at the Fairgrounds since 2005.”
Miller: “How are you able to attract the dealer base that you get each year?”
Daniels: “One of the reasons for the success of the event is that the very best racing memorabilia dealers circle these dates each year to make sure that they are included. Almost without exception, these individuals are also auto racing fans, much like those who attend. Some within this group only attend, display and sell at this single annual event. Some are not your ‘typical’ antique/collectible dealers. You can find retired policemen, owners of large manufacturing businesses, graphic artists, and teachers as exhibitors.”
Douglas: “Most of our exhibitors are race fans. They would be in Indy that weekend if there was no Show. Another unique aspect of some of our dealers is their connection to the Race. We have daughters of Speedway Hall of Fame members, former drivers, family members of some of the great names associated with the Race who come and set up.
Miller: “I’ve noticed that since your ownership group took control you now have a line-up of Race personalities who appear at the event. Can you explain how this has taken place?”
Daniels: “Both John and I have been involved in the sports memorabilia industry for over thirty years. Collectors, fans, the ‘curious’ appreciate the opportunity to interact with the athletes they’ve followed. Also, at larger venues people have to wait in long lines for a photo, a moment of conversation or an autograph. You generally don’t have that at our event.”
Douglas: “The Race personalities allow us the opportunity to make this more than just a memorabilia show. Fans like it that Mario Andretti or Al Unser, Sr. are there. For the most part the people we’ve had as Show guests have been terrific. Who doesn’t like Lloyd Ruby or Mel Kenyon? If you hadn’t met A.J. Watson or Bob Christie before coming to our 2004 event you remember them now.”
Miller: “Is there anybody that you’ve tried to book for the Show that you’ve been unsuccessful with?”
Daniels: “I guess the guy I’d most like to get here is Foyt. There’ve been others but that’s mainly been attributed to schedule conflicts. In fact, Foyt has schedule problems: he’s running a race team”
Douglas: “My list is a little longer. Foyt, of course, Dan Gurney, Jim Nabors and maybe the guy I’d put at the top of my list: Roger Penske.”
Miller: “What are some of the major factors that have recently affected your event? And….what’s ‘hot’ and ‘what is not’ in racing collectibles?”
Douglas: “Certainly the internet. The net has had, for the most part, a negative impact on all areas of collecting whether it be stamps, comic books, baseball cards or coins. Collectors have the false impression that they can sit home and build a quality collection. Many of the internet Sellers are not experts so it’s ‘Buyer Beware.’ In racing collectibles, a lot of the quality dealers don’t even operate on the internet. Also, a lot of the items race collectors look for: beer signs, advertising posters, race-used car pieces, etc. don’t ship well.”
“In terms of what is ‘hot’ I would include Indy programs pre-1955, pit badges, ticket stubs and unused tickets pre-1965 and autographs of deceased IMS personalities and unique photos taken by professional free-lance photographers who are often only occasional visitors to the Race.
“What is ‘not’ would include: pit badges 1966 to 2005, newer programs, Clymer annuals, and virtually anything that was issued as a ‘collectible.’”
Daniels: “I would echo everything that John just mentioned and add older advertising pieces and panoramic photos to the ‘hot’ list.”
Most of those present within the exhibit hall on Friday afternoon are amazed to be attending this type of show while the thunderous roar of car engines fills the room from the adjacent Fairgrounds race track. It is practice and qualifying time for the annual Hoosier Hundred Silver Crown cars. That Indiana tradition sees a green flag start at 8:00 PM.
Times for the 2007 Show at the Our Land Pavilion at the ISF are: Thursday, May 24 from 4:00-8:00; Friday from 1:00-7:30; and, Saturday from 9:30-4:30. Admission is $10 on Thursday; $7.00 on Friday and Saturday. Young people, ages 7-14 are $3 each day. Members of the Indy Racing League’s DownForce fan club can receive a special discount. Special rates are available for groups of 12 or more. Updated information can be accessed at: www.billdaniels.com
Robin Miller covers open wheel racing for SPEEDTV.com, SPEED Report and WIND TUNNEL. A lifelong resident of Indianapolis, an 18-year-old Miller ‘stooged’ for his hero Jim Hurtubise at the Indianapolis 500 in 1968 and began covering motor sports for The Indianapolis Star in 1969. Besides working on Indy pit crews from 1968-78, Miller also competed on the USAC midget circuit from 1975-83. During the past 35 years he’s also been a contributor for Autoweek, Autosport, Car & Driver, ESPN The Magazine and several publications that folded and still owe him money. He is single, a degenerate gambler and despises the NASCAR phrase, “We had a Top 20 car today.”
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