Friday, May 27, 2011

In the News-Indianapolis 500

Cartoonists of the Indianapolis 500

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first running of the Indianapolis 500, the world's largest single-day sporting event. The race is known for its traditions and pageantry, and for its long and colorful history. Anyone who has grown up in Indianapolis remembers the month-long run-up to the race, the special sections in the Indianapolis News and the Indianapolis Star with their color photos and colored flags, and the sound of the lap-by-lap account called over a static-filled AM radio to the people of Indiana.

Between 1962 and 1979, the starter of the race was an unforgettable character named Pat Vidan. Born in 1914 in Portland, Oregon, Vidan was by turns a sign painter, book binder, commercial fisherman, police officer, designer, and operator of a gym. He was also a cartoonist. Unfortunately, I don't have any samples of his work, but there's a very fine account of his life and character in a book called The Indy Five Hundred: An American Institution Under Fire by Ron Dorson. You can find that book on Google books, but there are many other websites with information on and photographs of Pat Vidan.

Vidan started flagging automobile races in 1946 and became assistant starter at Indianapolis in 1958. He moved up to chief starter in 1962 and was known for his bodybuilder's physique, his crisp black-and-white outfits, and his flourishes with his colored flags. Vidan appeared on television in 1958, on a show called You Asked for It, and in the movies in 1969, in Winning with Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, and Robert Wagner. After seventeen years at the 500, Vidan retired to Portland, Oregon. He died in 1983 and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Keith Bratton of Fort Wayne and Indianapolis has had a long career in cartooning and has illustrated several books, including Little Known "Facts" of the 500! (1978). Born in Fort Wayne in 1925, Mr. Bratton enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and flew bomber missions in the Pacific Theater. After the war, he attended Butler University and went into advertising and commercial art. His other books include Monday Follows Tuesday by Ed Sovola (1951) and Complete with Commas by Richard W. Geib (1968).

Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

Pat Vidan (1914-1983), Chief Starter for the Indianapolis 500 from 1962 to 1979, and Hoosier cartoonist. This photo is from 1972.
Little Known "Facts" of the 500! by Keith Bratton (1978)
As a bonus, here's an Indy car as drawn by a French cartoonist, Jean Graton, for his comic strip Michel Valliant, from the book Comicar (1975).
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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