INDIANAPOLIS — One of the beautiful things about growing up as a race fan in Indiana during the 1970s and ’80s was the many traditions and foundations that were a part of the sport.
The first race of the outdoor season when the frost began to subside in March; the month of May at Indy; the Little 500 at Anderson the night before the 500; the NHRA U.S. Nationals on Labor Day; and the Winchester 400 as the autumn leaves were falling.
Surrounding all those activities was a group of passionate and dedicated racing people, brought together under the banner of Hoosier Auto Racing Fans — HARF as it was generally known. HARF had several social gatherings each year, including a nice banquet in January that honored racing champions of the previous season.
Those were great get-togethers. In the midst of the modern world of impersonal social media and watching races alone in our living room via streaming, it’s easy to recognize why those gatherings felt so good.
Luckily, HARF is still going strong, led by current president Levi Perkins. Race fans can still enjoy great gatherings such as the championship banquet, and the club’s 70th championship banquet is in the planning stages for this coming January.
One of the recurring elements that kept HARF going — and other racing fan clubs as well, I’m sure — is the value associated with a club membership. Each year, HARF officers arrange for special discounts at a number of tracks throughout Indiana. “HARF Night” means club members get free admission or a discounted ticket price. This year, for example, there were 20-some events on the HARF calendar.
My first connection with HARF came in the early 1980s when I began writing a racing-related column in the Anderson Herald. HARF’s publicity guy, George Seats, sent me notes and press releases and I began giving the club a plug in my column. That led to my joining the club and later serving on the board.
HARF was filled with fun, eclectic people. The common bond was their genuine love for racing, and most were lifelong fans. My earliest experience with the club came when Dan Wonn was president, and Dan was as good a guy as we’ve ever known. Later, Rita Crafton served as club president for many years and she and her husband, Cecil, worked hard to be good ambassadors of the club and the sport.
The history of the club dates back to the early 1950s, with things like organized bus trips to various venues around the Midwest and large gatherings at area tracks. HARF’s membership roll was enormous in those early years, with tens of thousands of members.
By the 1980s, it had slimmed down some, but the banquet and other gatherings — the election of officers meeting in the spring, and a Monte Carlo night in November — still attracted hundreds of people.
Those were great times. There was beer to drink, stories to tell and everybody went home happy. Fans could rub shoulders with racers and racers could laugh and gently argue with track promoters.
Fellowship. That’s the best way to describe what was happening.
Of course, it took work to make those functions possible. The HARF officers and volunteers got to the banquet hall early, set up the tables, arranged things at the bar, tested the PA system, positioned a table at the door to take tickets, and watched the clock so the event would start on time.
As the last of the attendees had taken their coat and headed out the door, the same folks cleaned up the room, folded the tablecloths, carried the tables and chairs back to the closets and turned out the lights. It was a lot of work.
Many of those officers and volunteers are no longer with us and I wish now that I would have said “thank you” more often, because their effort made it possible for the rest of us to have such a good time.
The passing of time gives us a chance to fully appreciate the small things in life that we later realize are actually quite BIG. At the time they were happening, those HARF gatherings of years ago seemed routine. Hanging out with people, sharing stories and tall tales, savoring our love of motorsports together — no big deal, right? But now those experiences bring a smile and great memories.
Luckily, those memories are still being made by HARF. The club is still going strong, still giving us a reason to turn off the TV, get out of the house and share space with our fellow humans — face to face. It’s a great concept.