Attending the Indianapolis 500 for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Just finding your proper spot among the 300,000 fans in attendance can be an adventure.
Luckily, there are volunteers such as Columbus residents Peggy Wampler and Jerry Simo, who are there to assist fans and help make the race one of the most enjoyable experiences of their lives.
In preparation for the 100th running of the 500, Wampler and Simo gave a presentation in front of 35 people Monday evening in the Bartholomew County Public Library’s Red Room.
“A lot of people ask me what I do at the track,” Wampler said. “Sometimes I tell them, ‘I tell people where to go, but they never get there.’
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“I meet different kinds of people, and I always enjoy talking to them. I’ve told everyone that this will be my last 500. I’ve done it for 16 years, and I’ve really enjoyed it. “
Simo has been working in the chute area between the pits and the garage area in Turn 3 and has picked up a lot of secrets of the speedway in the eight years he has worked there.
“People shouldn’t use the restrooms at the bottom of the stairs of the chute areas,” he noted. “The ones at the top of the stairs are staffed and are cleaner. Then you can go along the walkway and take photos that peer into the garage areas.
“A lot of people think you have to have a pass to get up there and take photos, but you don’t.”
When Simo began working at the speedway, spectators were permitted to bring oversized coolers with them — but after a young fan was injured when an oversized cooler struck her, Simo sought to change that.
“I think the little girl was about 7 years old,” he said. “After I took her to the infield care center, I went up to race control. I told them we had to eliminate oversized coolers because they were a safety hazard for the spectators. Now you can only bring coolers that you can fit underneath your seat.”
Simo has become friends with veteran Indy drivers such as Helio “Spider-Man” Castroneves. The three-time Indy 500 champion is called Spider-Man because he is famous for climbing the fences to celebrate wins.
Simo helped an Australian couple celebrate after they achieved their goal of having Helio autograph a book they’d brought to the speedway that featured a photo of him climbing the fence.
“They told me that they’d brought that book with them from Australia and that was the reason they came to the race,” Simo recalled. “They’d just missed him signing autographs for fans.”
Because Simo knew how much Helio enjoyed interacting with his fans, he arranged for Castroneves to autograph the book and meet them in person.
“They were crying happy tears after they met him when I escorted them back to my station at the chute,” Simo said. “They kept thanking me, but that’s what our job is all about. We all just want to help the fans have a super day, and we’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.”