Columbus resident helps fans enjoy Speedway experience

The past week has been a little hectic for Terril Pettit, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Thursday, the Columbus resident reported for work at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 6 a.m. After working there until 2:30 p.m., he worked his regular job at Honda Manufacturing in Greensburg until 12:30 a.m.

On Friday, Pettit was back at the track from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then at Honda from 7 p.m. to around midnight. Saturday, he was back at IMS from 7 a.m. until late afternoon.

This morning, Pettit had to be at the track at 4:30 a.m. to prepare for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

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“I really enjoy it up there, or I wouldn’t be going back up there to do it,” said Pettit. “I’ll keep doing it as long as I can. I really do enjoy it.”

The 50-year-old Pettit is a supervisor of safety patrol, better known as the “Yellow Shirts,” at IMS. He’s been in that role for 15 years and has been working at the track for 33 years.

Pettit supervises about 30 to 35 workers in Stand B outside the first turn.

“I have a really good stand and a good group of people that have worked for me for a number of years,” Pettit said. “Once it gets into your blood, we all look forward to it.”

Stand B holds about 7,300 fans. Lower-level tickets in that area go for about $85 to $100, and penthouse seats there go for more than $150.

Before suites were put in at IMS, that’s where Tony Hulman and his family and friends sat to watch the race.

“In our stand, a lot of those people come back every year,” Pettit said. “They know the rules. Those people come up and talk to you by name and act like you’re their long-lost buddy. We just enjoy talking to the people.”

One frequently asked question that Pettit and his crew have fielded centers around why the stands aren’t lettered in order. His answer? They are lettered in the order they were permanently built.

Pettit and the Yellow Shirts are ambassadors for the Speedway. They help fans with directions, tickets, ushering — and most of all, protecting them so they can have an exceptional experience.

The biggest safety issue Pettit has encountered came when a car rode the top of wall in the first turn and carbon fiber was sprayed into the stands. Fortunately, no one was injured.

“We do have a lot of accidents that start in that turn and end up in the short chute area,” Pettit said. “In the past, it was always the third turn where it happened.”

Pettit also works the Brickyard 400, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Moto GP. The Moto GP, however, isn’t returning to Indianapolis this year.

One year in a Moto GP race, Pettit and a few other Yellow Shirts noticed a man walking around in a heavy trench coat in 80-degree weather.

“They’ve always had snipers where no one would really know where they’re at,” Pettit said. “There’s hundreds of eyes watching, and as a safety patrol, if we see something suspicious, we contact Pagoda Command. We were all kinds of suspicious, so we contacted them, and they took it from there.

“They talked to him, and he said that’s just how they dressed where he came from.”

Pettit was funeral director and general manager for Myers Funeral Home for 30 years. When he was at the funeral home, Pettit had plenty of vacation time that he could use the week or two before the races at IMS. Having just started at Honda in March, he doesn’t have that luxury now.

At today’s milestone race, an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 people are expected to attend.

“This year will be interesting because they’ve added more seating, and it’s sold out,” Pettit said. “They’ve really increased the amount of security. They’ll have FBI agents. They’re telling people to be patient and get there early because it will take time to get to your seats. Safety is No. 1.”

If you go

100th Indianapolis 500

When: 12:12 p.m.

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

TV: ABC (coverage begins at 11 a.m.)

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Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.