WINCHESTER, Ind. — When auto racing was on the television, Thelma Hartley gave directions at her senior care center: No phone calls.
During casual conversation about a month ago, the resident of Richmond’s Rosebud Village senior care center mentioned to her physical therapist how much she loved the sport.
She didn’t know it at the time, but that conversation would lead to the birthday celebration of a lifetime.
Hartley celebrated her 94th birthday by riding in a pace car around the race track at Winchester Speedway on May 9.
“We were talking about the fact that her birthday was coming up and the fact that she liked racing and we wanted to do something special for her,” said Carrie Naylor, physical therapy assistant at Rosebud who helped organize the event.
Hartley’s love for auto racing dates back to the 1940s, when she was a stock car driver for the Powder Puff Derby, an all-female group that would entertain the crowds by racing during intermission.
She said they traveled to various race tracks around the area, but never to Winchester, though she did see some races there as a spectator.
“They raced across the infield, women drivers back then weren’t as efficient as they are today, but we did it for fun,” Hartley said. “That’s what we went out there for, we didn’t get any prizes or anything, just recognition.”
Hartley graduated from Richmond High School in the 1940s, and later took a job at Belden.
It was there that she started playing all types of sports – softball, bowling – and was introduced to auto racing.
“They talked me into entering this women’s race, there must’ve been five or six women that showed up,” she said.
But it was the 1940s. This was a controversial attraction.
“They didn’t go over too well, because women couldn’t have stock car races,” Hartley says. “The men were willing to let us drive their cars during the women’s race.
“. One wife got really upset because her husband let me drive his car, and what would happen, another car came in and burst the water tank in the front. She wasn’t very happy with that.”
Accidents were common, she laughs, and she got in her fair share of them, too. But not serious ones.
“I didn’t like anybody passing me,” Hartley said. “I tried to block them, I ended up in the infield, just the same as any other women did.”
Rosebud Village workers describe Hartley as fun-loving and wonderful. She likes to joke, and is never negative.
“She’s up for anything we do – I mean, you couldn’t find a more personable lady,” said activities director Kathleen Barnhizer. “She’s always in a good mood, she wants to do anything.”
Naylor said that she and her co-workers considered taking Hartley to watch a race, but the timing didn’t work out.
It just so happened that Naylor used to work at a casket factory in Lynn owned by Charlie Shaw, also the owner of Winchester Speedway.
When she reached out to Shaw, he loved the idea.
He drove up to 60 miles per hour, and a total of about 30 miles.
“I enjoy doing this kind of thing, you could tell I was having fun out there,” Shaw said. “Carrie called me and said she had this woman that used to drive a race car and asked me if for her 94th birthday, I would take her around the racetrack, I said, sure, we’ll do that.”
Hartley’s oldest son, Ron Hartley, made the trip from his home in South Dakota, and her brother, Don Windle, made the trip from Oklahoma, along with wife Lois Windle.
They all took turns riding in the backseat, with Shaw in the driver’s seat and Hartley in the passenger’s seat.
“Great way to celebrate her 94th birthday,” Ron Hartley said. “I want to thank Rosebud Village for putting this together and the effort they’ve put into it, it’s pretty special.
“. I just thank God she’s got the opportunity to do this.”
About 20 laps into their ride, Shaw noticed the odometer hit 99,990 miles.
It seemed appropriate to keep going.
“I thought I’d turn it over 100,000 on the race track,” Shaw said. “Thelma seemed to be enjoying it, so we decided we were going to ride it up to 100,000. So we did.”
Source: (Richmond) Palladium-Item, http://pinews.co/2r1JncE
Information from: Palladium-Item, http://www.pal-item.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the (Richmond) Palladium-Item.