Air Force veteran and Legionnaire Linden Swift signs the People's Race Car at Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing in Indianapolis on March 18. (Photo by Lucas Carter)

A tribute on wheels

For 40 years, John Richardville never missed an Indianapolis 500 race.

After he left the Army, he lived across from the track while going to barber school. And every May, Richardville cut drivers’ hair, just as he’d done for soldiers in Vietnam.

When his widow, Sheila, heard she could sponsor a race car in her husband’s name, she jumped at the chance. What better way to remember his love for racing, and his military service, this Memorial Day weekend?

A member of Avon American Legion Post 145, Richardville “was the ultimate race fan,” says Sheila. “This is a good tribute.”

With a few thousand supporters, the People’s Race Car is an attempt to enter an entirely noncorporate car into the Indianapolis 500. For $100, an individual can put his or her name on the car – an opportunity that is getting the attention of military and veterans families.

“We were surprised by how many veterans wanted to be sponsors of the People’s Race Car,” says Travis Tetrault of Cutters RT, the racing team behind the car. “Many families have asked about an ‘In honor of’ or ‘In memory of’ tribute to someone by sponsoring and placing their names on the car. As the grandson of a World War II veteran, I’m privileged to help recognize all of them – those serving on active duty, veterans, and those who have passed on.”

Lifelong fans of the 500, Tetrault and friend Jason Godby began talking last year about getting a car in the race. Knowing they didn’t have the money, they thought it would be fun to have regular fans – just like them – sponsor a car. Cutters RT was born.

If the team meets its $1 million goal, no corporate sponsor logos would appear on the car – only individuals’ names, Tetrault says. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing will operate the car with a driver yet to be named.

Kathie Mason took her son, Dylan O’Dell, to his first Indy 500 race when he was 8. Now he’s 22, and serving as an aviation electronics technician aboard USS Harry S. Truman. When he returns from deployment, she says he’ll be surprised to see his name on an IndyCar: “Dylan O’Dell, USN.”

“I thought it would be a great ‘welcome home’ gift for him,” says Mason, a member of American Legion Auxiliary Unit 415 in Galveston, Ind. “He sacrifices a lot, being away at the holidays when he’d rather be home. But it’s a choice he made when he enlisted, and it’s a choice he’s happy with.”

Dave Davis is a Persian Gulf Army veteran and enthusiastic supporter of the People’s Race Car. He is the chairman of the Fallen Hoosier Heroes Memorial for Enduring Freedom, created by his stepfather, Donald Peen, a Vietnam War veteran who died of an Agent Orange-related illness in 2005.

He’d like to see the name of the memorial on the car or even, with others’ support, the names of the 206 Hoosiers killed in action since 9/11.

“Because the Indianapolis 500 is run on Memorial Day weekend, it’s fitting that a car in the race would be owned in some way by veterans and the loved ones of veterans,” says Davis, who belongs to American Legion Post 318 in Westfield, Ind. “I can’t think of a better way to honor our men and women who have fallen.”

For Linden Swift, an Air Force veteran who served during the Korean War and member of Avon Post 145, the idea of “taking back the track” with a fan-funded car – especially one denoting the names of those who have served, particularly those who made the supreme sacrifice – has appeal.

“I like long-shot endeavors, and this is certainly one,” Swift says. “I hope it works. To not have a major sponsor and get in the race would be an accomplishment. I think the guys ought to really be appreciated for what they’re trying to put together.”

Army veteran Karin Miner immediately signed on to sponsor the People’s Race Car. Her parents took her to the Indianapolis 500 from the time she was a baby, spreading a blanket in the infield. When Miner was stationed in Germany in the early ’80s, she listened to the race with a radio pressed to her ear.

“I still can’t believe that my name is going to be going around that track on an Indy 500 car,” says Miner, who is considering adding the name of her late father, Al Miner, a World War II Navy Seabee.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”

Sheila Richardville believes that John would have been thrilled beyond words to have his name on it, too, and that for many veterans’ families, the People’s Race Car can be a “racing memorial” of sorts.

“Instead of taking flowers to the cemetery that are going to get thrown away in two days, put their name on that race car,” she says.

To learn more about how to sponsor the People’s Race Car, call (317) 413-9874 or click here.