Indianapolis in the month of May. For many, it is synonymous with Indy Car Racing and the Indy 500, the famous automobile race held annually at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) and billed “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
When the IMS opened in 1909, construction was beginning on the RMS Titanic, and a gallon of gas cost six cents. And when Floyd Sample was born in 1921, it was a few short years before the original Pagoda was destroyed by fire after the 1925 Indy 500 and then replaced for the 1926 race.
A resident at CarDon & Associates’ Arbor Trace senior living community in Richmond, 96-year-old Sample has a special place in his heart for the IMS and the month of May in Indianapolis.
“He worked in safety supervision in the Tower Terrace area of the track for more than 40 years,” said his daughter, Caroline Holsinger. “He loved the work, helping others at the race and caring for people’s needs.”
Born in Newport, Ky., Sample spent a good deal of his childhood moving from state to state, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana. During the Depression, his family had to go where work was available. After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, Sample settled in the Indianapolis area with his first wife, Catherine.
“I remember Dad taking Mom, my brother and me to the Indy 500 every year while I was growing up,” Holsinger said. Not only did Floyd have a passion for working at the track, but he was also a model employee when it came to safety rules and regulations.
“He taught his crew to stick firmly to all the rules, including the rule that everyone must have a pass in order to enter the race area.” No one was exempt, even the track owner.
“One of Dad’s newest employees stopped Tony Hulman, not knowing who he was, because he did not have his pass with him,” she chuckled. “My Dad was notified, and when he saw it was Mr. Hulman, he smiled and introduced the new employee to the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Actually, Mr. Hulman complimented my Dad and his employee for following the rules.”
Working at the IMS was more than just a job to Floyd Sample — it was a part of his life and who he was. He hurt when drivers crashed and were, sometimes fatally, injured. And he was always grateful for the improvements in safety standards made throughout the years to help keep the drivers protected.
“Dad has always enjoyed going to the 500, even when he no longer worked there,” Holsinger said. “His children and grandchildren have all visited him at the track, and many family members often went together with him to the race.”
In his daily life before retirement, Floyd was also surrounded by automobiles. He worked at Allison Transmission in Indianapolis, the largest designer, developer and distributor of medium- and heavy-duty fully-automatic transmissions and hybrid propulsion systems in the world.
Floyd’s love for all things with speed and power was automatic. And he’s continued to share that love with his entire family — including two wives, Catherine and Millie; two children, Eugene and Caroline; one stepdaughter, Connie; seven grandchildren; and 25 great-grandchildren.
“A few years ago, we took him to the 500 Museum in Speedway,” Caroline said. “He got in one race car with the biggest smile. He’s lived a very active, hard-working, adventurous life.”
For Sample’s 96th birthday in February this year, the Speedway Kroger employees and Floyd’s family members threw him a surprise birthday party. Ever since his second wife, Millie, passed away five years ago, the Kroger employees in Speedway became a huge support for Floyd — who visited the store almost daily.
“His friends at Kroger had a birthday party for him with a 500 theme, knowing how much he loves racing,” Caroline said. “He had shopped at that store for more than 40 years, and they wanted to celebrate him and thank him for his thoughtfulness throughout the years. It really was a treat to have the family there as well to enjoy it with him.”
As the 101st Running of the Indy 500 revs up, one of the oldest and most important automobile races celebrates another year. Floyd Sample celebrates as well — and looks back on all the memories from a lifetime of acceleration and rearing roadsters.
“Floyd has a sense of humor and a thoughtful, giving, servant’s heart,” his daughter said. “He’s loved helping others — his family, friends, neighbors, people at Memorial Presbyterian Church — and especially at the track.”