“My grandpa started going to the Indianapolis 500 in 1948 — when he was just 19 years old.”
Ashley Santasiero, LPN, reminisces about her grandfather, Grover Waitt, and the traditions he instilled in Ashley and her family. One of the most memorable of those traditions was going to the Indy 500.
“He never missed a year,” she said. “My grandma always said when he got home from the race every year, he would say he couldn’t wait until the next year.” And that sentiment didn’t change, even when tragedy struck the Brickyard in 1973.
That year, Salt Walther was involved in one of the most famous accidents in the history of the race.
“He had a horrible crash in which flaming methanol and car parts were thrown into the crowd, injuring several spectators, my grandpa included,” Ashley said. “Those seats were later removed from the stands, but that never stopped my grandpa from returning year after year.”
Waitt’s love for the Indianapolis 500 stemmed from his love for and a pride in his country.
“There’s such an array of people all gathered together for one purpose,” Santasiero said. “While you’re there, hundreds of thousands of people are reminded how proud they are to be Americans.”
Now the West and Cherished Memories Unit manager at CarDon & Associates’ Harbour Manor and The Lodge in Noblesville, Santasiero never misses a race either. But that wasn’t always the case.
“I remember being younger and hearing my grandpa, uncle and two cousins talking about the Indy 500 months in advance,” she said. “I was always so jealous because I was too young to go to the race and would end up having to go shopping with my mom and grandma which, at the time, sounded awful to me.”
Finally, when she was eight years old in 1993, Ashley got the chance to experience “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” It was a day she will never forget.
“The crowd was unbelievable — I had never seen so many people all in one place,” she said. “It was a little overwhelming then, but my grandpa was right by my side the whole time. He held my hand the whole way. For him to take me along meant so much to me. We finally made it to our seats. I will never forget hearing Florence Henderson singing the National Anthem and Jim Nabors singing ‘Back Home Again in Indiana.’ It was a long day, but it was one of the most memorable of my life.”
Who won that day? Emerson Fittipaldi. Did Ashley care? Not really.
“I wasn’t really sure who that was at the time,” she said with a laugh. “But I knew going to the 500 was my new tradition.”
That tradition continued on with her grandpa until he passed away in 2005. But his memory lives on, as does the yearly trek to the track.
“My grandpa was such a wonderful family man,” Ashley said. “He was the most generous person I have ever met, and although we have tried to continue on the tradition of going to the race, there’s certainly a big piece of the puzzle missing without him.”
Since 1993, she’s only missed two races, in 2013 and 2014, due to the birth of her daughter.
“My cousins have started taking their own families, and my childhood best friend and I went together for a number of years. I can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to go.”
For the 100th Running of the Indy 500, she’ll likely be rooting for her favorite driver, Tony Kanaan. But she’ll be missing her favorite track partner.
“I was his only granddaughter, so it was different between us,” Ashley said. “It meant a lot for me to be able to spend that special time with him. And he always instilled in me that no matter the circumstances, there is no prouder feeling of being an American than being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Race Day. From the fly-bys to the National Anthem and honoring our service men and women, on that day people are united as one — all thanks to ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’”