Appreciating the chaos
Larry Markle had to sit his then-8-year-old son Quentin down in 2011. He had a message for him.
“Here’s the deal,” Larry said. “I’m going to tell you two things: One, don’t touch anything. Two, you’re going to see some things that you’ve not seen before. Please don’t ask me any questions about anything that you see.”
Quentin was about to attend his very first Indianapolis 500. Looking back on it, now 16, he understands why his father’s pep talk was necessary.
He said he doesn’t remember much about the race during his first time, but he remembers the experience and atmosphere at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS).
“I saw a lot of things,” Quentin said. “I didn’t really know what was going on, so I just didn’t really say anything.”
What has stuck out to Quentin most from his first Indy 500 was the view he had — not just of the track from the seats high in turn three his parents have had since the late 1990s, but of what goes on in the infield.
“It gets pretty crazy when you go by the infield,” Quentin said. “You see a lot of stuff going on there.”
Quentin was quick to recall his most memorable sight of the infield. A man wearing nothing but his underwear climbed the infield fence, presumably drunk, trying to get to the other side. Considering his father’s request to not ask questions, all the young boy watching his first Indy 500 could do was laugh.
“My son’s watching this, and he thinks it’s the funniest thing ever,” Larry said. “Like I said, ‘Kid, you’re going to see things you’ve never seen before. Just laugh and move on.’”
Quentin is now in high school and has a better understanding and appreciation of the bizarre doings at IMS, and Larry is proud to have introduced him to it.
“Being at the Indy 500, it’s such an interesting sociological experience,” Larry said. “All the different kinds of people in various states of inebriation and such — it’s fun seeing some of the characters. You see all kinds of slices of humanity at the Speedway.”
Generation to generation
From as far back as he can remember, Larry said his family has had a vested interest in the Indy 500. His obsession began soon after the start of grade school when his father would take him to IMS for practice and qualifications. As someone born in Indianapolis and growing up within an hour from the track, this became a highlight of the year.
“From a young age, I became an Indy 500 and IndyCar junkie,” he said. “I can remember as a little kid going by Gasoline Alley and just standing and waiting for drivers to come by to get their autographs. It was just something every year that was a big deal to go down to.”
Larry didn’t start going to the race until 1991 when he was 21. Now, 28 years older, he’s been to every race since.
“In my mind there’s no better way to spend a day than a May day in Indianapolis at the Speedway,” Larry said.
He added that he still tries to go to at least one day of practice or qualifications leading up to the race, and that got a whole lot easier for him this year.
After spending 18 years as the director of disability services at Ball State University, Larry started working at Eskenazi Health Center in Indianapolis. This summer was his first at Eskenazi, just 2.5 miles from IMS.
“When cars are on the track, I can hear them,” Larry said. “I think it’s going to be pretty simple for me to make the 10-minute drive over to the Speedway, maybe go hang out for an hour and then get back to work.”
Quentin hasn’t been able to attend as many races as he would like because of his baseball schedule, and he said he’s a little jealous of his dad being so close to IMS. If you ask him, he’d want to spend just as much time at the track as his father.
“There’s nothing better than watching an IndyCar race,” Quentin said.
Larry’s father hasn’t been able to attend the Indy 500 for almost 15 years, but lucky for Larry, it didn’t take long for his son to be by his side at IMS.
Quentin’s introduction to the Indy 500 was almost identical to his father’s. He went to his first practice around the same age, got drivers’ autographs in Gasoline Alley and waited a few years before actually going to his first race. His parents would buy him a miniature Indy car each visit to the track, which has turned into a collection of about 20 cars.
Shana Markle, Larry’s wife and Quentin’s mother, said it warms her heart to see the two share this connection over the Indy 500.
“As Quentin grew older and his sports became more serious, they definitely developed a special bond around sports,” Shana said. “I can't help but smile when I hear them arguing over things like who's the best sports legends — the way Larry still does with his own dad — or getting excited to watch a shootout for the finish of the race.”
That bond isn’t stopping at Quentin. He knows it’s a deep look into the future, but he said this is something he’ll share when he has a family of his own.
“It’s a long way away, so it’s definitely tough to think about, but I can’t imagine giving up on the tradition,” Quentin said. “The experience you get at the track is unmatched. I think passing that experience along would be an awesome thing.”
A family event
When the last Sunday in May comes around, the Markle family makes sure to wear its walking shoes for a couple reasons. The first is because of where the trio parks.
“Two things about me,” Larry said. “One, I hate to get stuck in traffic. Two, I’m very cheap.”
Larry said his family has parked in the same $10 spot two miles from the track for about 25 years. So, before they even step foot in IMS, they take around 3,500 steps.
Once the three get to their seats and drop off their coolers, the second reason comes into play.
“We always go for a walk,” Larry said.
Prior to the race, Larry, Shana and Quentin explore the IMS infield, big enough to fit the Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon Campus and Vatican City with plenty of room to spare. They’ll venture around the edge of the Snake Pit, behind the pagoda, through the golf course and everywhere in between before heading back to their seats.
“We get a real flavor for the place before we go sit in our seats for three hours,” Larry said.
The Indy 500 has become more than just a race for the Markles. It’s a tradition that is now engraved in their lives.
“Sharing this with the two of them adds a lot of meaning to it and makes it so much more fun,” Shana said. “When we are at the track and feel the anticipation and experience all the traditions, we become a part of that history. My hope is that as the years pass, we will remember these days at the track, not for who won the race, but for good times and the bond we share as a family.”
Growing up with this family bond and being able to experience what he has so early in life has Quentin thinking he has it made.
“I’m pretty lucky, that’s for sure,” Quentin said. “It’s definitely a lot of fun every single year.”
After the race, they rush home to catch the delayed broadcast to live it all over again. They also have made it a regular practice to watch the drivers’ banquet the Monday evening following the race.
But before they can cap off their Memorial Day weekend at home, they have to walk another 3,500 steps back to their car.
Contact Zach Piatt with any comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.