Where are they now: A marker for Lafayette’s Indy 500 stars
Construction has a roadside tribute to Lafayette’s earliest racing stars in storage, but a marker for Indy 500 winner George Souders and star Roscoe Sarles will be back soon enough
The reader question came earlier this spring under a subject line marked: Random.
He sent a link to a column I’d written in 2017 for the J&C, as the Indiana Racing Memorial Association was making plans to install a marker honoring Indianapolis 500 winner George Souders and racer Roscoe Sarles at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds, where both Lafayette Jefferson High School graduates had race a century earlier.
The ceremony, held two weeks ahead of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opening for May festivities, included a visit from Indy 500 historian Donald Davidson and radio broadcaster Howdy Bell.
The question, five years later, boiled down to: What happened to the marker, no longer stationed near one of the entrances to the Tippecanoe County 4-H Fairgrounds, which finished major renovations in 2022 on Teal Road? Why’s it gone? And is it coming back?
Random mystery solved. The upshot, ahead of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500: The two-sided marker is doing well, in storage at the fairgrounds among the heavy equipment.
Andy Cline, fairgrounds director, said the sign will go back up when the state’s Teal Road reconstruction is done later this year. Cline it will be located along the crosswalk/gate directly across from the Wendy’s on the other side of Teal Road.
The marker distills the local and Indy 500 racing stories of Souders and Sarles, one per side. Here’s a taste of their histories, pulled together from the 2017 article, which in turn was gathered from research by former J&C editor and Old Lafayette columnist Bob Kriebel and the Indiana Racing Memorial Association.
On Souders, who once told an Indianapolis reporter late in life that he was “the least remembered of all Indy 500 winners:”
Souders was 1918 class president at Lafayette Jefferson High School. An engineering student at Purdue University, Souders first raced in 1921 on the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds track. Souders raced at regional tracks for the next several years before he caught the eye of “Big Bill” White, a racing investor from Los Angeles.
Heading into May 1927, White set up Souders with a Duesenberg Special that Souders had to fix before it was ready for qualifications at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Souders qualified with a speed of 111.555 mph and started in 22nd. He led 51 laps in the victory.
He won $35,100 that day and came home to a hero’s welcome that included a parade through Lafayette to the National Guard Armory at Ninth and Union streets. The Journal & Courier reported: “It was like Circus Day.”
Souders finished third the next year at the 1928 Indianapolis 500. But later that year, his racing career came to an end after a crash at a Detroit track that left him unconscious for months and his left arm nearly useless.
Souders spent much of the rest of his life in Lafayette doing a number of jobs, including running a gas station and groundskeeping at the Purdue golf course. He died July 26, 1976, and buried in Battle Ground Cemetery, just off Pretty Prairie Road. He was 75.
Souders might have stewed at the impression that he was a lesser light of Indianapolis 500 history. But his obituary read: “The memory of 1927 filled his life.”
Sarles was born in 1891 in New Albany, just across the Ohio River from Louisville. He moved to Lafayette in 1903 when his father followed a job with Monon Railroad. Sarles attended Linnwood School and Jefferson High School. By the time he was 21, he was testing and racing autos Charlie Shambaugh, a Buick dealer and repair garage owner, built and riding as a mechanic for car designer and builder Louis Chevrolet.
Sarles raced in the Indianapolis 500 four times, from 1919 to 1922. Driving a Duesenberg Straight 8, Sarles’ best finish came in 1921, when it came in second behind Tommy Milton.
In September 1921, Sarles went up against Jules Ellingboe, who finished 19th in that year’s Indianapolis 500, in an exhibition race at the Tippecanoe County Fairgrounds. Milton, 1919 Indy 500 winner and Crawfordsville resident Howdy Wilcox and future two-time Indy 500 winner Jimmy Murphy were at the fairgrounds track that day to see the race.
Sarles attracted a Hollywood crowd, leading him to stunt driving gigs in the movies. On Sept. 17, 1922, Sarles told reporters that he planned to make that day’s 300-mile race at the then-new Kansas City Speedway his last, racing this time only because car builder Cliff Durant asked him to. “After today,” Sarles announced, “I am through with the game.”
Midway through that race, Sarles lost control of his Durant racer heading into a turn, crash through a fence and tumbled down 25 feet. Sarles was killed in the fiery wreckage. He’s buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
MEMORIAL DAY MOMENTS
Here are a few of the ways to mark Memorial Day:
The Lafayette Fire Department will hold a Memorial Day ceremony at 8 a.m. Fire Station No. 5, 750 N. Creasy Lane.
The Indiana Veterans Home will hold an event at 10 a.m. at 3851 N. River Road in West Lafayette.
The Tippecanoe County Veterans Council will post colors and host its annual Memorial Day program at 1 p.m. Monday at Columbian Park’s Memorial Island in Lafayette. There is no parade, following last year’s determination to concentrate on the program in the park.
The Lafayette Citizens Band makes its 2023 season debut on Memorial Day, as it traditionally does. The band will be at the recently renovated Memorial Island Amphitheater in Columbian Park, instead of downtown at Riehle Plaza, on Monday for most of its season schedule in 2023. The Memorial Day concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 29. For the full schedule, here’s a link at lafayettecitizensband.org.
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