Sunday, May 28, 2006
A Weekend For Remembering
Today will be the second Indy 500 without Duane Sweeney. I'd like to call Sweeney a friend of mine but he was truly a friend of the world.
Sweeney was flagman at Hales Corners for 27 years and flagged at the fairgrounds track at Beaver Dam as well.
Duane waved the flags as Chief Starter for the Indy 500 in 1980 for the first time. In the next 17 races there he waved the checkers over the fourth Indy victories of Al Unser and Rick Mears. He was there for Danny Sullivan's Spin and Win in Al Unser's narrowest-ever victory over Scott Goodyear.
After handing over his duties to Bryan Howard, Sweeney became an unofficial ambassador for Indy and for the IRL. He was always present somewhere near the Pennzoil facilities on Gasoline Alley or shaking hands in the suites. He was on a first name basis with AJ Foyt, Tony George and with thousands of race fans.
He saved every checkered flag from the 500 and donated many of them to fundraising projects for MACC to fight childhood cancer.
Sweeney passed on at his home in New Berlin in January of 2004. I remember the day he said to us, "Come on. I know an elevator guy." If there's a better place, I'm certain that Sweeney knew the way up there, too.