Right after we shake hands, before we even have a chance to sit down and talk, Dean Schorr of Columbia starts walking me through his garage filled with car and racing memorabilia.
In one corner sits a collection of his own trophies from racing and other local competitions. A framed collection of tickets hangs on one wall and a similar collection of bronze badges hangs from another. Posters of cars and racers fill almost every inch of the remaining wall space.
It’s an impressive collection for someone who’s been attending the Indianapolis 500 for the last 70 years.
Schorr started going to the big race when he was a teenager in 1952 and some older friends happened to have an extra ticket.
“I was 16 and I think they were in their 20s,” Schorr said, “but they asked me to go because the fourth guy that was originally gonna go didn’t go.”
Schorr is 85 now, and that happenstance ticket has led to a garage full of racing gear, countless memories of Indianapolis and a tradition among Schorr and his friends and family.
A mechanic and a local racer himself in his younger years, Schorr holds the Indy 500 in high regard.
“I was just a racing nut,” Schorr said. “You’re just hooked on racing. And that’s the biggest thing of the year. If you’re a horse race fan, the Kentucky Derby, that’s the ultimate thing. And Indianapolis is, that’s it as far as racing. There’s no bigger venue in the United States.”
Schorr has a passion for the event that’s downright infectious. It’s certainly come to be shared within his family, as he’s started bringing along his grandsons Carter Toal and Tyler Reinneck to the race.
“I’ll go to the race every year,” Reinneck said. “It’s pretty neat. It’s definitely worth the drive.”
Schorr said he’s had a number of friends join and leave his Indy 500 party over the years. Newest among them is Ray Famula, who’s been joining Schorr for 46 years ever since Schorr had an unused ticket in 1976.
Famula, a friend of Schorr from their softball days, even managed to get him a quick meeting with Schorr’s favorite racer A. J. Foyt in the early 2000s.
The story, as Famula and Schorr tell it, is that Famula printed a handful of t-shirts with a picture of Schorr and Foyt on the front and the words “Dean Schorr, 50 Years at Indy, 1952-2002” on the back.
Famula and the others in the group then surprised Schorr with the shirts in front of Foyt’s garage during the event. And though waiting for a few hours the first day didn’t lead to anything, Schorr was able to get his shirt signed by Foyt the following day.
Famula talked about the excitement he shares with Schorr every time they go up to Indianapolis in May.
“I tell everybody you should go to this race once in your life,” Famula said. “Because when they come around that first turn, when they just got the green flag, the hair on the back of your neck just stands up and the whole crowd is going nuts. It’s something you’ve just got to see. And I know Dean feels exactly the same even after being there 70 times.”
Of course, a tradition that goes on for 70 years is also bound to have a personal touch. Schorr has had the same seats at the race for the last 40 years and has gotten to know the race enthusiasts that sit around him like good friends in that time.
Schorr said that while plenty of folks there are from Indianapolis, there are also people from all across the country that he’s gotten to meet.
“It’s more than just a race,” Schorr said. “It’s a meeting place for friends to gather.”
While Schorr and other racing fans were unable to attend the Indy 500 in 2020, he was fortunate enough to have his tickets secured for the limited audience return last year. And now that the race is back in full force, he’s eager to continue his annual tradition.
Schorr said he’s not sure how many more races he’ll be able to attend at his age, but as long as he has the willpower, he’ll do his best to go.
“I always joke,” Schorr said, “when I can’t see anymore and I’m so old, I wanna go two more years just to listen to them go around.”