INDIANAPOLIS — Of all the diehard race fans who make it to the Indianapolis 500 year after year, few can say they've been to 74 in a row. But come race day, Butch Welsch will be able to say just that.
The loyal race fan drove in from his hometown of St. Louis this weekend to catch qualifying.
"It's always a beautiful day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, isn't it?" he said as he and his friend, Don Filger, walked across the plaza shortly after the gates opened to fans Sunday morning.
When IMS President Doug Boles spotted Butch, he had to stop, saying Butch's consecutive run of Indy 500s "is as close to record as we have."
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Butch attended his first race with his dad in 1948 when he was 5 years old. He's made every race since.
Boles said what makes Butch's streak and love of racing special is it "came from his dad down to him, and he's passed it down to his family, and that's what racing is really about, generations of family."
Butch remembers details about every single race he's attended. In fact, he wrote a book about the Indy 500 from a fan's perspective. He believes with each year, the race gets better.
"People talk about the great races in the 1960s, and they were good races but not like they are now," he said.
Boles said he and Roger Penske get emails and letters from Butch, full of ideas.
"This guy thinks today's races are better, even though he's seen 74 years worth, and he's making it better for the next generation," Boles said.
And yes, with that many races under his belt, he does have a number of seats, 18 in all. Seven of those would be the envy of any race fan. They're in Box 12, Rows A & B, right across from the Pagoda.
Butch sits in Seat One, noting, "I'm the only one that's sat in that seat since 1961 when the grandstand was built."
The only year he hasn't sat in that seat is last year when the race was run in August with no spectators due to COVID-19. Butch was part of a small group that got to watch from the Pagoda.
He's not ready to pick a winner this year, saying, "There are so many possibilities, there's a changing of the guard."
But he is ready to be back in Row A of Box 12 in Seat One for his 74th consecutive Indy 500, which means he'll have seen nearly three-quarters of all races.
And yep, he's already looking to next year when he'll celebrate his 75th race with his wife, children and grandchildren.