WTHR looks back at 60 years of the IPL 500 Festival Parade

Indy 500 101st Running Logo & Parade
WTHR looks back at 60 years of the IPL 500 Festival Parade

They say one picture is worth a thousand words, but what would they say about 60 years worth of pictures?

The archive of the 500 Festival Parade is online thanks to IUPUI.

It holds nearly 8,000 pictures and includes rare video from Gerald Walsh showing the sixth parade.

His recording is silent, but the footage speaks volumes.

Nearly four minutes long, it includes three-time 500 winner Louis Myers.

Pictures tell the story of old Indiana institutions like Hooks Drug Store, Danners, Bank One, and Burger Chef.

Then there are the celebrities.

Pictures include Kelsey Grammer and Matt LeBlanc in 1993, Bob Barker in 1972 and Olivia Newton John in 2012.

Then there's John Hulen, a celebrity in his own right.

“Oh my Lord,” he laughed.

He may be the longest-running parade volunteer.

“At least 45 years, maybe 46, but nobody's counting,” Hulen laughed.

Hulen's held every position with the parade since the 1970s.

His first role?

“Inspect every float  and try to guarantee that they would not roll down the street without losing a wheel or going up in flames,” Hulen said.

He's never missed a parade, even getting his wife and family involved.

Hulen has countless memories, including an unexpected man who showed up with an animal.

“Obviously we did not have a live cougar scheduled to ride in a Mercury Cougar pace car,” Hulen laughed.

Through the pranks and occasional stress, he'll tell you there's one part that makes it all worth it, year after year.

“Children on floats that would not normally have the opportunity to ride on a float either in a wheelchair or a handicap situation of one kind or another and the joy that they have experienced in riding in the parade and waving,” Hulen said.

The streets of downtown Indianapolis come alive every year with the sights and sounds of the IPL 500 Festival Parade.

In addition to this year marking the 100th running of the race, it also marks 60 years of the parade.

“Sixty years ago, the festival was formed as a way of connecting the community to all the big things that were happening out of the Indianapolis motor Speedway,” said 500 Festival CEO Bob Bryant.

Think of the parade as the bridge connecting Speedway and Indianapolis.

“The streets are lined with over 250,000 people, so it is a very significant moment for Indianapolis and in that world of parades, a very significant parade on a national scene as well,” Bryant said.

Video from Gerald Walsh shows the early beginnings. In fact, it may be the earliest parade recording.

It shows the 1961 Parade, with part of it at night. That’s just one thing that's changed over the years, including the grand marshals.

“We have had a lot of Hoosier heroes, we have had local firefighters and police. We have had Larry Bird and Reggie Miller and Peyton Manning. We've also had a lot of Hollywood celebrities,” Bryant said.

Just to name a few: "Dallas" star Larry Hagman in 1976; Dick Clark in 1972; and 90210 star Jason Priestly in 1994.

Just as important as the names are the 7,000 volunteers it takes to pull it all off.

“I didn't grow up here, but I almost feel like I'm here at heart even though I'm not a native,” said volunteer Lisa Marie Sindelar.

The parade is part of what encouraged the Iowa native get involved seven years ago.

“I love the city and I love being a part of the 500 Festival in the month of May and living in the city, so just because of that I wanted to be a part of the parade and figured why set it home and watch it when I can be a part of it,” Sindelar said.

This year’s parade will include a record 90 entries and will once again be broadcast LIVE exclusively on WTHR. Our live coverage begins Saturday at noon.

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