INDIANAPOLIS — Rich MacDonald was just a kid, trying to find his dad’s race number on the big screen through the flames and black mushroom clouds choking the track.

Only 6, MacDonald, his grandfather and uncle had gone to the LA Sports Arena to watch the 1964 Indianapolis 500 live on closed-circuit television. Just two laps into the race, there was a fiery wreck and it was clear something had gone horribly wrong.

Rich MacDonald still remembers trying to find out if his father, American road racing champion Dave MacDonald, was in the wreckage.

“I really didn’t get it. There was lots of fire, lots of smoke,” MacDonald said.

MacDonald died later that afternoon and driver Eddie Sachs also was killed.

Yes, the Indy 500, celebrating its centennial this weekend is “The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.” But the race is also marked by tragedy. Just 12 laps into the inaugural race in 1911, mechanic Sam Dickson became the first to die.


Drivers, mechanics, fans, even a little boy standing across the street from the track long ago – all are part of the 500’s saddest chapter, painful memories of just how dangerous racing on the bricks and asphalt has been over the years.

At least 66 people have died because of auto racing since 1909 at the site, including 40 drivers, 14 mechanics and nine spectators.

In ’64, Dave MacDonald lost control of his car and slammed into the inside wall. His car exploded into a fireball and slid back onto the track. Sachs hit MacDonald’s car head-on, and he was killed instantly.

Nearly 2,000 miles away, Rich MacDonald tried to flip on a TV and watch the rest of the Indy 500.

MacDonald’s mother, Sherry, was at the track that day. Afterward, she withdrew from the racing community and could not imagine the idea of visiting the track again – until this year.

Rich MacDonald and Sherry; Sachs’ son, Eddie III, and Angela Savage, daughter of Swede Savage, the last driver to die in the race (1973), will travel to the speedway this week and hope to pose for a group photo on the track.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.