Tonawanda News — For auto racing fans, one of the most exciting events is the Indianapolis 500 race on Memorial Day weekend. Attending the race is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
But for Rich "Stoney" Stone of North Tonawanda, this year's Indy 500 celebrates 50 years of attending the race, 45 of which was with his wife, Linda.
"Until just a couple years ago, we had the same seats on the start/finish line, but finally changed to the other side under the roof to get out of the sun — which on a hot day the temperature could reach 100 degrees or more," he said.
A former press man at the Niagara Gazette and then six years at the Tonawanda News before retiring, "Stoney" recalls the first time he attended the race.
"I was always into cars and thought I would like to go. So I got a press pass and tickets from the sports department at the Gazette," he explained.
"The race was so popular my first year, that there was press from around the world at the track. We had a badge so we could go anywhere up to 20 minutes before the race. We met drivers and pit crews and I had my ticket autographed each year."
It was then that "Stoney" started collecting tickets, having them autographed, took pictures and brought back memorabilia that fills albums and boxes some of which is framed and hung in the garage, which features a black and white checkerboard floor.
His collections are filed meticulously, each autographed ticket laminated, a list of winners with a column that tells if he has the ticket, whether it is with the stub and autographed.
"I remember waiting three hours outside Mario Andretti's garage to get his autograph," he said. "At first there were 50 people waiting, then after an hour, 20, another hour, 10 and finally when he came out, there were just three of us."