SPEEDWAY LEGEND CAGLE ALWAYS HAS ANSWERED CALL TO DUTY INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 10, 1998 -- Clarence Cagle never stood in the spotlight of life. But few men ever have achieved what this one-time Terre Haute, Ind., farm boy has in his 84...
SPEEDWAY LEGEND CAGLE ALWAYS HAS ANSWERED CALL TO DUTY
INDIANAPOLIS, Dec. 10, 1998 -- Clarence Cagle never stood in the spotlight of life. But few men ever have achieved what this one-time Terre Haute, Ind., farm boy has in his 84 years. Who ever worked for four generations of one family? Clarence Cagle. Who ever drove an Army staff car that at one time or another had Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Marshall or George Patton riding in the back seat? Clarence Cagle. Who devoted much of his life to saving and improving the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, most famous automobile racetrack in the world? Clarence Cagle. Who has spent his retirement years consulting and supervising the construction or repaving of more racetracks in America than you can count on two hands? Clarence Cagle. Who has been a confidant to two of the most famous men -- Tony Hulman and Bill France Sr. -- in auto racing history? Again, Clarence Cagle. Whether it's been the generals of the Army or the generals of auto racing, this hard-working and efficient Hoosier has taken the commands of his superiors and, without fanfare, put them into action. He's been a general without stars, a foot soldier without pretense. "It's been a very challenging life, a great life," said Cagle, who lives with his devoted wife, Gladys, in Ormond Beach, Fla. "I've met some great people." At the NASCAR banquet weekend Dec. 2-4 in New York, Cagle was named winner of the esteemed Buddy Shuman Award. It is presented yearly by Champion Spark Plugs to a person who goes above the call of duty in service to Winston Cup racing. The award was the latest honor to come the way of this unassuming, behind-the-scenes man of motorsports. Cagle was born July 29, 1914, as the first child of Tom and Molly Cagle. There would be six brothers and sisters to follow. His father ran a livery stable in Terre Haute and later became partner in a contracting firm that built streets in the southwestern Indiana community. Next came a job with the Milwaukee Railroad working in the roundhouse. If anything, his father taught his son the value of hard labor. Tom Cagle moved the family to a farm east of the city so there could be a large garden to help feed his growing family. Clarence quickly learned what it meant to work in the fields. "That's how I got involved with the Hulmans," he said. "I helped harvest their crops. "Tony Hulman Sr. took a liking to me. He made me feel I was and still am part of a big family. I've been blessed all my life. I give credit to Mr. Hulman for that. "I had fear in my early days that I came from the wrong side of the tracks. Mom and Pop Hulman invited me to Sunday dinner one time. I told him how I felt and he said, 'Clarence, that isn't true'. They made me feel part of the group. From that day on, I never worried about titles, just the people." Clarence worked on the Hulman farm during his teen years. He attended old Terre Haute Riley High School and played on a "pretty good" basketball team. When he received his diploma, he immediately was hired by the senior Hulman to work in the family's various businesses. "I worked in every business they had," he said. "I was sort of a troubleshooter, or handyman." In 1937, Cagle had a big hand in building Lingin Lodge on the Hulman family estate across Highway U.S. 40 from Rose Poly (now Rose-Hulman) Institute. Each May, Cagle and some of his buddies would drive east on U.S. 40 in a Ford Model T to watch the Indianapolis 500. That was his vacation, and he quickly developed affection for the great race. A big change in this country boy's life loomed on the horizon as Adolf Hitler's German troops stormed across Europe. As America moved into World War II, Cagle received draft order No. 63. He received his uniform at old Fort Harrison outside Indianapolis. He wound up in Washington, D.C., where he was issued a wooden gun. He also received an assignment of driving generals around the city. He chauffeured the likes of Eisenhower, Marshall and Patton. Then when Cagle went overseas to Europe as part of the 29th Division, he was assigned on detached service to drive Patton, the bombastic tank commander who led the charge against the Germans across France in 1944-45. "He was a bastard," Cagle said bluntly about Patton. "Marshall was the finest gentleman I ever met. Being a farm boy, he was up at 6 to ride his horse. I took care of it." As an older soldier in his late 20's, Cagle eventually was promoted to platoon sergeant and assigned to an infantry unit sent in September 1944 to clear out German troops in southern France bypassed in the allies' march to the north. The Germans rained shells on the advancing Americans. One of the explosions sent shrapnel blasting into Cagle's right side, including his lung. He spent nine months in and out of Army hospitals recovering. Cagle ended 33 months of Army duty on May 4, 1945. He returned home to Indiana, and the Hulmans put him on the road as an expediter for raw materials used for Clabber Girl Baking Powder. One November day, Cagle received a phone call from Tony Hulman informing him he just had purchased the Speedway. He told Cagle to return to Indianapolis and join the group making their initial tour of the dilapidated racetrack that suffered its own ravages of war. Cagle met Pop Myers and Wilbur Shaw at Hulman's Speedway headquarters, 444 N. Capital Ave., in Indianapolis. They drove out to the front gate of the track at the corner of Georgetown Road and West 16th Street. "We unlocked the gate, and it fell down," Cagle recalled. "Everything was rotten, there were weeds everywhere. It was a terrible mess." Jack Fortner was the track superintendent. Cagle was assigned to assist him as well as continue his other traveling job. "After two years we knew this was not going to work out," Cagle said. "Jack was not well. He wasn't able to keep up the pace." In 1948, Cagle became superintendent. In 1952, he was promoted to vice president of the Speedway Corp. "I knew (the track) was salvageable, because Tony Hulman had bought so many broken-down things and made them work," Cagle said. "We knew it was going to take time. Pop and Wilbur knew a lot about racing, but nothing about construction." The word filtered back to the Speedway that Captain Eddie Rickenbacker had told his partners in New York City that he had sold the track to a hayseed in Indiana. Cagle resented this description of his boss. Sixteen years later, Hulman, Cagle and Rickenbacker sat on the pit wall at the Speedway, and Rickenbacker offered an apology. "I said, 'Captain, do you know what a hayseed is?'" Cagle said. "It's a very little seed that if it is planted right it will grow anyplace. He looked at Tony and me and said, 'You and Tony know how to make this place grow. I never thought you'd make it grow like this." When Hulman purchased the Speedway, Lem Trotter, who had acquired the original land for the track, already had the facility acres plotted out for a shopping mall and homes. But Hulman felt it should remain as a racetrack. Cagle concurred. One of the biggest obstacles that had to be overcome was when the City of Indianapolis wanted to include the Speedway in the incorporation of land north of the track. The Speedway had to acquire a number of variances, cleared through the courts, to remain a part of the town of Speedway. Now the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is on the National Register of Historic Places. Cagle said that for the first Indy 500 under the Hulman regime in 1946, "We just propped the place up, really." The stands were rocking on their foundations. Cagle installed cables with turnbuckles to tighten the stands and keep the seats from swaying. Fans gathered along Georgetown Road pushed down the decaying fence and streamed into the track 30 minutes before the "500" began. After the race, Cagle said the Speedway had to address the problem of flooding. Most of 1947 was spent digging drainage ditches. The grandstands began to come down one by one, replaced at first by cement and steel seating and then, in the late 1950s as the material finally became available, aluminum. "The drivers used to get on me (about increasing the purse)," Cagle said. "I told them you can spend only so much money, and the spectators had to have good seating." When Hulman first took over, the improvements were planned only from year to year, but slowly a 5-year plan evolved and then a 10-year plan. The long-range planning provided three things, Cagle said. It enabled: one, for the Speedway to put aside money for long-range construction; two, to get permits and blueprints, and, three, flexibility. "We were able to take care of the demands asked by the customers," he said. In 1956, the old wooden pagoda, long a landmark on the track's main straightaway, was replaced by a modern control tower. The pagoda didn't fit the concept of the development of the track at the time. Now under the guidance of track president Tony George, Hulman's grandson, a new pagoda built of steel and aluminum is under construction. "My understanding it will be the Taj Mahal of all pagodas," said Cagle, who continues to provide his advice to the latest generation of the family. Cagle noted that when the go-ahead was given to build new grandstands, the prints were taken to the ticket office so the seats could be sold before they were even erected. "One time on the backstretch, we worked up to the morning of the race to get them done," he said. "The men slept in their trucks and finished the stands at 6 a.m. That's the closest I ever remember to not being ready." A beautiful racing museum reflecting the history of the 500-Mile Race was Tony Hulman's dream. The track had outgrown its offices as well as the tiny museum situated off the main lobby at the southwest corner of the track, so thoughts of constructing a museum with offices in the rear began in the mid-1960s. Finally, Hulman gave the approval to begin work on the building inside the south chute in 1974. It was the only project during Cagle's tenure that required two years to complete. "Tony spent a lot of time on that thing," he said. Cagle said a small local construction firm was hired because this allowed the personal attention Hulman and Cagle wanted. "A lot of the time we were flying by the seat of our pants," he said. "Now we could expand it to twice the size it is." In 1954, Cagle moved into the house that had been on the grounds since the beginning. It originally was Speedway developer Carl Fisher's summer home and had one room and a fireplace. Pop Myers, who ran the track for Rickenbacker, moved into it, but his wife became ill and he had it enlarged to include a back porch. Cagle said living at his work site had its advantages and disadvantages. "I could get home for a bath," he said about his often 20-hour days. "I didn't have time to think about something else. I had something to do every minute of the day." In 1955, Gladys was hired as his secretary. Eight years later -- June 21, 1963 -- they were married. "I was looking for a part-time job and got a full-time one," she said with a laugh. The museum was opened in 1976, and the next year A.J. Foyt became the first four-time winner of the "500." Tony Hulman rode around the track in the back of the convertible Pace Car with his dear friend A.J., but in a way it was the final moment of glory for most of the old guard who had been there when the front gate crumbled to the ground 32 years earlier. Hulman died the following October. Cagle already had retired in August. The pace Cagle had maintained finally caught up with him. He began suffering fainting spells from low blood sugar. The first time it happened was on Pole Day in 1975. He hurried up to the control tower to make certain everything was in running order. He started to descend the outside rear stairway and passed out, awakening on a landing. "I knew the doc was right, that I had been working too many hours," he said. "I never got away. I didn't know what sitting down was." Cagle stayed through the '77 race, but then retired on Aug. 7, 1977. Retirement actually has been a misnomer. Over the past 22 years he has been nearly as busy as always, helping develop new tracks and upgrade old ones "all over the world." The Indianapolis Motor Speedway still is what he calls "my baby," and he keeps in regular contact with George, offering suggestions and professional as well as grandfatherly advice. Since he lives a short drive from Daytona International Speedway, he long has helped out there in February and at other times as -- well, what else? -- a troubleshooter. He first met Bill France Sr. in 1946, and over the years was treated by the France family just as he was by the Hulmans. "I still help the guys, but I pick and choose," he described his current status. "Right now I'm not committed to anything except that Kansas (City) track." Cagle has one final observation about Tony Hulman and wife, Mary (who died at age 93 last April 10): "They really loved the Speedway. They put their heart and soul into it. They're never going to match it." The same can be said about Clarence Cagle, a soldier who performed his duty.