IRL: Judge Keeps Observant Eye on Races

INDIANAPOLIS JUDGE KEEPS EYE ON IRL RACES FROM OBSERVER'S POST INDIANAPOLIS, July 14, 1998 -- It was a sweltering 100 degrees as practice began for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League race in early June at Texas Motor Speedway, but Jeff...


INDIANAPOLIS, July 14, 1998 -- It was a sweltering 100 degrees as practice began for the Pep Boys Indy Racing League race in early June at Texas Motor Speedway, but Jeff Boles maintained his observer's post at the south end of the pits throughout the day. He did likewise the next day when the temperature abruptly dipped into the 60's, and a cool breeze whipped across the track. In normal life, Boles has control of everything in his work place, including the thermostat. He is a circuit court judge in Danville, Ind., a western suburb of Indianapolis. He is one of eight observers who have worked every IRL race since its inception. They are stationed around the track during practice, qualifying and the race to report on anything unusual occurring on the racing surface.

"We relay anything that's going on on the track that race control and (director of racing operations) Brian Barnhart might want to know to make a decision on how the race is being run, and those kinds of things," Boles said.

"We report if we see a piece of metal, if a car happens to wreck, anything on the track, anything that would be a danger to the drivers, passing under yellow, anything at all. We think we've been really successful in finding things that easily could be a tragedy before they become a tragedy. We try to be really observant and really quick."

Boles is part of a team that includes chief observer Claude Fisher of Greenfield, Ind., John Highsmith of Oklahoma City, Eddie Board of Indianapolis, Dave Price of Indianapolis, Noble Bennett of Daytona Beach, Fla., Bob Maas of Indianapolis and Butch Bundrant of Indianapolis. Maas is an attorney, Bundrant an arson insurance investigator, Board a hydraulics engineer, and Price sets up new stores for a discount chain. Both Highsmith and Bennett are retired from jobs in Indianapolis.

As always, the observers' crew will be in place at the next Pep Boys IRL race, the Pep Boys 400K on July 19 at Dover Downs International Speedway.

Why would a judge want to discard his robes 11 times a year and stand literally a few feet away from cars racing up to 225 miles per hour?

"The IRL came at a very good time," said Boles, who attended his first Indianapolis 500 with his father, Ralph, in 1946. "It was an excellent idea, I think, or I wouldn't be involved in it.

Racing has been part of the judge's life since he started sweeping the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track as a part-time worker in 1956. He worked for the United States Auto Club for six years, quitting in 1965 to attend Indiana University law school. He has seen every "500" since late Speedway president Tony Hulman purchased the track in November 1945.

Boles, whose son, Doug, is part owner of the Pennzoil Panther team that features driver Scott Goodyear, never aspired to be a driver as a youth. But when he attended Indianapolis Shortridge High School in the mid-1950s, becoming involved with the Indy 500 was the in thing to do for teen-agers. Since his mother was the secretary to Tom Binford (later to become chief steward of the race for 20 years) at D.A. Lubricant, he had an automatic in to a Speedway position, minor as it was at the beginning.

"At USAC, we traveled around, did all the midget races, those kinds of things," he said. "A lot of those people are gone now - Ronnie Duman, Jimmy Davies, Jimmy Daywalt, all those guys. And then (A.J.) Foyt and Parnelli (Jones) were coming up.

"The IRL is a lot like it was when I had a lot of connection with it back in the 50s and early 60s - the camaraderie, the feeling that this thing absolutely is certain to be a big-time success, the people you meet. And when you watch the drivers, they're intelligent, they're quick, they're absolutely fearless, and they're good spokesmen for their sponsors and just nice to be around."

Boles attended Stetson College in Florida because it was near the new Daytona International Speedway, which held its first race in 1959. That was the same year he headed south. He attended several races while in school but returned to Indianapolis after receiving his degree because he was homesick.

In 1965, Boles enrolled in law school. He liked the excitement of being an attorney and the fact a lawyer can control his schedule. In 1979, he stepped up from being an attorney to the role of a judge. He has adjudicated cases ranging from murder, to politics of medicine to junk suits. Like race drivers who are only as good as their next race, Boles notes that judges are only as good as their next case.

"(Racing's) not really pressure relief in the sense people say, 'Oh, God, he is so stressed out in that kind of work (being a judge)," he said. "It's not that. If you take a job being a judge or whatever, it comes with the territory. I enjoy being a very small part of a real good opportunity for racing in Indianapolis.

"The IRL is very good about making arrangements, and we schedule our cases 60 days out. So if I know when the race time is, I can always schedule time off and use our court for other things."

Boles has sat on the bench in suits involving racing but did not know the litigants. He said that law prevails, so it didn't matter.

Occasionally, Boles is asked for legal advice or to officiate a special function that requires the duties of a judge. The day before the track opened for Indy 500 practice last May 9, he performed a wedding ceremony for the daughter of his former observer boss, the late Lefty Hurt, to Mike Ingram, owner of Eric Gordon's sprint car, at the start-finish line. The date was the birthday of the father of the bride, Lorraine Hurt.

"It was nice," he said. "Raine's mother, Lefty's wife, was the maid of honor, and Eric Gordon was the best man. She called and got permission from Tony (George) to get married right at the starting line. That was kind of fun."

Boles teaches a law class at Butler University in Indianapolis. His wife, Mary Sue, who travels to many of the races with him, teaches in Danville. His son, Doug, teaches at Indiana University while attending law school, daughter Mary is a first-grade teacher in Indianapolis, and daughter Sally is a science teacher in Brownsburg, Ind.

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Goodyear , Eric Gordon , Brian Barnhart