It was on that Honda, working at the
Motor Speedway, from which I saw Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald burn
to death in the horrific crash at the beginning of the 1964 race. My
job was to sit with the first-turn photographer. Whenever he
finished a roll of film, he was supposed to toss it to me. The cops
had a roped-off passageway to allow my bike through to the infield.
Once there, I would make a dash across the golf course to the
"pagoda" darkroom where the film would be developed then flashed out
by the wire services. On the second lap of the race, coming out of
turn four, the crash occured which killed McDonald and Sachs and
involved several other cars. The photographer, shooting up
the length of the main straight, shot his entire quota of film then
turned to me, his face a sickly green color from the horror he had
just witnessed. He handed me the film and said, "You can stay if you
want to. I've seen all I can take." I delivered the film only
once that day then rode
back across the city to our house on the northeast side.
Our bakery used to make the donuts
and sweet rolls which were sold at the track, as well as at the White
Castle restaurant adjacent to the track (at the time) on 16th
Street. On the first day of qualifications and race day itself, we
would make multiple deliveries to both locations. On the first day
of "quals," I'd load the top shelves with donuts and pastry, slide
four or five of my high school buddies in on the floor under the
bottom shelf, then stack a few boxes on the floor at the back. With
my "vendor" pass prominent in the windshield, the cops would get me
in (and out) of the track with impunity. The security guards would
check out the truck cab then open the back doors of the van to see a
wall of donut boxes then wave me on in. I'd make my deliveries to
the concession stands then open the rear doors, pull my friends out
and we'd enjoy the rest of the day with stop-watches in hand.
As a senior in high school and one
of the editor's of our school newspaper, I wrote a letter to David
E. Davis Jr. who was, at that time, the head honcho at Car &
Driver magazine, asking his advice regarding a career in
automotive journalism. Between the time my letter went out and a
reply came back, Mr. Davis had left the magazine. His successor,
Steve Smith I believe, sent me what I considered to be a terse reply: "Dear
Steven: I would not advise a career in automotive journalism.
Still, I wanted to write and I
wanted to write about cars. When it became time for me to declare a
major at Indiana University, my first one was business-journalism.
They had (and have) a great school of journalism there. As my studies continued though, I became caught up in the social
changes that were reshaping our culture in the '60s. I drifted into behavioral
sciences and ultimately education. Leaving campus life after my
sophomore year, I returned to Indianapolis and the bakery,
eventually taking my degree at the I.U. extension campus in
In 1978, at 29 years of age, I left
the bakery to work in the supply side of the bakery industry, which I did for the next
30 years. Still I wanted to
write and I wanted to write about cars.
When in, 1983 or 4, my wife's cousin Herschel W.
Gulley visited us for dinner in the Chicago area, he showed me a
photograph he had in the trunk of his car: a panoramic black and
white glossy of men at an auto racing track, most of whom were
black. His father, one of the few white men in the picture stood
there among them. From the time I first saw the photo, I wanted to
write about it.
When my job evaporated in the
economic downturn in 2009, I suddenly had more time on my hands than
ever. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to write and I
wanted to write about cars. My collaboration with my co-author,
Herschel W. Gulley going back to the picture he showed me in 1983, has given
me a chance to do just that.
Percifield, his wife Sue and
their cat Biscuit live in Plainfield, IL a southwest suburb of
Chicago, within shooting distance of their four children and eight
grandchildren. He is writing a third book and providing consulting
services to bakery-supplying industries.