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Return to a racing mecca

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Larry Kile, left, who started his racing career while still in high school, shared a conversation with Mario Andretti, right, while touring the garage area on May 17 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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After more than 40 years away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Larry Kile made a return visit recently throughTrilogy Health Services’ Live A Dream program.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

Once Larry Kile got behind the wheel of a car, he never slowed down.

Go-karts, sprint cars, midgets, dragsters and motorcycles all went fast with Kile in control. And while his body won’t let him continue to race, his mind is more than willing.

“I tried to get a ride this year but they said I was too old,” said the spirited 1959 New Salem High School graduate. “I said, ‘That’s alright. You come out and chase me.’”

It’s been close to a decade since Kile competed – even longer since he visited the mecca of racing known as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That changed 10 days ago when Kile, as part of Trilogy Health Services’ Live A Dream program, was granted a day at the world famous Brickyard.

Now living at Ashford Place Health Campus in Shelbyville, Kile and Ashford Place Life Enrichment Director Crystala Evans spent a day at the speedway which brought back a wealth of memories for the veteran racer, who once had a test session set up in the mid-1960s that could have led to driver’s slot in the Indianapolis 500.

“We came in off 16th Street and they ran us around back to a parking lot,” said Kile on Thursday. “The sound ... I just couldn’t believe the cars turning that much RPM. The motors were screaming. Then when you get four or five running together and you get the fumes.”

Kile started racing go-karts in high school. That led to a friend and him purchasing a brand new Corvette to hit the drag racing circuit in 1962.

“Back then, we gave $3,800 for that new Corvette. We thought we done signed our life away,” said Kile laughing. “It had 50 miles on it the first time it went down the drag strip.”

Kile eventually started making his name as a hard charger on dirt tracks in a Sprint car. And he found a good company to work for in Eli Lilly.

Through his racing connections, Kile worked on a pit crew in the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and was set to test in 1965, or the spring of 1966.

“I think, back then, I was ready. I was racing midgets ... they called me ‘the wild man,’” he said, “but Uncle Sam said he wanted me. I never got to test because Uncle Sam wanted me.”

Kile was drafted into the Army in 1966 and spent 13 months in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. While there, the horrors of the Vietnam War took its toll on him mentally and physically.

“More than you want to know,” said Kile when asked if he saw action while in country. “A lot. I was licensed to drive a 10-ton (vehicle). I spent 30 days on the road and 30 days in the jungle.

“I was a small arms expert too. I made Sergeant 60 days after being in Vietnam because I was 26 years old. I had a bunch of kids, 19- and 20-year-olds that didn’t even know what a street fight was. They really didn’t have enough training either. It was a bad deal.”

Kile eventually got wounded and came home. Surprisingly, he still had a job in the Toxicology department at Eli Lilly.

“They were really good to me,” he said. “I had worked there three or four years before I got drafted. While I was gone, my raises went on just like I was working. I came back and signed in and the lady said, ‘You know you have four weeks vacation coming?’ 

“I said, ‘When can I take it?’”

Immediately was her response.

“I signed in and signed out on the same day and went on a road trip,” laughed Kile. 

The lasting effects of war were evident. But the time away from the racing circuit hurt Kile even more.

“When I came back, nobody knew me,” he said. “When I came back I really couldn’t get a good ride so I started hill climbing with motorcycles.”

And he found success there, too. Then his sons became old enough to climb into a cockpit. And Kile began funneling everything he had into their racing careers. And for years, there was plenty of success.

“We got calls from promoters wanting us to come to their track when they had a race because those boys were winning,” explained Kile. “And we did. I put almost 200,000 miles on a Chevy pickup pulling a 24-foot trailer.”

But as they got older, their interest turned to other avenues.

Kile eventually retired from Eli Lilly after 30 years of service and spent more than a decade living in North Carolina. Now divorced for the third time, he is living at the Ashford Health Place Campus and still feeling the effects of his time in Vietnam.

“I hurt all the time,” he said. “Agent Orange is like having a case of the flu. They don’t really know what all it’s going to do. Right now, I don’t have cancer but that is where it usually ends up. I may never have it. I may just feel like I do now. I tell the nurses here I’d like to get up one morning and not hurt, but that ain’t going to happen.”

The Live A Dream program is a wish fulfillment for residents and their families. Kile had not visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1972 – until May 17.

“I couldn’t believe it. It couldn’t have been any better,” he said. “I’m a race nut ... to smell them fumes again.”

Kile and Evans started the day in a suite but eventually made their way trackside. Down in the pits area, Kile ran across a mechanic he knew a lifetime ago.

“I hadn’t seen that man in 40 years,” said Kile with excitement. “He’s been a mechanic all his life. I couldn’t imagine running into someone like that.”

Kile also toured the garage area where he met several drivers and had a conversation with racing legend Mario Andretti.

With his wish fulfilled, Kile is now pushing to reconnect with his racing past. His next goal is to attend the dirt-track racing events at both the Rush County and Shelby County Fairs in early July.

“I would have liked to do more than what I did,” lamented Kile of his own racing career. “I’ve always wondered, and I still do today, if I could have made it (into the Indianapolis 500).”