SULLIVAN: A Long, Slow Salute

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Patrick Sullivan

Those of us who are close to USAC’s Dick Jordan intuitively knew something was wrong.

He had complained of feeling ill for too long, and even his proclivity for munching on the worst snacks in the world could not explain it.

We had all been down this road before. A few years back, Dick was knocked on his heels, from both illness and the treatment he received.

Understand this: Dick Jordan can be one of the most stubborn individuals on the face of the earth. It is at once a weakness, but also a great strength.

Few individuals have given more to racing than Dick. At over 50 years at the helm, no one has seen more USAC races or served as long in an official and managerial capacity. More to the point, his loyalty to his employer has been unwavering.

Through thick and thin, the glory days and the valleys, no one – and I mean no one – has defended the USAC shield with greater verve.

His capacity to rarely find fault with the club he loves once caused me to invoke the memory of an Iraqi communications official and deem him Baghdad Jordan. Once, when USAC appeared at Lakeside Speedway in Kansas, much to the chagrin of all, drivers began racing 15 feet inside the track. It predictably created a dust storm and mayhem.

As the promoter was screaming, Dick peered out and said, “Who’s driving through the infield? I don’t see anybody doing that?” It was pure Jordan.

Nonetheless, those same traits made him the employee everyone covets – even when he drove them to distraction. You see, Dick Jordan knows the rulebook backwards and forwards. He innately understands racing’s most important truth: the only way to be equitable is to follow the rules.

It mattered not if you were A.J. Foyt or Joe Sixpack. It mattered not if you raced for Roger Penske or Anthony Aardvark. It was all a matter of integrity.

Professionalism also was important. Dick took many a driver aside and offered sage advice about how to conduct oneself, how to interact with the media, and what it meant to race with USAC. The list of drivers he aided is far too long to list here.

More than anything, Dick has loved this sport to his very core. It is who he is. He is an astute historian, and his immaculate and thorough records will be invaluable to interested parties long after racing is no longer a sport. He has directly assisted countless writers, announcers, media members and promoters. Most often, this was done outside the limelight.

So many long nights he has sat waiting for west coast results to post. So many press releases were written. So many endless nights were spent on the road. Then there were the days long before a thing called the internet when fans, anxious for results, would call the USAC hotline and hear those famous words, “Thank you for calling USAC.”

Dick has been so entrenched in USAC racing it is truly impossible to think of the club going forward without him. Now we may have to confront this stark reality.

As Dick began to understand the
gravity of his situation, he sought
expert advice. Predictably,
Tony Stewart was there to help.

 

As Dick began to understand the gravity of his situation, he sought expert advice. Predictably, Tony Stewart was there to help. Soon, Jordan made it clear that his condition could be shared. There was no denying it, he was in dire straits.

It was a staggering blow to those who love him, because somehow, someway he is supposed to be at every USAC race. He is supposed to be in the booth giving updates on other sporting events and offering bad puns. That’s the way it is has always been.

That is, until it isn’t.

It is hard to grasp, even now. Consider this: He is an inductee in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, the Hoosier Auto Racing Fans Hall of Fame, and now, because he can’t fight us anymore, he will be in the USAC Hall of Fame. To so many of us, he is just “Jordan.” In truth, what he has been is a giant in the sport of auto racing.

There are times when you are in the midst of greatness and fail to appreciate it. Luckily, this wasn’t one of those times.

There he stood in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, surrounded by people who represented chapters in the story of his life. The Indiana Racing Memorial Ass’n was there to reveal the historical marker that would be placed in the town of Speedway near the USAC office.

A proclamation was read from the Governor of Indiana and testimonials were offered. There were men like Ken Schrader, who had driven to Indianapolis for this moment. Bob Baker came from Knoxville, Iowa. All six members of USAC’s Triple Crown Club were there. Present were Mel Kenyon, Dave Darland and Kody Swanson – the winningest drivers in USAC’s three National divisions. As Dick looked around he said he had all he needed, and if he could, he would sit there forever.

There was a time Dick and I were alone on the road after a tiring road trip. It was late. It was one of those nights that made for a bit too much introspection. In a candid moment, he talked about some of the people he had worked for and with, and he lamented the fact that perhaps he should have taken his life in a different direction.

I was a bit taken back and responded, “Dick, haven’t you had fun, seen a lot of things, and met a lot of interesting people?” He agreed that he had. To me, that seemed like a just reward, at least by some measure, for all the work he had done.

There was more, however. As he sat in the atrium of the museum, and later as he stood on the front straightaway of Anderson Speedway for the inaugural running of the Dick Jordan Classic, he had been offered a rare gift. Now he could see it for himself.

What he has done with his life mattered to other people, and in the course of his life he had made myriad friends.

In short, he has left a discernable footprint in the time he has spent on Earth. That’s what we call a legacy. What has begun is a long, slow, and appropriate salute to a life well-lived. Rest assured, we all have Dick Jordan stories to last a lifetime.

As the famed historian, and one of Dick’s longest friends, Donald Davison once remarked, “You can’t make him up.”

No, you can’t.

In the final analysis, there are few people in this sport who have accomplished so much. Without question, within his field, Dick Jordan has a place reserved on Mount Rushmore.

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