Mad for…Grandpa Tom

If everything seems under control you’re not going fast enough. (Mario Andretti)

Tinkering with his son’s go-kart set up in his old garage on Saw Mill Rd in Lafayette is about the most satisfied I ever saw my future father-in-law look…until I went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with him! To say Tom Thieme is an IndyCar fan would be understating things quite a bit! I’ve chosen a quote by 1969 Indy 500 Winner, Mario Andretti, on the 50th anniversary of his win in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to honor Grandpa Tom’s love of motor racing.

This morning, as is their tradition, my handsome husband and three terrific sons accompanied Grandpa Tom to IMS for today’s running of the Indianapolis 500. I’m not sure how long my race-crazed father-in-law has been going to the 500, but it’s a VERY long time. He spotted Emerson Fittipaldi on his way in to IMS in Emmo’s first year there and helped him carry his helmet in as he hurried to get to the garage area. Typically, he lugs a camera that’s heavier than he is, and over the course of years I have seen him wiggle himself into lots of places and circumstances he’s definitely not credentialed for entrance. You just have to look the part, that was always his motto! He’s got literally THOUSANDS of images from his time at IMS over the years.

Grandpa Tom has long parked just outside turn one at a local insurance agency, just steps from his AMAZING turn one seats. It was always an adrenaline rush to be a passenger in the Thieme car on race morning, because while the parking spot is FANTASTIC, it’s located deep within the “restricted” area which usually requires some sort of special pass which we did NOT have. The passes were always on a different color of paper each year, and the Thieme brothers (Tom, John and Jim) always had a ream of multi-colored construction paper at the ready. Spotters from the rear of the car would often spot other cars sporting the necessary pass just moments before we needed it….then there would be yelling! “It’s YELLOW! Get out the yellow!! Hurry!!” HAHAHA! When they ended up in their perfect parking spot each year very early in the morning, celebration commenced. They had beaten “the man” yet again. REBELS! It makes me laugh still thinking of their joyous faces.

I am certain that his brothers John and Jim are looking down on the Thieme men from on high smiling at their brother, Tom, along with his son and grandsons today! Their sunny grins are dearly missed by many, and especially on this special day in May.

To be honest, I struggled with what to do in my little column today, because it’s both race day and my own dad’s birthday. However, Father’s Day will be here soon enough and it just seemed like the only fitting tribute to Grandpa Tom was one written while he was sitting in the top row on turn 1, drinking a Bud Light, during race day festivities! I have deep respect for him for many reasons, not the least of which is his honesty and incredible work ethic. Both of those things he certainly passed on to his own children! I am also the grateful recipient of some of his most genius parenting successes. My husband spent a lifetime watching his own dad do chivalrous things like drive his mom right up to the door when it was sprinkling to drop her off. As a result, I am married to a gentleman too! I rarely even need an umbrella because I am always treated like a princess in foul conditions. I kind of love that! My father-in-law is faith-filled, kind and a man of integrity. He truly loves all his grandchildren. He enjoys rooting for the Boilermakers and drinking a beer at his nephew’s bar in downtown Lafayette.

Today, I am hoping the rain holds out and he can enjoy one of his favorite days of the year with his son and grandsons. We are grateful for you and we love you, Grandpa Tom! Thank you for your service to our nation and HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND!!

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