There are racing fans, and there are Indianapolis 500 fans.
Both distinctly different, but come Memorial Day weekend, both parties assimilate at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to make up the largest single day sporting event in the world.
Then there are Ned and Beverly Yingst – in a category of their own.
Next Sunday, the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500, the Larwill couple will have a combined 133 Indianapolis 500s under their belt. Ned, 88,will record his 70th consecutive Indianapolis 500 attended, and Beverly, 80, will notch her 63rd.
Between them and their four kids, Jean, Tim, Julie and Sam, the total of 500s attended goes up to 415. Toss in the 96 races gone to by extended family, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, that brings a grand total of 511 races attended by the Yingst family.
They deserve a category of their own. Just as some people are born into a family of teachers, of farmers or naturally gifted athletes, if you were born into the Yingst family you were more than a typical race fan.
“We never asked a child if they wanted to go to church. We never asked a child if they wanted to go to school every day – you did it,” Beverly said. “And we never asked if they (kids) were going to go the 500 – we just did it. No questions about it.”
About 30 miles west of Fort Wayne, in Larwill – a town of about 284, according to the Census Bureau – sits the “Neverly Ranch.” It’s home to Ned and Beverly, quite possibly the relationship goals of auto racing fans. They were married in 1958, taking any racing fan’s dream honeymoon to Daytona Beach, Florida.
Beverly wasn’t a racing fan before she met Ned, but his love for automobiles turned into her love, which turned into the love of generationsafter.
“My folks thought it wasn’t a good thing to do, but we went anyway, and we took our children and it was a family affair,” she said.
It’s the Yingst families’ M.O. Come May they’re at the IMS. Rain or shine, qualifications or race day, Beverly and Ned will be there.
Son Sam, who lives in Zambia in Africa, is even flying in for the race.
Decades ago, the couple would drive the family trailer to the Indiana State Fairgrounds to camp and lug it to the track the next day. Stocked with a full-sized bed, canned goods and a portable Coleman grill, they were set.
There’s one point that distinguishes the Yingsts’ from your typical Indianapolis 500 fan: “When the race was on, we were in our seats watching,” Beverly said.
They couldn’t care less about the eclectic atmosphere at the IMS, which for many fans, is why they go. The breaded tenderloins, extra-large chicken legs and beer – so much beer. Beverly and Ned couldn’t care less about all that.
“We take bottled water and ham sandwiches and celery and carrots – chopped up and peeled and ready to just munch on – (and) radishes if we have them and pickles,” Beverly said.
They’ve sat at the very top row of turn 3 for decades. This year, it will be turn 4.
“It’s like climbing four or five stairways in a good-sized house,” Beverly described it.
They do it, year in and year out, because it’s what they’ve always done.
Son-in-law David, who’s married to Julie, said the race is their version of a family reunion – a way for everyone to come together and bond over multigenerations’ love of racing.
“The kids then have just carried it on, and when I married into the family I started going too,” David said. “My wife and I had a daughter (Morgan) and she started going too. It just keeps continuing, and I think we’ll keep going even when they stop.”
Morgan attended her first Indianapolis 500 when she was 4 months old. Morgan is expecting a baby in June and will be sitting this one out, only her second race missed.
“Chances are the little one will probably be there next year,” David said.
Ned’s eyes pan over the two large picture frames at Julie’s house containing every ticket from the Indianapolis 500 he’s attended. His first one is from 1950 – the 34th running of the 500. Next to that ticket is the 35th and 36th. The frame holds 11 rows with three tickets in each row – exactly how the cars line up at the start of the race. He calls it “the second 33.” The next frame holds “the third 33” and he keeps the remaining few tickets from recent 500s in a special place.
“Ned’s very meticulous,” Beverly said.
But the display is a true, physical testament of the dedication Ned has toward the Indianapolis 500.
That love wouldn’t have formed if it wasn’t for what he calls the FGHY foundation. When Ned was 17, he and his friends Norman Felger, Dick Gross and Bill Henschen made up the FGHY foundation. The four teens traveled around the Midwest attending races and one day decided it was a time for the trip to the biggest of them all – the Indianapolis 500.
“We thought ‘well that was pretty interesting let’s go next year’ and it just kept building,” Ned said.
The young men kept the tradition up for a few year and began including their wives. Dick and Bill have since passed,
Ned admits he might have liked the race better years ago, when more individuality was shown within teams.
“They were competitive. If you look at those old race cars, so many of those people had their own way of doing things,” Ned said. “Today, you go down to the race and they all look alike, but those were individuals.
They work together to get that car put together and there’s different way to put it together. They sit there for days, weeks, months and keep fiddling around with it.”
Lee Wallard won the 35th running of the Indianapolis 500. Wallard, who was severely burned in an accident not long after the winning at the IMS, was a somewhat forgettable driver to those not die-hard racing fans.
But he was Ned’s favorite.
“He just competed,” Ned said. “He was a competitive man and he did it well. He was a race car man. He was the epitome of a race car driver.”
So Ned did a few sketches and Beverly, who’s crafty and enjoys spending time making corn shuck dolls, took one of his sketches of Wallard’s winning car, the No. 99 Belanger Special, and stitched a rug.
“It took me three years to make that,” Beverly said. “I did it on our couch as I would watch for the bus to come every morning, and I would work on this.”
Offenhauser, Cosworth, Oldsmobile, Ford.
Ned remembers those old Indianapolis 500 winning engines.
The backward engine, the school bus, airplane turbine.
And he really remembers the ones that failed
Well, most of them.
“What was the one that came out of the factory down there?” Ned asked of his wife Beverly.” A great big car.”
“Oh, man ,”Beverly says, “You got me.”
“It’ll come,” Ned says, as he leans back in his chair.
“We have to blame the stroke for things,” Beverly chimes in during the conversation.
“Oh don’t make excuses for me,” Ned replies, reassuring it’ll come.
Ned doesn’t make excuses. He had a stroke on Valentine’s Day 2017. Since then, he has had to slow down – but not stop.
“Yeah especially with these shortcomings I have,” Ned said, of this being his final Indianapolis 500. “I gotta be able to do some things right.”
And if he can’t do the Indianapolis 500 right, he’s just fine with having the best view around – in front of the flat screen at Julie’s house.
“Diesel, diesel,” Ned mutters to himself, remembering the failed engine from 1952 a few minutes later. “You don’t see those down there anymore.”
One final time, Ned and Beverly will pack their coolers, gather their handstitched bleacher pads, wake up before dawn and make the trip up to the very top of Turn 4 to spend one final day at the place that has become almost a second home to them.
“You could tell what Beverly has been saying that we are family-oriented,” Ned said. “Just being with the family, the kids came through so many of these. It’s the goal to be with the family and see how it’s evolved.”
The Yingsts agreed, even if the patriarchs of the family won’t be there, racing runs thick through this family, so the tradition won’t stop.
“It’s part of us,” Ned said.