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(TOP TWO PHOTOS): Racers fans brought with them
photos of their Indy heroes to share.

(TWO PHOTOS ABOVE): Racers great Reg Thomas
with all-time fan "Suzy Q" (above); and dedicated fan
Judy Stuart holds the Racers jersey that almost made
author Timothy Gassen faint.

(TWO PHOTOS ABOVE): Racers fans, players and
the author at The Indiana Ice game book sigining
at the Coliseum in downtown Indy (above;, and the
author is delighted to see fan Randy Greb (right),
who contributed his own story to the Racers book.

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We are delighted to report that our November 2007 Racers book launch events were a great success – thanks to the kind and generous support of former Racers players, fans and also media. Here are some observations for some of the events, and we’ll get some audio and video online very soon.

Everything went so well in Indianapolis that we’re considering the requests from players and fans alike who could not attend to create a book event in Canada sometime in 2008. Stay tuned!

Author Timothy Gassen (far left, seated) is delighted to see Indy hockey
fans line up to have their books and memorabilia signed by Racers greats.

Friday, November 2 (Indianapolis)
I remember clearly, lost on the highway at 6 AM, that this large, bustling Indianapolis is not the same city I grew up in years ago. We’re late getting me to a TV interview to promo the weekend events, and I run into the studio, Racers jersey already on, and try to act cool and collected as I wake up and try to talk coherent hockey. The biggest surprise is that the TV host has read the book, asks very intelligent questions, and the staff puts together a very professional, positive segment complete with Racers photos for my interview. My hats off to Fox59 TV – as with ESPN950 and WIBC radio, they treated us very well. (We’ll have the video clip online ASAP.)

Hockey fans in Indy let us know: "We exist!" Thank you, Indianapolis!

Saturday, November 3 (Indianapolis)
The first book signing is at Barnes & Noble in Carmel just north of Indy, and we gulp and wonder, “Will anyone come?” We are delighted that a bevy of fans in Racers and other team jerseys start to fill up the store as I read from the book and introduce former players to speak. I am floored that Bob Lamey – voice of the NFL Indianapolis Colts – takes time the day before a big home game to come out and talk with me and the crowd. He is surprised that for hours everyone calls him “Hockey Bob,” and he tried to deflect the idea that he was such an important element in the success of the Racers in Indianapolis. Piffle, Bob – fans and players alike still know that “Hockey Bob” and WIBC radio were essential cogs in the Racers story. Bob remains an inspiration to me.

I had hoped that fans would dig out old Racers items to get autographed, and I’m shown a wide variety of posters, photos and stuff I never knew existed! Former Racers greats Reg Thomas, High Harris & Ken Block were extremely patient and kind as they signed autographs and shared stories. On a commercial note, we sold all the books the store had, and had to bring more in to meet the demand. Thank you Indy fans and Barnes & Noble!

(LEFT TO RIGHT): Racers greats Ken Block, Reg Thomas, SuperFan Dave
Pickering, author Timothy Gassen (in back) and Captain Hugh Harris in
front of one of the "Racers walls" at Greek Tony's in Indy.

We then headed over to former Racers Captain Hugh Harris’ “Greek Tony’s Pizza” shop in Carmel for a reception in his banquet room. A perfect place for a hockey party, the room is decorated with vintage Racers posters, photos, jerseys and other memorabilia. Great stories were exchanged, and more Racers “stuff” appeared to be signed. (A side note: the pizza and sandwiches at Greek Tony’s are really good! If you are a hockey fan visiting Indy, you must stop by for lunch and say hello to Hugh Harris at “Greek Tony’s” 116th & Rangline Rd in Carmel, Indiana.)

Then I almost fainted, in the happiest of ways. An extremely kind former Racers Booster Club officer presented to me as a gift an original blue Racers game jersey. You can read a complete feature story I wrote about this jersey and what it means to me, titled “The Blood of Gilles Marotte," at Inside Hockey (where I am a columnist).

Former Racers players and the the SuperFans drop the
puck at the Indiana Ice game in downtown Indianapolis.

(LEFT TO RIGHT): SuperFan Dave Pickering, "Hockey Bob" Lamey,
Reg Thomas, Ken Block and author Timothy Gassen sign books
between periods of an Indiana Ice home game.

We finished the day at the Fairgrounds Coliseum as guests of the USHL Indiana Ice junior team. I’d like to make a special mention of the help given to us by Indiana Ice President Michael Schupay, who made it possible for us to drop the ceremonial game puck, and also allowed us to set up and sign autographs and sell books at the game. The Ice are in a very difficult position in Indianapolis – competing with the NBA Pacers, NFL Colts, college and even high school sports in a very crowded marketplace. The Indy hockey market has been much maligned for many years since the Racers folded decades ago – and professionals such as Michael have a great challenge in expanding their market share in Indy. My wish is for the hockey fan of Indiana to join me in helping Michael and the Indiana Ice succeed!

(LEFT TO RIGHT): SuperFan Dave Pickering, The Indiana Ice mascot, and
author Timothy Gassen cheer the Ice to another hard-fought victory.

Former Racers players Ken Block and Reg Thomas said it was odd to step out again on the Coliseum ice to drop the puck. While the Racers played all their home games at Market Square Arena, they often practiced at the Coliseum. Several reproduction banners saluting the Racers hang in the corner of the building, reminding Indy that is was once major league. The venerable old building still seems like a time warp to the 1930s – it was old when the Racers used it in the 1970s, remember – so it was eerie in 2007 as it seemed to contain the ghosts of older hockey generations.

(LEFT TO RIGHT) Racers favorites Al Karlander, Reg
Thomas and author Timothy Gassen at another book
signing event in Indy.

Sunday, November 4 (Indianapolis)
The Sunday afternoon signing at the Borders store in Carmel added Racers favorite Al Karlander to the crew, and even more Racers fans showed up to share memorabilia, stories, and to hear the former players talk about the WHA, the NHL, and hockey today. We once again sold all the books in the store, and scrambled to bring in more. Thank you Borders for your good cheer and help!

Now I’d like to thank “Hockey Bob” Lamey, and former Racers players Ken Block, Reg Thomas, Al Karlander and Hugh Harris for giving so much of themselves to make this weekend so special for Indianapolis hockey fans. As I sat and talked with them, listened to then, and watched them interact with the fans, it dawned on me – the reason why the city of Indianapolis created such a bond and affection for these guys decades ago was simple: they are talented, genuine, good people. Perfectly suited for the hard-working Indianapolis attitude, these former major league players are symbols of everything that is “right” about sports.

I can’t imagine young millionaire players today having the genuine humility, humor and cooperative spirit that these gentlemen exude naturally – but if players today have these qualities then future generations of great hockey is assured. Good people attract good people – and I believe that is why this book launch weekend went so well.

Racers fans brought with them the tokens of great memories to share with Racers players
and other fans alike. No, I was not able to get this poster for my own collection!

I almost never use the term “hero,” especially in a sports context. But that word kept coming from the mouths of fans all weekend long, aimed at these former players. They were so excited to see these ex-Racers – the look of delight on their faces as they shook hands was magical. They also said to me that finally they could explain this fascination – this obsession for the Racers – that only a few others could understand. I looked down the table at Hockey Bob, Reg, Al, Hugh and Ken – and the Racers SuperFans Dave & Bill Pickering – laughing and kidding as if it were 1977, and I was so pleased. Yes, I can safely say that these Indianapolis Racers players and fans are my heroes.

Author Timothy Gassen took in a rare chance to see a St. Louis Blues practice.

Wednesday, November 7 (St. Louis)
We’re told a nice review of the book is in the current Hockey News, but can’t find one in St. Louis. We sent a book to ESPN’s Barry Melrose, and we’re also told he talked about it and his WHA Cincinnati days on the air. Barry Melrose has long been a favorite of mine; I can’t imagine how much fun our Racers reunion would had been if he were there buying the beers!

The NHL Blues are worked hard during a scrimmage.

I take in a NHL St. Louis Blues mid-week practice. Where else can you stand next to hall-of-famer Al MacInnis and have a near-private audience to watch Paul Kariya? The Blues had started the season well, but were starting a slide, with low goal and power-play production. So head coach Andy Murray works the boys hard – surprisingly hard, actually. I’m fascinated by the breakout drills and some goaltending details, especially – but I can’t take my eyes off of Paul Kariya. He is working for every minute of this two hour practice. In between drills, he meticulously practices his own regiment of puck-handling and skating details. After practice breaks, he is still at center ice, backhanding passes at the red line on the boards, over and over again. Want to know how the mind and body of a NHL star works? Watch Paul Kariya in a mid-week practice, when he thinks no one is watching. (Historical perspective trivia: Paul Kariya was born a day before the first Indy Racers game in October 1974.)

Sunday, November 11 (Indianapolis)
Back to Indy for one last book signing, this time as a guest at the big Christmas Expo at the Fairgrounds, next to the Coliseum. I’m by myself this time, and I am curious to see how many folks will be interested in the book now that I don’t have former players with me. Thousands of people stream by, and I swear 80% of them have some kind of NFL Colts shirt on. I proudly wear my newly acquired blue Racers game jersey, and it attracts so much attention that one neighboring book author leers at me with contempt, gives up, and leaves. In just a few hours, a staff member from the old Racers charter plane and as assistant to the first Racers owner comes by, along with many, many old fans. A young woman picks up the book and asks her Mom, “Was this a big deal here?” The Mom’s eyebrows rise up and she responds, “Ohhhhh yes, the Racers were a big deal!” I’m assured that many Dads will be surprised that the Racers book will be in their stockings. Ho ho ho!

Wednesday, November 14 (Columbus, Ohio)
Former Racers SuperFan David Pickering joined me for a BlueJackets game in Ohio. It’s our second time watching the Jackets, from approximately the same lofty location at center ice where we’d sit for Racers games in MSA in the 1970s. We were so close to the radio broadcast booth that we could add in our own color commentary (which was more colorful than theirs, incidentally). It strikes us this time in Columbus that it would be impossible in today’s NHL to have the SuperFans – the kind of crazy, banner waving loony teenagers we were for the Racers. For simply standing and making noise, we would have been thrown out of this arena for sure. And at $50 a seat for these nosebleed seats, we wouldn’t have been at many games anyway.

But Dave and I delighted to see the red, white and blue home team – oh, yes, it’s Columbus, not Indy – toy with Chicago and earn a well-deserved win. Can that happen in Indy? Will it ever? Remember, only a few years ago the NHL laughed when Columbus was mentioned as a team’s destination. There is no laughing now, as Columbus is one of the finest NHL markets today.

(LEFT TO RIGHT): SuperFans Bill Pickering, Dave Pickering
and author Timothy Gassen were reunited for the Racers
book signings, and carried on like they never stopped waving
rubber chickens for their team.

Finally, I want to thank the hockey fan of Indianapolis for coming to the events and also for buying my Racers book. There were some who said that NO ONE was interested in the memory of the WHA or the Indianapolis Racers and their fans. Take a look on the faces in the photos included here – I’d say those non-believers were, um, wrong.

Good people attract good people. I think at one time in Indianapolis that was called “Positive Waves.” Pass it on, and we hope to see you soon in Canada for more book events!

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