PIR is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and fan Larry Ogburn has been there every step of the way


To celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, Phoenix International Raceway has a commemorative “Memory Lane” display, highlighting many of the track’s most memorable moments of the last five decades.

But one of the most unique aspects of PIR’s 50th anniversary isn’t on display. Rather, it’s sitting in the grandstands, a living, breathing testimonial to both the racetrack and its fan base.

It’s there you’ll find Larry Ogburn, who is celebrating his own 50th anniversary this year of coming to the one-mile track just outside of Phoenix.

Having turned 63 on Thursday, Ogburn was just 12 years old when he, his older brother Jim, his father Lawrence and uncle Joe all came to PIR for its opening in March 1964. They watched as the legendary A.J. Foyt outdueled Parnelli Jones to take the first checkered flag in PIR history – and Larry has been going there ever since.

If there was ever a walking, talking encyclopedia of PIR history, Ogburn is it. While he’s missed a few races along the way, Ogburn has made it a point to make a pilgrimage to PIR at least once or twice a year, sometimes more.

“My wife and I were walking around the track last year and we saw all these banners put up abut PIR’s 50th anniversary in 2014,” Ogburn told MST. “I turned to my wife and said, ‘Oh my God, I’ve been coming here 50 years.’

“It just became so natural for me to go to these races, from the time I rode with my father and his brother in the backseat of my mother’s 1957 Ford to the first PIR race, up to now. I didn’t even realize until last year that I’d been going there so many times, I really didn’t.

“It’s just natural, all these years, just to get up on a Sunday morning and go to a race and enjoy it.”

As far as Ogburn and racetrack officials know, Ogburn is the only fan with the track record – no pun intended – that Ogburn has of coming to PIR for all kinds of races, from NASCAR to USAC to IndyCar.

“I’m pretty proud of this,” Ogburn said. “My father actually started going to races at the old State Fairgrounds back in the 1950s, so Phoenix has a lot of history for me.

“Plus, my birthday is November 6, so I’ve been celebrating my birthday for 50 years at PIR, as well. How cool is that?”

Over the years, Ogburn has played witness to some of the greatest names in motorsports. The names roll off his tongue in rapid-fire succession: Foyt (Ogburn’s favorite driver), Jones, Eddie Sachs, Mark Donoghue, the Bettenhausens (Gary, Merle and Tony Jr.), Mario Andretti, Johnny Rutherford, the Unsers (Al, Bobby and Al Jr.), Peter Revson, Richard Petty, Alan Kulwicki, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick.

“Just name who they are and I’ve seen every one,” Ogburn said. “I’ve been so blessed to go there and be able to see so many famous drivers. It’s a Who’s Who of who has raced at PIR.”

And Ogburn hasn’t just witnessed racing from the stands. He’s also been able to meet dozens of racers over the years. At this year’s March race, when he showed IndyCar great Tom Sneva a program from the first-ever race at PIR, Sneva was so impressed that he spent 15 minutes just talking racing with Ogburn.

“My DNA is all over this place,” Ogburn said of PIR. “Back when I was young, you could pretty much stand next to the walls as the cars would go by, just inches away.

“I’ve been in the infield, I’ve been on the mountain that overlooks the track. I’ve been everywhere around that track.”

Ogburn has a photographic memory that can immediately recall dates, races and events that took place that he can recall and make it seem like they were only yesterday.

“I don’t carry a camera, my camera is in my head,” Ogburn laughed.

As one might expect, the Kingman, Arizona resident has a vast collection of souvenirs and memorabilia that he’s collected over the years. So much so, that several items in PIR’s Memory Lane are on loan from Ogburn.

Speaking of memories, the recollections Ogburn has of all his visits to PIR are countless.

“But one sticks out to me like it was yesterday,” Ogburn said. “I grew up in Southern California watching AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, all these famous drivers.

“The next thing you know, I go to PIR for its first race on March 22, 1964, I’m 12 years old and sitting on the pole is Parnelli Jones in the 98 Agajanian (Indy) car, and AJ Foyt in the famous Sheraton-Thompson Special roadster that he won the race with.

“That sticks out like it was yesterday. Then, we go back in November, and Jones and Foyt were again on the front row, this time with rear-engine cars. The next thing you know, Lloyd Ruby wins the race, and the rest is history. There are so, so many stories like that that I can recall as if they just happened yesterday.”

For close to 30 years, Ogburn and his father were fixtures together at PIR. The elder Ogburn, now 89, still lives in Southern California, but stopped going to the races about 20 years ago.

Still, his son – who is pulling for Carl Edwards to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at PIR – has definitely continued the family tradition.

It’s a tradition that the younger Ogburn hopes to continue for many more years to come.

“I didn’t think about it until my oldest grandson, Kyle, he’s 22, told me recently, ‘Grandpa, you’ve only got another 25 years and you’ll be going (to PIR) for 75 years. That’s pretty cool, isn’t it?’

“I’m just a regular guy that worked hard, wrenched (served as a mechanic) for a little bit, drove a truck and for the last 12 years of my career, I worked in the wildland fire industry, supporting air tankers (who fight forest fires),” Ogburn said. “I’m now retired, disabled with severe COPD.

“Sure, I could very easily sit here on the couch, watch TV, watch qualifying with the channel changer, but no, I don’t. It’s just not the same to actually being there at the track, at PIR. That’s where I belong, where I want to be.”

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Tony Kanaan at peace with IndyCar career end: ‘I’ll always be an Indianapolis 500 winner’


INDIANAPOLIS – Few drivers in Indy 500 history have been as popular as Tony Kanaan.

Throughout his career at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that began with his first Indy 500 in 2002, the fans loved his aggressiveness on the track and his engaging personality with the fans.

The Brazilian always got the loudest cheers from the fans during driver introductions before the Indy 500.

Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 would be his last time to walk up the steps for driver introductions. Kanaan announced earlier this year that it would be his final race of his IndyCar career, but not the final race as a race driver.

He will continue to compete in stock cars in Brazil and in Tony Stewart’s summer series known as the “Superstar Racing Experience” – an IROC-type series that competes at legendary short tracks around the country beginning in June.

Kanaan was the extra driver at Arrow McLaren for this year’s Indy 500 joining NTT IndyCar Series regulars Pato O’Ward of Mexico, Felix Rosenqvist of Sweden, and Alexander Rossi of northern California.

He had a sporty ride, the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that paid homage to McLaren’s first Indianapolis 500 victory by the late Mark Donohue for Team Penske in 1972.

Because Kanaan has meant so much to the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series, the 2013 Indy 500 winner was honored before the start of the race with a special video.

It featured Kanaan sitting in the Grandstand A seats writing a love letter to the fans of this great event. Kanaan narrated the video, reciting the words in the letter and it finished with the driver putting it in an envelope and leaving it at the Yard of Bricks.

Lauren Kanaan with daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Bruce Martin Photo).

Many in the huge crowd of 330,000 fans watched the video on the large screens around the speedway. On the starting grid, Kanaan’s wife, Lauren, who bears a striking resemblance to actress Kate Beckinsale, watched with their four children.

Kanaan’s wife is an Indiana girl who was a high school basketball star in Cambridge City, Indiana.

Kanaan proposed to Lauren in 2010, and after a three-year engagement, they were married in 2013 – the year he won his only Indianapolis 500.

She has been Kanaan’s rock, and this was a moment for the family to share.

After receiving an ovation and the accolades from the crowd, Kanaan walked to his car on the starting grid and exchanged hugs with people who were important in his career.

One of those was Takuma Sato’s engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing, Eric Cowdin.

Tony Kanaan shares a moment with former engineer Eric Cowdin (Bruce Martin Photo).

Kanaan and Cowdin shared a longtime relationship dating all the way back to the Andretti Green Racing days when Kanaan was a series champion in 2004. This combination stayed together when Kanaan moved to KV Racing in 2011, then Chip Ganassi Racing from 2014-2018 followed by two years at AJ Foyt Racing.

Kanaan returned to run the four oval races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2021 in the No. 48 Honda that was shared with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.

In 2022, Johnson ran the full IndyCar Series schedule, and Kanaan drove the No. 1 American Legion entry to a third-place finish in his only IndyCar race of the season.

Kanaan knew that 2023 would be his last Indy 500 and properly prepared himself mentally and emotionally for his long goodbye.

But one could sense the heartfelt love, gratitude, and most of all respect for this tenacious driver in the moments leading up to the start of the race.

Tony Kanaan gets emotional during an interview after the Indy 500 (Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“The emotions are just there,” Kanaan said. “I cried 400 times. This guy came to hug me, and I made Rocket (IndyCar Technical Director Kevin Blanch) cry. I mean, that is something.

“Yeah, it was emotional.”

Kanaan started ninth and finished 18th in a race that was very clean for the first two thirds of the race before ending in disjointed fashion with three red flags to stop the race over the final 15 laps.

“Yellows breed yellows and when you are talking about the Indianapolis 500 and a field that is so tough to pass, that happens,” Kanaan said. “It’s the Indy 500. Come on. We’ve got to leave it out there.

“Every red flag, everybody goes, I’m going to pass everybody. It’s tough to pass. It’s the toughest field, the tightest field we ever had here. It was going to happen. We knew it was going to happen.

“I wouldn’t want it any different. We left it all out there. Everybody that was out left it out.”

At one point in the second half of the race, Kanaan passed Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin by driving through the grass on the backstretch.

“That was OK, right?” Kanaan said. “That is one thing I have not done in 22 years here. Even (team owner) Sam Schmidt came to me and said, ‘That was a good one.’

“That was a farewell move.”

On the final lap, it was Kanaan battling his boyhood friend from Brazil, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, for a mid-pack finish.

“Helio and I battling for 15th and 16th on the last lap like we’re going for the lead,” Kanaan said. “It was like, who’s playing pranks with us.

“We both went side by side on the backstretch after the checker and we saluted with each other, and I just told him actually I dropped a tear because of that, and he said, ‘I did, too.’

“We went side by side like twice. A lot of memories came to my mind, and I even said how ironic it is that we started it together and I get to battle him on the last lap of my last race.

Tony Kanaan is embraced by his wife, Lauren, after finishing 16th in the 107th Indianapolis 500 ((Mykal McEldowney/IndyStar/ USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“It’s pretty neat. It’s a pretty cool story. He’s a great friend. My reference, a guy that I love and hate a lot throughout my career, and like he just told me — I was coming up here and he just said, who am I going to look on the time sheet when I come into the pits now, because we always said that it didn’t matter if I was — if I was 22nd and he was 23rd, my day was okay. And vice versa.

“It was a good day for me, man. What can I say? We cried on the grid.

“Not the result that we wanted. I went really aggressive on the downforce to start the race. It was wrong. Then I added downforce towards the end of the race, and it was wrong. It was just one of those days.”

After the race was over, Kanaan drove his No. 66 Honda back to the Arrow McLaren pit area and climbed out of the car to cheers of the fans that could see him. Others were focused on Josef Newgarden’s wild celebration after the Team Penske driver had won his first Indianapolis 500.

There were no tears, though, only smiles from Kanaan who closes an IndyCar career with 389 starts, 17 wins including the 2013 Indianapolis 500, 79 podiums, 13 poles, and 4,077 laps led in a 26-year career.

Kanaan came, he raced, and he raced hard.

“That’s what we did, we raced as hard as we could,” Kanaan told NBC Sports.com. “It wasn’t enough.

“The win was the only thing that mattered. If we were second or 16th, we were going to celebrate regardless.

“In a way, being 16th will stop people wondering if I’m going to come back.

“I’m ready to go. I’m ready to enjoy the time with my family, with my team and doing other things as well.”

Kanaan’s face will forever be part of the Borg-Warner Trophy as the winner of the Indianapolis 500.

“I won one and that is there, and it will always be there,” Kanaan said. “It was an awesome day.

“The way this crowd made me feel was unbelievable. I don’t regret a bit.”

Tony Kanaan hugs his son Max before the Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

Kanaan actually announced the 2020 Indianapolis 500 would be TK’s last ride because he wanted to say goodbye to the fans.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, the Indianapolis 500 was moved from Memorial Day Weekend to August 23 and because of COVID restrictions, fans were not allowed to attend the Indianapolis 500.

Three years later, Kanaan was finally able to say goodbye to this fans that were part of the largest crowd to see the Indianapolis 500 since the sold-out gathering for 350,000 that attended the 100th running in 2016.

“That’s it, that’s what I wanted, and I got what I wanted,” Kanaan said. “This moment was so special; I don’t want to ever spoil it again.

Tony Kanaan kisses his daughter Nina before the 107th Indy 500 (Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network).

“We’ve been building and growing this series as much as we can. I’m really glad and proud that I was able to be part of building something big and this year’s race was one of the biggest ones.”

Kanaan walked off pit lane and rejoined his family. He will always be part of the glorious history of the Indianapolis 500 and fans will be talking about Tony Kanaan years from now, not by what he did, but the way he did it.

“This is what it is all about,” Kanaan said on pit lane. “Having kids, be a good person. Even if you don’t win, it’s fine if you don’t, as long as you make a difference.

“Hopefully, I made a difference in this sport.

“I will always be an IndyCar driver. I will always be an Indy 500 winner and I will always make people aware of IndyCar in the way it deserves.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

(Jenna Watson/IndyStar / USA TODAY Sports Images Network)