Saturday, May 6, 2017

Remembering the Ayr-Way/WNAP "Buzzard"

Johnny Parsons Jr. in the Ayr-Way/WNAP "Buzzard" for the 1975 Indianapolis 500. Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo. 
Cars entered in the Indianapolis 500 certainly have had interesting, colorful names.

One of my favorites was the Ayr-Way/WNAP “Buzzard” from 1975. This name may not make sense today – especially if you’re not from Indianapolis – but it was definitely a product of the times.

Ayr-Way was a department store spun off L.S. Ayres, one of the top fashion stores in Indianapolis. Ayr-Way was similar to Target – in fact, many of the locations in Indianapolis became Target stores after Ayr-Way folded in the late 1970s.

We often went to the Ayr-Way at 30th and Lafayette Road because it had just about everything – even a garden center.

WNAP was a hard-rock station teeming with many interesting personalities; the buzzard was the station mascot. It was at 93.1 on the FM dial, so that’s why it was Car 93.

Because I was only 7 years old, I didn’t listen to WNAP. Besides, my family was strictly WIBC (1070 AM), which was fine because WIBC covered qualifications and broadcast updates from the track throughout the day.

This was very much an Indianapolis-centric team. In addition to the two local sponsors, driver Johnny Parsons lived in central Indiana for many years (perhaps even Speedway itself). He’s the son of 1950 winner Johnnie Parsons (note the different spellings) and originally was from California, but moved to Indiana to jump-start his racing career.

The chief mechanic (remember those?) was Bill Finley, who basically built race cars out of his garage in Eagledale, a subdivision within earshot of the track. (My first house was in Eagledale on Fuller Drive. Carl Wilde School 79!)

The team also had a second entry: Car 94, driven by Mike Hiss.

Race day wasn’t the greatest for the team. Hiss spun out on Lap 39 and finished 29th. Parsons ran as high as fifth before transmission woes sidelined him after 140 laps. He finished 19th.

Ayr-Way heavily promoted its involvement with the 500. In addition to the button (shown), there were posters, large ads in the Indianapolis papers (there were two of them back then) and even a timing and scoring chart with Parsons.
Found on eBay!

Today, interestingly, WNAP’s old FM spot is occupied by WIBC. And many of the old Ayr-Way locations in Indianapolis are Targets. Squint hard enough and maybe you can see the old Ayr-Way flower where a Target bull’s-eye is now.

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