It’s possible to know someone for 50 years, and yet you really didn’t know them until you read the book they just penned.
I met Paul Page in 1971 when he was kind enough to loan me his Formula Ford trailer so I could take my shiny new, day-glo orange McNamara to Indianapolis Raceway Park. Page had just begun his career at WIBC and he was as gung-ho about motorsports as you could be, and his story Hello, I’m Paul Page, It’s Race Day in Indianapolis is a testament to what kind of passion the Indianapolis Motor Speedway brings out in people.
From the first time he saw Gasoline Alley and watched Eddie Sachs dive into Turn 1, he was hooked. He then spent the next 35 years of his life ascending to the best racing jobs in national radio and television.
He was willing to work long hours with no overtime just to get a chance to do reports from the track, and had to keep putting out small fires with his bosses when he would accidentally lose a valuable parking sticker or crash a pace car.
Paul befriended George Bignotti and Patrick Racing, which proved invaluable in his racing education, but he still had to convince Sid Collins and Fred Heckman he was IMS radio material. Sid, the voice for three decades, wasn’t a big fan at first, but PP’s enthusiasm grew on him and he became a protege to the man with that golden voice.
Page started out as a hard news reporter, but by 1974 he was finally offered a spot as a pit reporter for IMS radio by Collins and never looked back. When Sid contacted Lou Gehrig’s disease in 1977 he was already planting the seeds for Page to be his successor, and that’s what happened following his death in early May of 1977.
It was a great month for his debut, as Tom Sneva broke the 200mph barrier and A.J. Foyt became the first four-time winner.
Among the many inside stories and tidbits came this gem: when Sachs and Dave MacDonald lost their lives in the fiery crash in 1964, Sid kept 100 million people spellbound by reciting a eulogy that sounded spontaneous as hell, but turned out to be pre-written because he felt he’d done a disservice to Bill Vukovich when he was killed in 1955.
The play-by-play job for IMS was all Page ever dreamed about, but times were a-changin’ and in 1988 ABC offered him the role of chief announcer and Mari Hulman George encouraged him to take it. But he also got roles on ESPN and ABC’s Wide World of Sports, and started one of the great booth partnerships with Bobby Unser and Sam Posey. It became must-see TV as Uncle Bobby took great pride in correcting Posey while Page played traffic cop.
During the next 15 years Paul was paired with Derek Daly, Danny Sullivan, Tom Sneva, Johnny Rutherford, Parker Johnstone, and he also helped Bob Jenkins move up the ladder. I have to confess right here that I wasn’t very complimentary to Paul during many of those years, not sure why but when I finally went to work for VERSUS/NBC in 2011 it gave me a new appreciation for what a good job he did directing traffic, staying on top of the action and refereeing. His voice also gave IndyCar a recognizable presence, and I want to publicly apologize for being such a ****head.
But I’m happy to report he comes to team lunch on Fridays and we’ve become pals, and this book is all about perseverance and where it led one man’s life.
Published by Blue River Press; available through major booksellers; hardcover RRP $26.99