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Indy 500 Revives Tradition Of Track Poet

Adam Henze is a graduate student in the doctoral program  for Literacy Language Cultural Education in the Indiana University School of Education and an associate instructor in the English Department.

Earlier this month, Indiana Humanities declared Indiana University graduate student Adam Henze the official track poet of the Indy 500. His poem commemorating the car race beat out over 200 other applicants. The competition revived a tradition from the 1920s where an official race poem would appear in the race day program.

Henze will perform his poem, "For Those Who Love Fast, Loud Things" this weekend during qualifications for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. You can read a full text of his poem here and watch a video of him reciting the poem below.

This year is the 100th running of the Indy 500 race. WFIU News Reporter Sophia Saliby sat down with Henze to discuss the his inspiration for the poem and the cultural significance of the Indy 500.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Saliby: What do you know about the original tradition of having a track poet?

Henze: I know the last one was in the twenties, and so apparently this is the hundredth year of the race, and the people at Indiana Humanities have been doing some digging.  They just found that there used to be an inaugural poem included in every program, and they wanted to revitalize the tradition, so they put out this all-call with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Apparently, 200 people from around the world contributed, and they liked my poem best.

Saliby: When you were writing your poem did you read any of these inaugural poems from the 1920s?

Henze: I would have loved to; I haven’t even seen any evidence of them. I don’t know if there’s anything online. I actually didn’t have a lot of time to write the poem. I found out about the contest during spring break, and I lived in Indianapolis for five years, so I got to go to a couple race events. I went to a few carb days, I went to the race day, I went to gasoline alley once on a VIP trip to kind of check out the cars and meet the drivers. But I don’t know anything about open-wheel racing. I’m  a poet, and I don’t know about that kind of stuff, so I actually interview a friend of mine, Evan Treece who told me all about his life growing up with the Indy 500 and all this kind of lore. So that’s where I got kind of my inspiration. He helped me with some of the research and collecting a bunch of good images.

Saliby: Can you tell us what your poem is about?

Henze: I wanted to accomplish two things. I wanted to talk about the history of the race. So the tradition of drinking milk actually started with a driver, I think it was his mom or grandmother said you should drink buttermilk on hot days or something like that. And from there, a milk company found that, so they would start furnishing milk to drivers. I talk about Jim Nabors and Florence Henderson who were part of the race program traditionally. But I also kind of wanted to capture different people [at the race]. So I wanted to capture the young crowd in the snake pit who are just partying up, and you also got the family in the stands. You’ve got the old guy with his betting form, and you’ve got moms, and you’ve got little kids, and I just wanted to showcase all those different people.

Saliby: So how do all these aspects: history, culture, your friend’s story get put together?

Henze: So I had this collection of images and things that I kind of had to shuffle a certain way, and I was trying to ask my friend, Evan, “Why do you like this? Why do you obsess over this?” And he goes, “I don’t know man, people in Indianapolis just love fast, loud things.” And I was like that’s perfect, so you know, that became my title.

Saliby: How do you feel when you perform in front of other people, when you share your poem in front of an audience?

Henze:  I think for me it’s just a huge catharsis, and it’s just a complete sharing of myself into what I stand for and what I believe, and I can’t think of many more ways to be communicative and intimate with an audience. I just think it’s really, really cool. I started performing around middle school and high school. It’s just something that I really, really love, and you know it. It helps me sleep better at night.

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