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Flora man to attend his 75th Indy 500, family tradition since 1911

Bill Kearns Indy 500 attendance milestones
Posted at 10:35 PM, May 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-10 23:46:55-04

FLORA — The Indianapolis 500 is quintessential to the identity of many Hoosiers. It's to Indiana as apple pie is to America.

The event is chock-full of traditions that Hoosiers and those who travel to "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" have come to love.

Bill Kearns knows a thing or two about those traditions.

"My family has been to every race since 1911," Kearns said.

It started with Kearns' uncle, Jim Thomson, who saw every race until he died in 1973. Kearns' father, Bob Kearns, attended every race from 1913 to 1981. His grandfather, also known as Bill, saw about 40 races before he died in 1961. This tradition has continued with Kearns' kids and grandchildren.

Bill Kearns with his grandfather and father
Bill Kearns with his grandfather, William "Bill" Kearns and father, Bob Kearns.

"Being with the family members, that's super special, especially the older you get," Kearns said. "I'm 85, so I started when I was 10. My son, he went to about 35 straight, started at 10. 10 is a benchmark. Grandson was 10 and he's only missed one since he started and he's 26."

Kearns has been featured several times over the years in his local newspaper, the Carroll County Comet, for reaching Indy 500 attendance milestones.

Newspaper clippings of Bill Kearns Indy 500 attendance milestones
Two newspaper clippings of Bill Kearns' Indy 500 attendance milestones

Kearns is well-versed in the Indy 500 history that he's been a part of for almost 75 years.

"Favorite drivers? A lot of them," Kearns said. "Bill Vukovich was a favorite. He could have won four years in a row. In '52, he was leading and less than 10 laps, something knocked him out. Troy Rutman, youngest driver ever, won the race. One of the strong ones was last year. Castroneves won his fourth one. That was significant. A.J. Foyt won four. Rick Mears was such a good driver."

Kearns was there to see A.J. Foyt in ’77, Al Unser in ’87, Rick Mears in ’91 and Helio Castroneves in '21 win their fourth Indy 500s.

As he gets ready for his 75th Indianapolis 500, there's not much left for Kearns to see or do besides one thing.

"I do have a bucket list. I've never ridden around the track there. I'd like to do that in one of those race cars that they drive you around."

Have a question about this story? A comment or another story idea? You can contact WRTV Reporter Cornelius Hocker at cornelius.hocker@wrtv.com, on Instagram, or Facebook.