Santa Rosa Beach man has attended every Indy 500 race for the last three decades

Published: Thursday, May 23, 2013 at 01:12 PM.

Many spend the Memorial Day weekend grilling, basking or sunbathing at the beach and pool, or just relaxing. Gulf Place resident Tom Fillingim will spend the unofficial start of the summer season the same way he has for the past 32 years: at the Indy 500.

This weekend will mark Fillingim's 33rd consecutive year at the race. He has attended every one since 1981.

Not one to look back to the days of his youth when he grew up enamored with the sport, Fillingim thanks his mother for igniting the racing fire in him as an adult.

"I was driving my parents from Boston to visit my brother in Colorado, and we stopped at the racing museum in Indianapolis," he recalls. "My mom said to me, 'I would really like to see this race before I am gone.' "

Being a good son, Fillingim inquired about purchasing tickets for the next race, which required him filling out four pages of an application to get on a waiting list. But the effort paid off, and he scored with tickets for the next year.

Afterwards, Fillingim went across the road to a small hotel and inquired about making reservations for the weekend of next year's race. The people behind the front desk scoffed at his request and said there was no way as they were booked. Undeterred, Fillingim explained that he would have his parents here with him and asked if he could leave his name and number just in case they had a cancellation.

"They did and called me," he says now with a laugh. "We could walk to the track! Others who were staying down the road had to get up at 3:30 a.m. as all the roads were packed."

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