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  • Writer's pictureTodd Rose

Sweikert's First Words: A poem by Todd Rose

Bob Sweikert gives a wave while seated in his pink Kurtis Kraft roadster (Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo).

NOTE: Like other poetry pieces I've posted, and will post on here, I've decided to lead with the inspiration of the poem. Over the years, the pink Kurtis Kraft roadster that was piloted to the 1955 Indianapolis 500 win by Bob Sweikert was always one of my favorites. Visually, I just found the car so appealing.

Through 2020 and into this year, I’ve taken to purchasing mp3 copies of old broadcasts from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network website, one of which was the 1955 race because of Sweikert’s win. On a recent trip to Indiana – which will have its own story soon enough – one of the things I listened to was that ‘55 500.

The race is mainly remembered for the vicious lap 57 pile-up in the southeast turn, as it was called on the broadcast but now commonly referred to as turn two, that claimed the life of two-time defending winner Bill Vukovich who was leading the race at the time of the crash. The car of Vukovich flew over the retaining wall and flipped several times before erupting into flames. Mercifully, Vukie was killed instantly.

Also caught up in the melee were drivers Roger Ward, Al Keller, and Johnny Boyd, among others.

When Bob Sweikert, who trailed Vukovich by a wide margin exited turn two what lay ahead of him was a mess of cars with the Boyd appearing to have gotten the worst of the wreck as his car came to rest upside-down after rolling a number of times. Sweikert was unaware of the horror that lay beyond the bounds of the Speedway’s wall.

With the race over, Sweikert pulled into victory lane. The first words that could be heard into the radio broadcast microphone of Charlie Brockman from Sweikert’s mouth sent chills down my spine as I drove through the open fields of rural Indiana and spurred on the inspiration for this piece.

Who got hurt?”

Thirteen months later, Bob, too, was killed in a racing accident at Salem Speedway.

Sweikert's First Words

“Who got hurt?”

The words demanded from Bob Sweikert’s mouth.

For what he had seen

looked truly awful.

The upended car of Johnny Boyd

out of the southeast turn

planted a seed of concern

in his gut.

“Who got hurt?”

The question sprouted once more.

As anguished as the first time.

What Sweikert did not see

was the horror that lie hidden

beyond the backstretch wall.

The mangled car and body

of the mortally wounded Bill Vukovich.

“I was just asking who got hurt.

Johnny Boyd, I saw his car

upside down on the backstretch

and I was real worried about him.”

Sweikert said to announcer Charlie Brockman

With a hush in his voice.

“Well, Johnny’s alright, Bob.”

Brockman responded with slight hesitation.

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