SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most iconic tracks in racing. Almost as iconic as the track itself are the people in charge of keeping a watchful eye over it during the month of May.
The Safety Patrol is hard to miss. Their yellow shirts stand out among the thickest of crowds, on the brightest of days, but there’s one member that stands out a little more than the rest. Faith Kidwell has never lived in Indiana.
Faith actually lives near Daytona Beach, Florida, but trades the World Center of Racing for the Racing Capital of the World every May. She hasn’t missed a single race in over three decades, after her boyfriend, Jay, showed her just how far people will go to see the greatest spectacle in racing.
“My first experience of the Indy 500 was when he set a black and white TV on top of a step ladder to watch the race,” she said. “I thought he was crazy that year.”
A year later, they made the trek to Indianapolis Motor Speedway together, camping out in a pickup truck in Lot 2, so she could experience her first Indy 500. She hurt her knee playing football in the parking lot, but refused surgery until after the race. Since she couldn’t walk up to her seats, she got to sit right next to the track.
“I caught the smell of the methanol and I was hooked, that was it. That did it,” she laughed.
The couple began traveling to races including Nazareth, Disney World, New Hampshire, and Michigan Speedway, where Jay asked Faith to marry him. She had one condition, she would only say yes if they could get married at the Indy 500.
In 1996, they wed in Tower Terrace Suite 33, the night before the 500, toasting with milk bottles. Eventually, the couple realized they couldn’t keep going to the 500 if they weren’t getting paid, so in 1998, they signed up to be part of the Safety Patrol.
“We said we wanted to see the race and they said well you’ll be working in the garage area. I had never even been in the garage area ever! It was wonderful,” she exclaimed.
Together, they worked on the Safety Patrol until 2003, when her husband died from pancreatic cancer. A year later, she returned as a fan, to celebrate Jay’s life in the place he loved.
“I spread his ashes of course in Lot 2, on the start/finish line, and excuse me, A.J., but a little in A.J. Foyt’s garage.”
She hung up her yellow shirt for a while after Jay’s death, and continued coming as a fan for a few years. She returned to her position on the Safety Patrol about a decade ago, and hasn’t stopped since. She says “Being here as a yellow shirt is like being backstage in a movie production. You see everything that goes on. It’s amazing what it takes to get this race going and I like being a part of it… I just like being a part of it.”
While she started as a tour guide in the garages, Faith now greets visitors coming in and out of the Media Center. She’s seen everyone from 2019 Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud, to A.J. Foyt, but two-time Indy 500 winner Dan Wheldon was her favorite.
“Always, always, always a friendly person,” she recollects.
When you spend nearly every day seeing and talking to drivers, Faith says what happens on and off the track becomes personal. She says “You care about the drivers. You care about what happens, and I do.”
So, how is it that she gets to spend a month in Indiana, when she has a job to do back home?
“My boss is a sweetheart, he knows that it’s in my blood and he said go ahead and do it,” She answered. “Last year when I asked him if I could come out here for the month, his response was ‘Only if I could come,’ and he did. He was out here for the race.”
And if there’s one thing she knows about Indy, it’s that you’ll never know what Indy means, unless you see it for yourself.
“You have to be here. You can’t describe it to anybody. I have tried, and tried and tried and you just can’t, you just can’t describe this.”
It’s something you just have to be here for, and Faith plans to keep coming back every year, for as long as she can.