INDIANAPOLIS – Part of what makes the Indy 500 the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” goes even beyond the racetrack. If you ask around, you might just find someone with a great story that helps show why the weekend is a tradition near and dear to the hearts of so many fans.
This weekend marks 50 years since Larry and Suzi Smith began running a concession stand outside the gates of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Indy 500.
“We started with a little caboose, served off the back end and everything was a dollar,” said Suzi.
The couple has been married for 48 years, and together they’ve built a business on the foundation of love, growing over the years into an operation much bigger than where it started.
“I was in it before I met Suzi, kind of on a part time basis,” said Larry.
Suzi is originally from Harlan County, KY, while Larry is a native Hoosier, having grown up on the southeast side of Indianapolis.
Suzi giggled as she shared the story of how the two met. She said was on her best friend’s front porch, sitting on a swing, when a man drove by in a Pontiac Bonneville and caught her eye. That man, of course, was Larry.
“I said, who’s that and then we met a couple days later. He lived just behind her, so they knew each other,” she shared.
“In 1972 we bought our first stand the year before we got married,” said Larry.
The couple owns Gold Concessions. Throughout the years, their operation has expanded from the little caboose that started it all, to having up to 11 concession stands at one point.
“We love the traveling,” said Suzi. Larry shared, “We have a route that usually starts and kind of works its way up into Tennessee, then we go to Louisville, used to do the Derby festivities, then we come up in here, so we’ve got kind of a route.”
Suzi shared a bit more about the types of events they do, including fairs, festivals, and of course, the Indy 500.
“We do a lot of party events and some of them get pretty wild,” she laughed, “well, you know the 500 does.”
As their business grew, so did their family.
“Larry had three kids when we married and I had four, so we have quite a family,” said Suzi.
She said, “We have 22 great grandchildren, 17 grandchildren, and one great, great grandchild.”
Suzi said, “They keep us busy and a lot of them as they grew up, they come out and work a year or two and some of them still help us.”
Many of those family members still live in Indiana, part of what makes coming up for the Indy 500 so special. The couple moved to Florida in 1985, but aside from the Indy 500, still spends several months a year in the Hoosier state.
Their daughter, Tina Smith, has a stand in the area of 24th Street and Georgetown, Sweet T’s Family Sub Shop. Carrying on the family tradition, she said she loves what she does.
Smith, in fact, bought the trailer she uses for her business from her dad, in 2004.
“It’s been great. I’ve been working with my dad since I was twelve, which is a long time ago,” she laughed. “I’ve been on the road with him and traveled different places, it’s been pretty neat. He’s a hard worker.”
She said the couple has known nothing but hard work their entire lives. It’s a trait she said has been passed down through generations.
“This is Larry’s grandson Ryan working in there,” she said as she pointed at the shop.
“We got a little older and said, well this is too much to take care of, so we started scaling back and we’re down to our two,” said Larry.
Tina doesn’t believe they’ll ever stop, but she knows how much this means to them to finish what they started.
“The last three or four years I kept thinking, let’s get it to 50, let’s get it to 50,” Larry said.
When asked whether there will be a day, they would decide to hang up their hats, Larry said maybe, but for now they’re looking forward to spending another year reuniting with familiar faces and watching people walk away happy, with a full stomach.
“So many of them from the track would come, even some drivers would come over and that was really awesome,” Suzi reminisced. She said sometimes people will come between breaks, before, and after the race.
“They keep lining up, they keep going,” she said, sharing that they keep the line moving because they know they have a big demand to meet.
What are some of the favorite items on their menu among Indy 500 fans?
“The Italian sausage mostly,” said Suzi. Larry added, “Mostly Italian sausage and Philly steak sandwiches.”
As they hit year 50 feeding hungry fans, they said they’re probably going to be too busy to enjoy the race themselves. It usually works that way, but they wouldn’t change it for the world.
“Most of the time I’m too busy making sure that everything runs right,” said Larry.
Suzi chimed in, laughing, “Gotta get the money!”
What the future holds for the Smiths is still unwritten, but there’s no question they’ve made an impact on the people they’ve helped serve for five decades.
“It’s very wonderful that we can work together, and be together in our operation, and not be in two different places, and see each other all the time,” said Larry.
Over the last few years Suzi said she has undergone several procedures for her heart, and faced challenges with her health, but jokes she has the most important piece still left.
“I said the only thing real in my heart is love,” is Suzi.