The Talk of Gasoline Alley
Below are links to daily episodes/guides for 1070-AM WIBC/WFNI’s famous Indy radio program, The Talk of Gasoline Alley with Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson. Each day’s topics are listed in chronological order, including various sidebar discussions and details. Brickyard 400 shows and U.S. Grand Prix episodes are included where available. While these guides are documented as complete and accurate as possible, they are “unofficial” and for educational/entertainment purposes only.
As of April 2021, there are at least 447 episodes cataloged and archived.
- The Talk of Gasoline Alley intro theme song
- 1990 Talk of Gasoline Alley promo clip
- The History of the 500 (Centennial Celebration, Heroes of the 500, One on One)
Special thanks and recognition to the following acquaintances with respect to this ongoing project:
- Brian Taylor
- Mike Thomsen
- John Patrick
History of The Talk of Gasoline Alley
Author’s Note: Donald Davidson, historian and host of The Talk of Gasoline Alley, is a beloved, and well-respected figure in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway fraternity. Davidson emigrated to United States from England in 1965 and for decades, has dazzled people with his remarkable knowledge and memory, particularly of the history of the Indianapolis 500 and Indy/Championship Car racing. Over the years, through numerous interviews, articles, and multiple first-hand accounts on his radio program, Davidson has recounted in great detail his story of arriving in the United States, and his being welcomed into the Indy racing fraternity. A history of the show would not be complete without a brief history of Davidson’s life story as it pertains to the Indianapolis 500. This information has been carefully culled and compiled from numerous sources (see below). This biographical information is presented here as a tribute, and its accuracy is to the best measure possible. The history of The Talk of Gasoline Alley was originally written by myself HERE This content has been migrated back to this site, revised, expanded, and edited accordingly.
The radio program The Talk of Gasoline Alley aired on 1070-AM WIBC/WFNI for fifty years. Historian Donald Davidson hosted the popular call-in show from 1971 through 2020 during the month of May, as part of the station’s extensive coverage of the Indianapolis 500. Davidson fielded listeners’ telephone questions about the Indianapolis 500, particularly its history and nostalgia, and attempted to answer all questions from his own memory, never using any sort of reference material. The program became a popular month of May tradition, and was later expanded to include syndicated shows on Network Indiana, shows leading up to the Brickyard 400, and shows leading up to the United States Grand Prix at Indy in some years.
Davidson, has worked as a historian, statistician, publicist, writer, lecturer, and radio host. He worked at the United States Auto Club (USAC), IMS Productions, and then as the official historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He is the co-author of the book Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500, the 1974 and 1975 Donald Davidson’s Indianapolis 500 Annuals, and has helped with or contributed to numerous other books and magazines. He penned a daily column in The Indianapolis Star for many years, focusing on Indianapolis 500 history, and co-hosted local Indy 500 practice and qualifying television coverage on WTTV (1984-1989) and WNDY (1995-1997). Davidson worked on 1070 WIBC-AM not only for his daily show The Talk of Gasoline Alley, but also as part of the live time trials coverage. For many years, he worked alongside Lou Palmer on-air. On occasion, he also host non-racing-related radio programs, highlighting his interest and knowledge of other subjects, including music. Davidson was a member of the broadcasting crew for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network from 1965 to 2020, not including a guest appearance in 1964. For many years, Davidson served as a lecturer, and taught a class on motorsports history, a continuing education course first offered in 1986.
Through his work as a historian, broadcaster, and writer, Davidson has received numerous accolades and honors. He has been enshrined as a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, the USAC Hall of Fame, and the Richard M. Fairbanks Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame. In 2016, he was named a Sagamore of the Wabash by then-Governor Mike Pence. Davidson on countless occasions has been invited as a guest speaker at various engagements, including trade shows, civic and social events, banquets, and award ceremonies. In 1976, he was invited to participate as an official on the USAC-sanctioned promotional tour “One Lap Around the World” put on by Pontiac and National Car Rental.
After fifty seasons, and easily over 1,250 episodes, Davidson retired at the end of 2020. The origins of the radio show, spanning six decades, is summarized below.
Mr. Davidson’s early years
Donald Davidson was from Salisbury, Wiltshire, in South England. At a young age, he started developing a passion for Grand Prix motor racing, which later led to an interest in the Indianapolis 500. Davidson worked as a cinema projectionist at the Odeon Leicester Square in London. Part of his interest in racing stemmed from his father showing him 16 mm highlight films. His father was once part of the Salisbury Film Society, and would occasional send off for various films from lending libraries. Some of the films were of highlights of auto races.
Around the time he was a teenager, Davidson recalls that he sent away for a promotional brochure from Dunlap tire and rubber company. The pamphlet had maps and information of famous auto racing circuits around the world, including numerous Grand Prix tracks. From 1950 to 1960, the Indianapolis 500 paid points towards World Championship of Drivers. As such, a map of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was included in the brochure. The simple layout of the oval track, in sharp contrast to the winding, sometimes lengthy, road courses, intrigued Davidson. Among other books and publications, he said he had also received, particularly, a copy of a 1954 issue of Autosport magazine, which included a recap of the 1954 Spanish Grand Prix, as well as charts of the 1954 World Championship, and another book titled Grand Prix Facts and Figures. In those various books and periodicals, Davidson noticed that the Indianapolis 500 had different drivers than the other events, with further sparked his interest.
Davidson’s mother bough him a copy of the 1956 Floyd Clymer 500 Yearbook. She found the book at Foyles bookstore in London. Davidson poured over that book, and anything else that he could find about auto racing. He quickly began to realize that he was able memorize and retain copious amounts of information and statistics. Before long, Davidson had memorized in great detail, the complete results of every running of the Indianapolis 500 up to that point (not to mention numerous other events). He has since been described as having selective-retentive, easy-access memory. Davidson became aware that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network was broadcast over U.S. Armed Forces Radio in Germany. In both 1958 and 1959, he attempted to pick up the broadcasts in England, to no avail. In 1960, he was able to pick up one of the qualifying shows, and later, the race itself. Though the broadcast cut in and out, as night fell in England, the reception improved.
Before long, Davidson was determined to make the trip to the United States, to visit the track and attend the Indianapolis 500 in person.
Donald arrives at Indy
Davidson saved up his own money for about six years in order to afford the solo trip to America. He began writing letters to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway staff, in particular, to radio Voice of the 500 Sid Collins, and the ticket office. He requested information about tickets and accommodations, and made acquaintances with the staff, including Frances Derr, who was the director of the ticket office. She even informed him that if he were able to make the trip, she could arrange for him to receive a bronze badge in order to visit the garage area.
Davidson wrote to Collins a couple times, and eventually got a response. Davidson kindly offered his assistance to the radio broadcast, surmising that they could use his wealth of knowledgeable, ostensibly behind-the-scenes, during the race. Collins politely declined, insisting they had a full crew of experienced broadcasters on hand. But he invited Davidson to stop by and chat once he arrived at the track.
In May of 1964, Davidson took a three-week holiday to attend the race. He timed the trip so he could attend both weekends of time trials, and race day. The race was held on Saturday May 30 of that year. He had relatives in Chicago, with whom he arranged to stay with part of the time. On Friday May 15, 1964, Davidson took a bus from Chicago to downtown Indianapolis, then on to the Speedway. He went to the ticket office, where he met in person, members of the ticket staff whom with he had been corresponding. They provided him with the bronze badge they had generously promised him, and he eventually made his way over to the garage area. It was the final day of practice before Pole Day, and the teams were gearing up for time trials.
Once in the garage area, Davidson dazzled the racing fraternity with his knowledge and memory. Davidson met or was introduced to dozens of Indy legends and participants, in many cases, rattling off their Indy 500 records in great detail. Davidson was befriended by Charles Lytle, Harry McQuinn, and others. On Saturday he met with Sid Collins of the radio network. Collins handed him a one-day pit pass so he could walk up and down the pit lane during pole day. Davidson remarked that Collins lent it to him as long as he ‘promised to bring it back’. However, before the afternoon was over, McQuinn brought Davidson to the credential office to supply him with a Silver Badge, which offered pit access for the entire month. Not needing the temporary pass any longer, Davidson went up to the radio broadcast booth and kindly returned the day pass to Collins.
Davidson was an instant hit in the paddock, and was warmly welcomed. He was impressed by how friendly the drivers and competitors were, and before long had made many friends. He was interviewed for an article in the newspaper, and was invited by Collins to visit the radio booth on race day. While visiting the Leaders Cards garage, A.J. Watson even offered Davidson a job as a pick-up crew member, but he ultimately declined. While in town, Davidson stayed with a local family – a common practice that many participants did in those days. Tony Hulman even drove him back to the house on more than one occasion.
On race day, the 1964 race was remembered mostly for tragedy. A fiery crash on lap 2 took the lives of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. After a lengthy red flag, the race resumed with A.J. Foyt the eventual winner. Davidson visited the radio booth during the second half of the race. He was interviewed by Collins on-air, briefly recounting the Speedway career of Fred Frame. Undeterred by the rather tragic circumstances of the day, the month of May 1964 was otherwise an experience of a lifetime for Davidson.
Donald moves to Indianapolis
In May of 1965, Davidson returned to Indianapolis “with a one-way ticket and a green card”, looking to relocate to the area and seek permanent employment. He again received credentials, and renewed acquaintances with his many friends in the paddock. Much to their delight, Davidson had returned, this time informing them he was emigrating to the United States, and was there to stay. Sid Collins invited Davidson to be part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network crew. He took the role of race historian, and contributed on the broadcast.
After the race, Davidson was ready to look for permanent employment. Though he preferred a job in the racing scene, he was unsure where things would take him. A few days after the race, Henry Banks (former racing driver and at the time Director of Competition at USAC) brought Davidson in for a job interview. Later that day, he was a offered a job with USAC, which he graciously accepted. He was given the position of statistician and record keeper. He also worked as a publicist, editor, and occasionally accompanied drivers and officials on various appearances and speaking engagements.
Early origins of the show
In 1966, radio Voice of the 500 Sid Collins – who also worked at WIBC 1070-AM, arranged for Donald Davidson to host 15-minute, semi-daily radio program on WIBC for a couple weeks during the month of May. The program was called “Dial Davidson”, and debuted at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday May 5. Callers were invited to phone-in and ask Davidson trivia questions about the Indianapolis 500. The show was patterned as a “stump-the-expert” type program, though Davidson was rarely stumped.
In 1967, Davidson was unable to continue the program. He was away at Basic Training for the National Guard, and missed a considerable part of the month of May. He was able to attend the race itself and served on the radio network broadcast on race day.
No show materialized from 1968 to 1970.
A new show for 1971
After management changes at WIBC 1070-AM around 1970, the station vastly increased their coverage of the Indianapolis 500 beginning in 1971. Davidson was invited to host a one-hour nightly quiz show about Indianapolis 500 history. The show started at 6 p.m. and invited listeners to phone in and ask trivia questions. Callers won prizes if Davidson did not know the answer. Some of the prizes put up included radios, racing jackets, and 55 gallons of gasoline. Show sponsors included Gulf and Marathon. All of the answers were provided without help, or any reference material.
The show was unnamed for the first few years, but for a brief time it was called “Stump the Chump”. Lou Palmer called the program “Do it to Donald”, while Chuck Riley called it “Stymie the Limey.” At some point in the late 1970s, but no later than 1980, someone at WIBC (possibly Jed Duval) came up with the title “The Talk From Gasoline Alley”, and the name stuck. However, it quickly changed to “The Talk of Gasoline Alley”. The name was in reference to the nickname (“Gasoline Alley”) for the garage area at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Despite the name, at the time, the program was still being broadcast from the downtown studios of WIBC.
After a few seasons, the show evolved from a “rapid fire” call-in quiz show to a long form caller-based question and answer talk show, with Davidson taking the role of raconteur. Davidson had felt that many of the questions he was being asked deserved more elaboration. He urged the station to drop the quizzing aspect of the program, and they also eliminated the prizes. Instead of trying to stump Davidson, the callers were now encouraged to field engaging questions, preferably of a nostalgic nature, about the rich history of the Indianapolis 500 and its colorful participants. Relieved of the quiz format, Davidson was free to answer questions in-depth, adding various anecdotes, vignettes, statistics, and often recounted other related stories, typically of personal experiences regarding the subject matter. The format change had taken effect by about 1974.
Topics for discussion on the program were broad, but were often focused on biographies of drivers, team owners, mechanics, and other personalities associated with the race or the track. Other popular topics include track lore, famous cars, race recaps, members of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network staff, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum and its exhibits, and specific events from a particular year. Discussions regarding non-race winners and drivers of relative obscurity (particularly drivers from the very early years) were warmly received, as it offered “fresh” content to the program. As always, Davidson still prohibited himself from using any sort of reference material during the show, relying only on his own memory.
Through the 1970s and early 1980s, the program was based out of the downtown studios of WIBC. Starting around 1983, the show moved out to the track and broadcast remotely. For one year, it was set up in the lobby of the Speedway Motel. The following year, the show moved to the garage area. Eventually the show was invited to broadcast from one of the team’s garages. The hustle and bustle of mechanics working on the cars was usually heard in the background. In many years, the show was done from the garages of the Jonathan Byrd team. Starting in 1990, a special post-race drive home show was aired, immediately following the conclusion of the IMS Radio Network race broadcast. By the 2010s, the programs moved out of the garage area and originated from the media center at the Speedway, or again from the downtown studios. When it was located in the garage area, occasionally drivers or other participants would sit-in for guest interviews.
For much of its run on 1070 WIBC-AM, the hour-long show aired daily at 6:00 p.m. local time. That coincided with the time of day the track closed for practice (or time trials) each evening. For a time in the early 1980, Kevin Calabro co-hosted the show. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the show was jointly produced as a part of Dave “The King” Wilson’s nightly drive time show. Consistent with airing on a traditionally news/talk station, the show was frequently at the mercy of numerous breaks for news, traffic, and weather reports, and occasional pre-emption for breaking news and other live sports coverage.
For a brief period, the show was expanded to two hours, with the second hour carried on ”Network Indiana”, a syndicated feed that was picked up by several stations around the state.
Starting in 1994, the program expanded to new events at Indy. The show was added for the week of the NASCAR Brickyard 400 (1994–2009 and 2013–2019), the weekend involving the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix (2000–2007), as well as MotoGP. During the airings outside of the month of May, the show invited questions stemming from those respective disciplines of racing – but did not ban Indy 500-based topics. The programs during the Brickyard 400 week often delved into stock car racing history, including the USAC Stock Car series, which Davidson was well-versed.
During the decade of the 2000s, WIBC began live streaming over the internet, effectively exposing the show to a nationwide/worldwide listening audience. In 2006, the program became available in downloadable podcast form.
Recordings of the programs from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, are scarce. Likewise, before the advent of streaming and podcasting, the show’s audience was limited to those who could pick up the terrestrial signal of 1070-AM, and were listening live. Thus it was not unusual for certain popular topics to be asked about frequently and repeatedly. For instance, new listeners joining the show might not know that a common question they were asking was already answered the night before. After a number of years, Davidson and show producers started noticing a pattern of oft-repeated questions and subjects from callers. Unsure if it was intentional or unintentional, it nevertheless started taxing the program, requiring a stricter level of call-screening.
When the show started streaming, and later podcasting, it helped reduce repeat questions. However, some callers still insisted on asking about controversial topics; such things Davidson typically chooses to avoid. By the early 2000s, a short list of oft-repeated subjects that have been discussed and answered ad nauseam was somewhat playfully compiled, and listeners were urged to abstain from asking about them. The most egregious of topics were probably the “the Turbines”, and “Jigger Sirois”. The so-called taboo topics included, but were not limited to:
- The STP Turbine cars entered by Andy Granatelli in 1967 and 1968
- What happened to Leon “Jigger” Sirois on pole day of 1969
- The Jim Hurtubise “beer engine” incident of 1972
- The controversy alleging that Ralph Mulford actually won the 1911 race
- The controversial 1981 race
- Tragedies on the track, including driver fatalities, and the events surrounding the 1973 race
- “Can the pole position winner be bumped?”
- The IRL/CART open wheel “Split” of 1996 (as well as the CART/USAC split in 1979)
- Technical questions are also usually dismissed, as Davidson contends that he is “not a gearhead”, and can not offer much in the way of mechanical knowledge.
Also slowing the program down can be questions from people asserting that they had (or think they had) a relative/friend that participated in the race years ago. But usually they offer no proof or record other than ‘a story they were told’.
In January 2008, the radio station reorganized and reformatted. In December 2007, the news/talk station and its call letters transitioned over to WIBC 93.1-FM. The 1070-AM spot on the radio dial was relaunched as an all-sports station, called WFNI 1070 The Fan, and became an ESPN Radio affiliate. In 2013, WFNI began simulcasting an FM feed on 107.5-FM, and the station is now typically referred to as “107.5/1070 The Fan”. The FM spot 93.5 FM has also been used for simulcast or alternate programming.
After 37 years on WIBC 1070-AM, in 2008 The Talk of Gasoline Alley took its place on the relaunched WFNI 1070 The Fan. The show moved to the 8 p.m. timeslot, and for many seasons, was part of a two-hour daily block, with Trackside with Curt Cavin & Kevin Lee serving as a lead-in during the 7 o’clock hour. Typically Lee or sometimes Cavin sat in to serve as co-host/call screener. Other co-hosts have included Tony Donohue and Mike Thomsen. Moving to a what was now a dedicated sports talk station, the program enjoyed more leeway in the broadcast window, and was no longer burdened by news, weather, and traffic reports. However, the program was still occasionally interrupted by Indiana Pacers games, as WFNI has been the flagship for the team’s radio network. In a few cases, the show was aired singly on one of the sister stations to avoid preemption.
Along with the traditional telephone calls, questions eventually were also accepted via e-mail and Twitter. On some special occasions, the discussion topics were pre-planned by the hosts, particularly for the opening segment. Sometimes follow-ups from previous night’s question(s) kick off the program. Wile the show is traditionally aired live, on rare occasions when Davidson (or the co-host) has prior commitments, the show will be pre-recorded. In those cases, no phone calls will be taken, instead the topics will be culled from e-mail or Twitter requests. A short list of longtime frequent callers complement the show, including Dave from Marion, Paul in Racine, Mike in Vernon Hills, Jerry in Delphi, and a number of others.
Although it was not discussed publicly at the time, the 2020 season would be the final season for The Talk of Gasoline Alley. The race was scheduled for May 24, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the race was rescheduled for August 23, and ultimately held without spectators. During the month of May 2020, despite no track activity, the show aired once a week to keep the tradition alive. About a month later, five shows aired in June/July leading up to Brickyard 400/GMR Grand Prix weekend.
Mimicking the traditional schedule of the month of May, a full complement of shows aired in August for three weeks leading up to the race. No shows were produced for the week of the IndyCar Harvest GP weekend in October.
In December 2020, Davidson officially announced his retirement, effective December 31.
Links, sources, and works cited(Still working)
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WIBC, 6 May 2002.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WIBC, 20 May 2003.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WIBC, 4 May 2004.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, Pole Day Coverage, WIBC, 13 May 2006.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, Network Indiana, 26 May 2006.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, Network Indiana, 17 May 2007.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 10 May 2009.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 18 May 2009.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 9 May 2011.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 2 May 2012.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 13 May 2012.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 23 May 2012.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 12 May 2014.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 14 May 2014.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 14 May 2015.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 5 May 2016.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 18 May 2016.
- “The Talk of Gasoline Alley“, WFNI, 22 July 2016.
- Collins, Bob. “Speedway Clan Amazed By Visitor From England” The Indianapolis Star 18 May 1964: page 25 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- Shull, Richard K. “Concerning Irritations, Both Legal And Bootleg/The Memory” The Indianapolis News 5 May 1966: page 13 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- Collins, Bob. “Sports Over Lightly” The Indianapolis Star 23 May 1965: page 64 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- “Sid Collins Notes 20th Year In Row As ‘Voice’” The Indianapolis Star 30 May 1967: page 32 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- Collins, Bob. “Sports Over Lightly” The Indianapolis Star 17 May 1973: page 54 via Newspapers.com, Access date 15 April 2021.
- Moore, Jan. “It’s In The Stars” The Indianapolis Star 26 May 1974: page 107 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- Britton, Bonnie. “Race Buff Put In Front Of Fence” The Indianapolis Star 13 May 1978: page 11 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- Mullinix, Donna S. “There’s more to Donald Davidson than ‘500’ stats” The Indianapolis Star 15 May 1994: page 188 via Newspapers.com, Access date 14 April 2021.
- “Q & A With The Great Donald Davidson” 16thAndGeorgetown.com, 2 June 2009, Access date 14 April 2021.
- Donnelly, Jim. “Donald Davidson: Guardian of the Indianapolis 500’s history as its centennial nears” 2011.
- Anderson, William E. “Man with the amazing memory remembers his checkered career” The Indianapolis Star 16 May 1985: page 27 via Newspapers.com, Access date 2 May 2018.