By Jef Rietsma
Collector: Scott Phillips.
Collection? Indy car memorabilia. I have about 1,000 items and more than half are autographed. I don’t like to sell stuff but I’ll occasionally trade.
How did your collection begin? I went to my first Indy 500 in 1986. My mom and sister moved to Indianapolis after my parents divorced, and they would take me out to the track even though there was nothing going on. That ’86 race, it was beautiful Friday, it was beautiful Saturday, and Sunday it rained. The weather was pretty miserable on race day but it was an unforgettable experience for me.
What is your best source for acquiring/trading/selling? It’s hard to collect much around here. I’ve acquired a lot of autographs by mail. You’d be surprised how responsive most people are. You can send something to Richard Petty, for example, and 10 days later, you’ll get it back signed.
Your most-prized item? A 40-by-17-inch 2006 event poster and it is autographed of every living Indy 500 winner – 31 in all – who was alive in 2016. A few of the people who signed it are gone now, so it’s irreplaceable. Also, I didn’t know about the Bronze Badge (annual collectible issued by the Indy 500) until 2006. That’s when the collecting for me really got started in earnest. I also have an original brick from the track, and that was at the top of my want list for years. I found it at an antique store somewhere in Mishawaka. Another event poster I own has more than 40 autographs that I’ve secured, but they’re from anyone who has raced, not just the winners.
What joy do you get from collecting Indy? With very few exceptions – A.J. Foyt being one – they are all very accommodating. Johnny Rutherford is the best. They really appreciate the fans and I just love the Indy 500 and its traditions. I’ve been to every one but maybe five races since my first in 1986. More than that, though, I love that my daughter has been with me at so many of the races and we’ve met so many drivers. It started when she was a kid with buck teeth, there’s some pictures of her when she got older and had braces, and now she’s 20 and has a tattoo.
Describe your most memorable acquisition. Gordon Johncock lived in Hastings and I’ve been to his house three times in the last 10 years. I got his number out of the phone book and I just called him up and he said to stop by. He autographed a few things for me but the first time I went over there, it cost me about $100 because I took him and his wife out to dinner. The first thing he did was order a martini. It was worth it, though, having dinner and spending a few hours with him.
What’s the most you ever paid for an item? A Rick Mears 1:18-scale die-cast car set me back $178. Carousel is the name of the company that makes them and they’re expensive cars to begin with. The only reason I bought the car was because I knew he was going to be there to sign it.
Are you on the Web? I spend a lot of time on Facebook … there are three or four serious collectors on there and I always love looking at their stuff. I use eBay as a reference just to get an idea of the value of what I have.
Footnotes: Phillips, 52, has 33 poster-sized pictures of his daughter, Jazmin, posing with 32 different Indy 500 winners. His collection includes a mind-boggling assortment of autographed pictures, die-cast cars, books, flags, hats, pennants, pint glasses and mugs, and an impressive assortment of oddball items, including three Tyco 450 slot-car tracks from the mid-1980s. He said his most valuable item is a die-cast car made by the company Green Light featuring the late Danny Wheldon. Phillips pre-ordered the car after Wheldon won the 2011 Indy 500. Wheldon died five months later, before the cars were released. Phillips has the first-edition car, which features a scaled Wheldon at the wheel. The second edition was issued without a driver at the wheel. “I paid $79 for it and I saw it go on eBay for $550. But, really, it’s only worth what someone is willing to pay for it.” Phillips has maintained records of every item in his collection, primarily so his grandchildren have a firm idea of the collection’s inventory.
By Jef Rietsma