INDIANAPOLIS -- Tom Binford is a busy man who somehow finds time each May to serve as chief steward for the Indianapolis 500.
Binford, 59, says this is his last year as the man ultimately in charge of the race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he has said that almost every year since he first took the job in 1974.
'I think it is going to be this year, but you can't take my word for it,' said Binford at his desk in the United States Auto Club track office. 'I have kind of a fear. Because I got into racing when I was young, I watched predecessors in the American Automobile Association and USAC.
'They get pretty long of tooth. I just felt I didn't want to be in a position of staying too long.'
Binford, the chief executive officer for Indiana National Bank, has been president or chairman of the boards of several companies. He also has found time to work with many organizations, including the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, the Chamber of Commerce and the United Way of Greater Indianapolis.
But he has gained most of his attention with his sports activities, something he never planned to get involved in.
Binford was born and raised in Indianapolis, but was never too excited about the race as a youth.
'When I was a teenager, I did not come out to the track very often,' he said. 'I went to one or two races, but I didn't really get interested until friends of mine began to get interested in putting in a car.'
'We put a group of 10 people together, entered a car, raised $5,000, which is all it took,' he said. 'We had one mechanic, one car, one engine.'
His USAC career started in 1956, four years after his attempt at car ownership. He had also worked with the Chamber of Commerce to raise lap money, and when the American Automobile Association got out of racing and USAC was formed, Binford served on the organizing committee.
'They felt they needed some non-participant members and about six months later I became president in 1956 at the age of 32,' he said.
He served as president until 1969 'when I finally made my resignation stick,' and served as the president of the Automobile Competition Committee of the United States for 12 years.
In 1974, he accepted the job of chief steward after the 1973 race, which Gordon Johncock won, and says he has enjoyed the job.
'You would be surprised how much I've learned from auto racing that has transferred to other things,' he said. 'It ranges all the way from the multi-millionaire to the stooge. There are people from all walks of life, but when they get here they are all really equal. It's a very democratic sport.'
Binford's other sports career came when he served as president of the Indiana Pacers for one season. He formed the group, with six other people, that bought the Pacers, then got out when he took the Indiana National Bank job.
He helped buy the Pacers because of 'the danger of it going bankrupt and perhaps leaving the city. I think at that time it would just have been a collapse. I was a financial consultant (before buying the team) and tried to help them work out their problems.'
'Eventually, they didn't work them out and we put a group together really in a hurry to pick it up before it went bankrupt.'
Binford played a minor role in the recent purchase of the Pacers by Melvin Simon and Associates.
'I worked along with (Mayor) Bill Hudnut and Dave Fricke to try to identify and persuade the Simons to become involved,' he said. 'I take very little credit for it. I was a symbol of the private sector of the city of Indianapolis and a former owner.'
He characterized the local purchase of the team as 'very important.'
'If we never had a professional basketball team here, it would not have made any difference whether we got one,' he said. 'But to lose it would have been, not disastrous, but a setback for the city and its image of itself.'
Binford admitted the city has suffered from an image problem, and part of the problem is the emphasis on the Indianapolis 500 race.
'Our image has been stuck on the 500-mile race and we are a lot more than that,' he said. 'I'm not one to say we should downplay the Indianapolis 500 either. I think it has to be kept in balance.'