The man behind Indiana State's racing flags

October 1, 2013

From the moment Johnny Shipman, dropped the green flag, at the inaugural Sycamore Tricycle Derby in 1963 he knew it was something special. Over the years, the faces at the start/finish line have changed -- passed down from father to son and now great-grandson -- but the name always remained the same.

"I will always remember Johnny in his signature white suit with the USAC shield and his flag set at the very first trike race," said Michael Simmons, one of the race founders. "He added visual as well as emotional support to all the first timers."

That support extended to generations of riders and race organizers. A longtime official at both the trike and tandem races since 1963, Shipman passed away on April 23, at the age of 96.

That was less than two weeks after making his annual appearance at Indiana State's tandem race, where he saluted race winners Air Force ROTC. Of all the victories he witnessed, this one was special and hit close to home. Shipman served active duty in the Air Force for more than 20 years, retiring in 1965. This marked the first time Air Force ROTC has ever won the tandem race and Shipman couldn't have been prouder.

Shipman celebrated the 50th running of Indiana State's trike race in October 2012 alongside race founders Simmons, Debbie Hulman Bareford, Tom Bareford and many former riders and coaches. As former riders, coaches and race organizers reminisced about past races, just about everyone had a Johnny Shipman story to tell.

"When I called Johnny on the telephone to ask him to flag the first (trike) race, he said "Oh sure I will." Little did I know the race would become ingrained into his family. It's so wonderful to have four generations of the Shipman family associated with Trike," said Debbie Hulman Bareford, one of the three race founders.

"My friendship with Johnny goes back 55 plus years," remembered Tom Bareford, another founder of the trike race. "He was a flagman for the Indianapolis 500 and the Action Track in Terre Haute. I worked at the Action Track selling tickets and that is where I met Johnny. We would always have conversations before and after the races. He was one great man."

Well known for his involvement in automobile racing, Shipman was a charter member and life member of Chapter 110 of United States Auto Club (USAC); Indy 500 Old Timers Club; a founding member of the Terre Haute Quarter Midget track and was the assistant starter for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for 23 years. He also was involved with the Newport Hill climb for more than 30 years as well as the Midwest Vintage Race Car Club.

With their roots in the world of motor racing, the Shipman family (Johnny, Ruth, Jack and Billy) transferred their collective knowledge from automobiles to cycles. Their legacy with Sycamore cycling races lives on - they stabilized the race structure, they established rules governing the running of the races, drew up bike specs and made significant contributions to keeping the races competitive and improving safety.

Johnny, who retired in 1995 as race director for trike, passed the flags to his son, Billy who later trained his nephew, Tanner, a senior at Terre Haute North High School.

"The fact that he stayed involved and introduced his family to Trike validates his lifelong support of us at Indiana State," Simmons said. "Johnny exemplified what a non-graduate of Indiana State can do to support our University. He will be missed and the 51st running on Oct. 4. But we will have our own guardian angel overseeing the race."

Johnny Shipman will be honored at the beginning of Friday's race (4 p.m., Michael Simmons Student Activity Center) with a plaque honoring him for 50 years of service to Indiana State's racing tradition. The Johnny Shipman Spirit Awards, which will debut at the Oct. 4 Trike race, will honor the hard work and commitment of four-year riders.

His legacy will live on as Indiana State students continue to race trikes and tandem bikes. Gifts in memory of Johnny Shipman can be mailed to the ISU Foundation or made on line by visiting www.indstatefoundation.org . Please designate the gift to go to the Trike/Tandem Fund in memory of Johnny Shipman.

 

Contact and writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3783 or paula.meyer@indstate.edu