Indy 500 A Tradition For Hopewell Family

Family Patriarch Started Going In 1960

Scott Stiller
May 27, 2018 - 6:55 am
Zeljak Family Of Hopewell Pennsylvania

Scott Stiller

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The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is all about tradition.  The tradition of starting 33-cars.  The pre-race tradition honoring our military.  The post-race tradition of the race winner drinking milk in victory lane and for one Western Pennsylvania family that tradition goes back almost 60-years and spans four generations.

Hopewell’s Bronko Zeljak first went to the Indianapolis 500 in 1960.  In 1964 he was standing at the North end of pits on the inside of turn 4 when Dave MacDonald crashed, smacked the wall and burst into flames.  Zeljak ran towards the bleachers trying to get away from the flames but was burned on the back of his neck, all the way down his back and all of his hair was singed, but the experience never stopped him from coming back every May.

He began taking his son Dan in 1983 and the family tradition was started.

“I was 14 and I had no idea what to expect,” said Dan.  “My dad snuck us down to the start/finish line and I watched the Chaparral come down and Johnny Rutherford with his hand up in the air and I looked at that straightaway and hundreds of thousands of people and I was just blown away.”

Dan convinced his cousin Ted to check out the race in 1993, expanding the family tradition.

“Danny said, ‘let’s go’ so I said to my son Teddy, ‘we’re going’ and I haven’t missed a race since,” said Ted Zeljak.  “I love everything about it and I’ve gone to the Daytona 500 and a lot of races, but nothing compares.”

Ted’s son Teddy made the trip with him in ’93.

“I was 13 and it was the biggest sporting event I had ever been to in my life,” said Teddy.  “I specifically remember how loud it was. And it was just awesome being with these guys.”

Dan and Ted convinced their cousin Michael to go in 2001, expanding the tradition by one.

“It was my first professional race,” said Michael.  “For years these guys kept saying ‘you got to go, you got to go’ and I finally did, and I’ll never stop.”

Dan’s son Ryan joined the tradition in 2010 and was blown away.

“I love the Patriotism that goes along with the event,” said Ryan.  “The racing has always been great.  The whole experience is infectious.  There is something about this place that just draws you back, like an aura.”

Teddy expanded the tradition into the fourth generation by taking his 6-year-old son Noah last year.

“Last year was his first year,” said Teddy.  “Now he’s super-excited about coming.  So excited that when he had to take something to school that represented him, his life and his family, he took a piece of fiberglass from a car that was given to him. He told everyone at school ‘I was at the Indy 500 last year’ so he’s obviously hooked.  He loves it.”

It's fitting that the race takes place on Memorial Day weekend.  Bronko Zeljak will be one of those remembered by his family because this is the first Indy 500 without the U.S. Army Veteran, who passed in July.

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