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 At 86, Fred Wright's Active Lifestyle Keeps His Wheels Turning

May 28, 2008 - Riding in a two-seater Indy car at 180 miles per hour, winning the world series and going to Africa. These events might seem like extraordinary undertakings for many people, but Fred Wright views them simply as fond memories.

Wright, an 86-year-old Knightstown resident, retired as dean of students from Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Children’s Home 21 years ago. In fact, it was one of Wright’s ex-students who now works for Delphi Panther Racing, that gave Wright the opportunity to take a spin around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 7.

The ride was originally given as a gift to a friend of Wright’s, but upon arriving at the track, the friend could not eject herself from the Indy car seat, which was a requirement to participate. So the gift was given to Wright, who strapped on the appropriate footgear, racing suit, helmet and gloves and hit the track with racecar driver Vito Meira. Incidentally, Meira went on to place second in Sunday’s Indy 500.

“Once you come out of the shoot and the driver drops it, from then on you fly,” Wright said. “It’s a real trip an 86 year-old man never thought he would be taking.” About 30 other people participated in the event and rides cost $1,000 per person, Wright said, and all proceeds went to charity. Upon exciting the car, Wright said that each participant had their photograph taken, which would be put on display in a gallery at the track.

For Wright, sports and being active have always been a part of life. Wright began playing slow-pitch softball in 1955 and had played fast-pitch softball before that. In fact, it was only last summer that Wright gave up playing slow-pitch – not because of his age, as some might think, but because of knee problems.

In 2002, Wright and his softball team participated in the 80 years and older slow-pitch softball World Series in Des Moines, Iowa. The team played for Fort Myers Hooters and ended up winning the title. Today, Wright wears his World Series Ring as a reminder of his accomplishment.

In addition to Indy car rides and softball, Wright went to Sierra Leone West Africa with a group from his church in 1989 as part of “Operation Classroom.” Originally, the group went to build an auditorium, but because of recent storms that tore through the area, the team helped rebuild the school’s roof and many classrooms.

According to Wright, Sierra Leone is the second poorest country in the world and at the time of his visit, the capital city had lights and water for four hours a day.

For Wright, being in such a poor country meant learning what to eat and what not to eat. That meant not drinking after anyone, and avoiding the local meat selection, which consisted of dog, cat and snake.

“We brought 36 jars of peanut butter and ate every one of them,” Wright said.

Wright also packed vanilla and granola bars in his suitcase and depended on the white bread and peanut butter sandwiches he had each day for breakfast. The peanut butter was washed down by a bottle of hot pop, because liquids were a necessity as temperatures were in the 90s, Wright said.

When it comes to staying young, Wright contributed his active life style to two things: his career at ISSCH and his parents.

“You chase kids for 37 years and you’ll stay young,” Wright said. “I’ve just been a lucky person, that’s all. I had good parents who raised four good kids and I’m the last of them.”


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