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Speedway Restaurant Server Dishes on Indy 500 Stars

According to a former Dawson’s waiter, May means big tips—and brushes with the likes of Danica Patrick, Florence Henderson, and Mari Hulman George.

While fans and media from all over the world pour into town for the Indianapolis 500, servers at Speedway restaurants gear up for the ride of a lifetime. From meeting celebs to making bank, May is their most favorite month.  

Located on the corner of Main and 15th streets and facing Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dawson’s on Main fills with high-profile customers as race day draws near. The local favorite—known for its juicy tenderloin sandwich and cocktail sauce with a kick comparable to that of St. Elmo’s—transforms into a see-and-be-seen eatery worthy of Beverly Hills. “This time of year is so crazy,” says former Dawson’s server Justin Johnson. “It’s better money than what I made during Christmas time.”

The 23-year-old waiter and bartender describes the Month of May in Dawson’s as “racecar drivers galore.” He has seen appearances by Indy 500 notables such as IndyCar team owner Sarah Fisher, who holds the record for most starts among female drivers, and current NASCAR phenom Danica Patrick, who placed third in the 500 in 2009 (and who, of course, showcased her enviable body in two Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Editions). “They both just stopped by like it was no big deal,” says Johnson.

Florence Henderson (better known as Brady Brunch Mom Carol), who sings “God Bless America” before the Indy 500, dined at Dawson’s last year with three friends. “They were all wearing the same exact thing,” says Johnson. “Their outfits, hair, and even sunglasses matched.”

Still not impressed? Justin has served food to the legendary voice behind Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!, Indianapolis Motor Speedway chairman Mari Hulman George, who is a Dawson’s regular in May. Although she is a fantastic tipper and a tiny woman, Johnson confesses he had no idea who the 78-year-old customer was at first. “She always wears sneakers, a t-shirt, and jeans,” he says. “Her hair is usually down, sometimes in a ball cap.”

The daughter of Tony Hulman, the man responsible for reviving the track in the 1940s, is not afraid to eat alone. But she does sometimes bring along her son Tony Hulman George, former IMS president and CEO, which usually kept Johnson’s tip at $20. When she was riding solo, his tip could jump to $30. Not only did she tip well—she never complained. Good to know that Mrs. George, a Hoosier woman steeped in Indianapolis 500 lore and reportedly worth millions, treats her servers with respect. “She doesn’t give off that ‘I’m rich’ vibe at all,” says Johnson.

Dawson's on Main,1464 Main St., Speedway, 247-7000, dawsonsonmain.com.

Dawson's photo by Michael Schrader.