Winner in the family

Growing up a farm kid in the 1960s, Jeff Souders didn’t pay much attention to what happened in the big city.

No one in his family did.

Farming was their world. Their Brookville home was the center of it.

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Indianapolis? In the pre-Internet, pre- instant information age, it might as well have been 1,000 miles away.

Not only that, the Souders family didn’t discuss many affairs outside of tasks at hand.

“My family was a very closed family,” Jeff Souders said. “They never talked about anything.”

But about 30 years ago, Souders’ grandmother, Josephine, an Ohio native, talked about a few things as she was dying from an illness.

One of the topics was racing.

About a week before her death, she reminisced about various topics of her life and happened to mention that a relative, many years before, had accomplished something at a racetrack somewhere.

“She said something about somebody in the family winning a race, a big race somewhere,” said Souders, who found out a short time later that the relative was his great-great-grandfather, a man named George Souders.

In 1927, he won the Indianapolis 500.

Jeff Souders had never heard of George, had barely heard of the 500, and to this day knows next to nothing about his relative’s historic accomplishment. He’s asked about it a lot and politely tells all inquisitors he just doesn’t have much information to pass on.

“Is it cool? Yeah, but I don’t know anything else,” said Souders, a long-time Franklin resident and pastor of Franklin Christian Fellowship church.

Souders, 57, moved to Franklin 28 years ago. He was not, and is not, a race fan and was not, and is not, awed by his great-great-grandfather’s place in Indy 500 history.

But after becoming better acquainted with race’s tradition, he does have an appreciation for why people are interested in George Souders — or in any driver who has won the Indy 500.

Souders was interested enough in George to finally visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum in the early 1990s but still knows very little about the relative he never knew at all.

“I grew up on a farm in southeastern Indiana, so we never, ever knew anything about the 500 until I moved up here,” Souders said. “I mean, I heard about it, but we were farmers.

“That’s about the extent of my knowledge (about George).”

Born in Lafayette in 1900, George Souders drove in the 1927 and 1928 Indy 500s. He finished in the top three both times.

One of only eight rookies to ever win the race, George was, according to the Speedway museum, a Purdue University student in 1927. Driving a Duesenberg, he started in the 22nd position in with a qualifying speed of 111.444 mph.

He led 51 laps and won with an average speed of 97.545 mph, completing the race in a time of 5:07.33.022. He crushed the runner-up driver by 12 minutes.

George Souders returned to the Speedway in 1928. He started 12th, led 16 laps, finished third — and is lost to racing history after that.

The Speedway has no information of his post-500 career. He died in 1976 and is buried in Battleground, near his hometown of Lafayette.

Jeff Souders knew nothing about any of it until his grandmother casually mentioned George winning a big race, and then Jeff eventually paid a visit to the Speedway museum in 1993.

Although he enjoyed seeing George’s visage on the Borg-Warner Trophy and reading a brief account of his win on a storyboard, Jeff still doesn’t share the same fascination about his great-great-grandfather’s unique achievement as many around him do.

Despite having a former champion in the family, the Indy 500 simply hasn’t been a family tradition.

“People in my church ask me about it all the time. I would rather say, ‘Yeah, I’m so jacked,’ but I don’t care. I just don’t,” Souders said. “It’s just not on my radar.

“I get the novelty of it. I guess I should have more (interest) in it, but in my profession being a pastor, it’s more about your legacy and who you are as a person, your character. It’s nice to have a champion (in the family), but that’s about it, honestly.”

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Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2715.