Longtime IMS employee dies

Roger Deppe, who Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and COO Joie Chitwood described as a "true part of what the Speedway is all about," died July 14 while driving to his vacation home in Minnesota.

Deppe worked over a half-century at the Speedway handling credentials and later other assignments and was one of the last employees dating back to the 1950s. His final race was the United States Grand Prix on June 19. Deppe was 83.

"I've known him since 1996 when I came up here," Chitwood said. "I would go to lunch with he and Robert McInteer (then Speedway safety director). At the lunches, he and McInteer would just go at each other, and I would just laugh. "I think about the people who have been around the Speedway forever. Roger fit into that mode. He would be here whether he needed to be or not. That's how much he loved the Speedway."

Deppe and his wife, Bea, were making their annual summer trek back to his native Minnesota when he suffered an apparent heart attack on the highway in Wisconsin. His wife was not injured.

Deppe came to Indianapolis in 1952 as an engineer with Eli Lilly & Co. He worked with Lilly until his retirement in 1985. His involvement included construction of buildings in Greenfield, Ind., when the pharmaceutical firm expanded its facilities.

He joined the Speedway in the mid-1950s as a part-time assistant to public relations director Al Bloemker handling media credential requests. "Roger was very meticulous, very thorough," said Bill York, IMS Media Center manager who worked with Deppe in the Media Center since 1964. "He had an engineering mentality."

Deppe still was doing media credentials when Gloria Novotney took over credential distribution in 1988. In later years, Deppe was in charge of the pit timing crew for races at IMS.

"He got to know most of the regular media people and knew their needs," said Ron McQueeney, longtime IMS director of photography. "He loved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was a very dedicated employee up to the end, working with the media staff during events at IMS and worked in the museum office daily. While he was 83 years old, he was very active and did not look more than his mid-60s. "Roger's dedication and knowledge of the history will be missed at Indy."

Deppe maintained a desk in the Hall of Fame Museum following his retirement from Lilly and was a familiar figure to most of the Speedway employees and veteran media representatives. At the United States Grand Prix, Deppe helped feed information to foreign radio broadcasters. "Roger was sure a character," said Speedway Archivist Bob Clidinst, whose tenure at IMS goes back to the mid-1940s when his father was a race mechanic.

Clidinst and Deppe often shared duties during races in recent years. Bill Donaldson worked at the Speedway for 19 years, rising to the position of vice president. Deppe worked for him for much of that time. "He was an awfully nice guy," Donaldson said. "Roger was always easygoing, friendly and never seemed to cause any problems. He enjoyed people and enjoyed working for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We used to kid and encourage him to spend more time at his cabin. We'd say, 'What are you doing here?'"

Hailing from Minnesota, Deppe held a deep passion for hockey and developed one for auto racing.

When the Indianapolis Ice were formed to play in the Central Hockey League, York was called in to set up a statistical department. He called on Deppe. "He was the only one that knew anything about hockey," York said. "He handled all the stats."

Deppe could be found many late winter nights at the old Fairgrounds Coliseum running the stats sheets through a copying machine. The Indianapolis Colts moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984. York was called upon again to assemble a press crew. Deppe was handed the credentials assignment and became a recognizable person in the NFL press box over the past 20 years. Deppe was a Navy flier during World War II. He also was a life member of the 500 Oldtimers Club.

"When he turned 80," said Jack Martin, executive director of the 500 Oldtimers, "he didn't have to pay dues anymore. But he wanted to continue paying them and did." Survivors include his wife and sons, David and Paul. Services are pending.

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