May 21, 2024

Indy 500 'Quilt Lady' leaves lasting legacy at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Friends and family of Jeanetta Holder recently presented Josef Newgarden with his winners quilt. - Jill Sheridan / WFYI

Friends and family of Jeanetta Holder recently presented Josef Newgarden with his winners quilt.

Jill Sheridan / WFYI

A longtime tradition at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is coming to an end.

Jeanetta Holder, known in Gasoline Alley as the Quilt Lady, died at age 91 last year. Holder had presented hand-stitched quilts to Indy 500 winners since 1976.

Family and friends of Holder were recently able to present her last checkered creation – to 2023 winner Josef Newgarden.

"That's what Indy is built off of is the traditions. So I feel incredibly honored to receive this quilt and will cherish it," Newgarden said.

Newgarden said Holder's last quilt will have a special place in his home.

Johnny Rutherford was the first winner to receive a quilt from Holder, who was born on an Indianapolis 500 race day in 1932. In recent years health issues made it more difficult for Holder to finish her custom made quilts. 

In 2015, Holder told WFYI she had had a health setback but was still able to complete the quilt for Ryan Hunter Reay.

"I was really in bad shape and I fell," Holder said, "but the good Lord gave me my arm back.”

Holder's adopted son Kelly Bailey said a mixup in the schedule last year meant Holder was unable to present Newgarden with his quilt the day after the race.  Bailey said he wished she could have been there at the recent gifting.

“Today was an emotional day for me because driving in here, she and I would be doing this,” Bailey said. “It was tough.”

Bailey said Holder was a race car driver herself.  That’s where her love of the sport started.

"She was one of the very first lady racecar drivers back in the early 50s," Bailey said. "There were a couple times she put the car on its roof and survived it with no injuries."

Holder had autographs of all winners that she would stitch onto the blankets, each of which had a unique design.

Her longtime friend Belynda Johnston, who also quilts, said she’ll miss getting a sneak peak of Holder's masterpieces.

“She actually would bring the quilt down to my house and we would take pictures of it before,” Johnston said.

Holder also quilted blankets for celebrities, and at least one president.

Contact WFYI city government and policy reporter Jill Sheridan at


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