The Indianapolis 500 is one big Memory Lane for Gary Morris.
“Where I grew up, the Indianapolis 500 was part of your culture, part of your life,” said the 1975 graduate.
Growing up in Monrovia, Ind., he recalls spending Memorial Day weekends at his grandmother’s house, where they’d have a big picnic and listen to the 500.
He attended his first race in 1969 when he was 16. And while at Indiana State, he and his Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers started an annual tradition that continues to this day, including sitting in the same seats as they did in the ’70s.
So the 100th running has both personal and professional meaning for Morris, who is president and chief operating officer of Clabber Girl, the brand that helped usher in the modern era of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Personally, it’s pretty cool. I never thought the first time I went into that race that many years later I would be working for the family that owns the track or this business,” Morris said. “So, it’s like a kid in a candy shop. You have to pinch yourself sometimes.”
Hulman & Company was founded in Terre Haute in 1850, and started a wholesale grocery business eight years later. They began manufacturing baking powder in 1899, introducing the Clabber Girl brand — named after bakers who used clabbered milk as a quick leavener — in 1923.
Tony Hulman Jr. acquired the Speedway in 1945 as a venue to further promote the Clabber Girl brand, which was being nationally distributed by that time.
“The respect for history and culture and how this company started here in Terre Haute by the Hulman family has remained the same,” Morris said. “The Clabber Girl label is still the label that you saw back in the ’20s.”
As modern conveniences and dining options have increased, however, the number of people who cook from scratch everyday has sharply decreased. Clabber Girl has responded by diversifying and innovating. A large part of their business is still manufacturing leavening — although now for large-scale food companies — and they sell high-quality food service products such as Royal puddings, gelatins and cheesecakes to restaurants, hospitals and schools. Clabber Girl has also developed microencapsulation capabilities that protect food particles from premature chemical reactions.
“All businesses, whether it’s the Indianapolis 500 or Clabber Girl, have to remain relevant to the customer, because customer bases change. Who is that customer, what do they need and what are they going to be looking for you to provide in the next generation? That’s always the challenge — how do you get better? We want to make sure this business is a relevant business going forward for the next 100 years,” Morris said.
Partnerships with its neighbor Indiana State are also a mainstay. The day Morris was interviewed, for instance, the Clabber Girl Bake Shop and company headquarters was hosting an event for the men’s and women’s track teams and a College of Technology retreat. The Scott College of Business enjoys numerous collaborations — or “Clabberations” — for logistics, accounting and other class projects.
Numerous Sycamore internships have translated into permanent positions, and all but one of their current bake shop employees are State students. The one holdout is a high school student, so there’s still a chance.
Race Day Recipes
In honor of the food and festivities surrounding its sister company’s centennial running of the Indianapolis 500, Clabber Girl is publishing a new cookbook, “Brickyard to Backyard: Remembering Recipes from Race Days Past.”
“It’s a really great mix of people, race memories and recipes. It’s not just desserts or baking. It’s things that you would have at a backyard BBQ party or at your tailgate,” said Megan Pence, executive director of marketing and public relations. It’s also filled with pictures and memories from employees, race fans, drivers and owners of the Indy 500, she said.
For more information, call 812-232-9446.