GREENFIELD — It was really Tony Stewart who brought them together.

It was 1997, and Stewart was set to make his Indianapolis 500 debut. On opposite sides of the country, two fans who’d never met geared up for the big event. He lived in Rush County; she was in town from California visiting family. Mutual friends introduced them once they arrived at the track that day. And something clicked.

Jennifer and Eric Holmes were married the next year.

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Nineteen years have passed, and the couple now calls Greenfield their home. They always look on race weekend with some fondness, Jennifer Holmes said. It’s just a funny story for them to share, one that still brings a tear to her eye if you catch her at the right moment.

She uprooted her life for that handsome man she met that day — moved to Indiana and never looked back.

“(People) think we’re crazy,” she said.

The Holmeses each grew up watching the Indianapolis 500 on TV or listening to it on the radio each year.

Jennifer Holmes grew up in California, but her family has deep roots in Rushville. Her grandfather was a pastor there at the same church where her husband’s grandfather worked, they learned years later.

Eric Holmes has always called the little town home and knew Tony Stewart — the “Rushville Rocket” — from school, although they were a few years apart.

Paulette Maciel, Jennifer Holmes’ mother, invited her and her then-2-year-old son, Andrew, to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the year she met her husband. Eric Holmes was there with a few friends, and the groups ran into each other at the track.

The bubbly brunette immediately caught Eric Holmes’ eye, he said.

“I knew any girl who liked racing had be interesting,” he said.

They got to talking, and he invited her out to dinner after the race. They visited a pizza place in Rushville around 4 p.m. and couldn’t stop talking. They didn’t leave until after midnight, Jennifer Holmes said.

They chatted about everything, she said: their tastes in music, their families and friends.

Family members say they love to share the story of how the pair ended up together.

Recently, Maciel was on a plane coming back to Indianapolis after a vacation and got to chatting with someone about the upcoming 100th running. She shared the story of her daughter and son-in-law to happy chuckles from those listening on.

Maciel said it’s brought her joy to watch them build a life together.

The Holmeses still listen to the race every year, and they’ve been to the track a few times for qualification races, the couple said. They have six kids and plan to renew their vows next year for their 20th wedding anniversary.

Whenever they visit that pizza shop in Rushville, they try to sit in that same booth they shared years ago, chatting about their futures.

“… It ended up becoming each other,” Jennifer Holmes said.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.