A treasure trove of high-speed automotive history
The 2016 Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 24, will be the 100th running of that epic event and the Speedway is going all out to promote it as the historic occasion that it is. Nowhere is that history more in evidence than in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, located within the Speedway's infield, between turns 1 and 2. The Museum was opened in 1956 and moved into this building in 1975. It houses a collection that includes hundreds of cars, both owned by the Museum and on loan from other sources. Here's a look at some the famous cars that have been displayed there over the past couple years.
The race has already celebrated a 100th anniversary of a sort. The first Indianapolis 500 was held in 1911 so the 2011 race marked 100 years from that beginning. Racing was suspended during part of both World Wars, however, which is why 2016 will be the actual 100th running of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Prominently displayed just inside the museum entrance are the winners of the 1911 and 2011 Indy 500s.
The winner of that first Indianapolis 500 was Ray Haroun in this Marmon Wasp. Haroun, an engineer with the Marmon Motor Car Company who had previously retired from racing, averaged just under 75 mph (120 km/h) for the 500 miles to claim a purse of $10,000. Then he retired again. The Wasp still runs and occasionally makes appearances outside the museum.
Marmon was a local company, based in Indianapolis, that began building cars in 1902. It was one of several early automakers to locate in the Indianapolis area. The race-winning Wasp was developed from the Marmon Model 32 production car. Marmon went on to become a well-regarded maker of luxury cars with highly-engineered aluminum V-12 engines before succumbing during the Great Depression.
Haroun's Marmon Wasp is widely credited with being the first car to incorporate a rear-view mirror. It was a factor in his race win for it allowed him to run without the usual riding mechanic, whose job it was to watch out for other cars, thus enabling a considerable weight savings that translated into speed.
The 2011 Indy 500 winning car was this Dallara Honda, entered by Brian Herta Autosport and driven by Dan Wheldon. His average speed for the race was 170 mph (240 km/h) and the winner's purse was more than $2.5-million.
The two race-winning cars, side-by-side, visually illustrate 100 years of progress, especially in terms of aerodynamics. The 2011 season was the last year of the then-current formula for Indycars, all of which used spec Dallara chassis and non-turbocharged 3.5-litre Honda V-8 race engines.
Since 1936, the Indy 500 winner each year has been presented with the Borg-Warner trophy, commissioned by and named for the Borg-Warner Automotive Company, a supplier to the auto industry. The Speedway Museum is the permanent home of the trophy, which carries a bas-relief image of every winning driver's face. Dan Wheldon's image was added to the trophy for the second time in 2011 - he won previously in 2005 – but, sadly, he was killed in a crash during the season-ending race in Las Vegas later that year.
Here the Borg-Warner trophy is displayed next to a 1927 Duesenberg Model A. Duesenberg, which was another Indianapolis-based automaker, had close ties to the Speedway even before it began producing cars for the public. The Duesenberg brothers, Augie and Fred, first built racing engines and race cars, many of which raced at Indy.
This 1914 Duesenberg race car was one of two entered in that year's Indianapolis 500, One of Duesenberg's drivers was Eddie Rickenbacker, who finished 10th in that race but won a 300-miler at Sioux City, Iowa later that year. He went on to become Americas most famous WWI flying ace and in 1927 he bought the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which he operated until it was closed for WWII. will be part of an Indy car exhibit at the 2016 Canadian International Auto Show.This car will be part of an Indy car exhibit at the 2016 Canadian International Auto Show.
went on to become a World War 1 flying ace
Another Indianapolis-based automaker, Stutz, built its reputation as “The Car That Made Good in a Day” after a prototype finished the full 500 miles to place 11th in the 1911 Indianapolis 500. This 1915 race car is one of a three-car factory team of stripped- down production cars that Stutz campaigned through 1915.
There was racing at the Speedway even before the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911, beginning two years earlier when the track was finished. It was inaugurated with the 250-mile Prest-O-Lite Trophy trophy race, won by Bob Burman, driving a Buick at an average speed of more than 53 mph (85 km/h). Of the nine cars that finished that race, three of them were Buicks.
Jumping ahead a few decades, one of the most recognizable cars in the museum, at least for a certain generation, is this Johnny Lightning Special, which won the 1971 Indy 500, driven by Al Unser (Sr.). It was sponsored by and painted to match a line of Johnny Lightning miniature die-cast toys that competed with Hot Wheels.They were must-have toys!
Unser won the 500 the year before as well, with the first of the Johnny Lightning-branded Parnelli (Jones) Colt Offies. After that initial 500 victory, sales of the Johnny Lightning toy cars were said to increase dramatically.
Of particular interest to Canadians is this Reynard-Ford Cosworth which Jacques Villeneuve drove to victory in the 1995 Indy 500. Although others have come close several times, Villeneuve is the only Canadian driver ever to have won the big race.
As well as the 100th running of the 500, the museum is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of Penske Racing this spring. This McLaren M16B was driven by Mark Donohue to Roger Penske's first Indy 500 win in 1972. Since then, Penske's teams and drivers have won the race 14 more times.
Another famous name in Indy car racing is A.J. Foyt, one of just three drivers, along with Al Unser (Sr.) and Rick Mears, to have won the 500 four times. He drove this Coyote-Ford to his third victory in 1967. The car behind is the 1968 race-winning Eagle-Offenhauser, driven by Bobby Unser, which will be part of an Indy car exhibit at the 2016 Canadian International Auto Show.
Among the most significant cars in the museum is this 1964 Lotus Ford, driven by then F1 World Champion Jimmy Clark. The contrast between it and the traditional Indy roadster in the background illustrates just how dramatic the mid-engine revolution of the early 1960s really was.
Clark didn't win the 1964 race in this Lotus type 34 with Ford four-cam V-8 engine but he did smash the qualifying record with a pole-winning four-lap average of 158.828 mph (256 km/h). A tire failure took him out of the race while in the lead and A.J. Foyt went on to win – the last time ever for a front-engined roadster. Clark came back to win with another Lotus Ford in 1965.
This 1968 Lotus Wedge turbine car, entered by STP mogul Andy Granatelli, was even more revolutionary, in terms of both its aerodynamics and its gas turbine engine. Joe Leonard put the car on the pole and was leading with just nine laps to go when both it and a sister car dropped out with identical fuel-pump driveshaft failures. They were the last turbine-powered cars to race at Indy. But the wedge shape was quickly adopted by other competitors.
The PT6 gas turbine engine, developed and built by Pratt and Whitney Canada, first appeared in the 1967 Indy 500 in a car purpose-built for Andy Granatelli's STP team. It was driven by Parnelli Jones who led most of the race, dropping out with three laps to go due to a transmission bearing failure. After another near-win for the turbine in 1968, even with new regulations to restrict air intake capacity, the rules were changed again to effectively ban the turbine engines. While it never won at Indy, the PT6 went on to become one of the most successful turboprop aircraft engines in history.
Among many Indy engines, successful and less so, scattered throughout the museum is this 1991-92 Alfa Romeo turbocharged 161-cubic inch (2.6-litre) V-8. Installed in Lola chassis and raced by Patrick Racing it was believed to be based on a bootlegged Ilmor-Chevy design but it never achieved the performance or success of that engine.
While the museum typically has 30 or more Indy-winning cars on display, many of the most interesting are non-winners, like this 1972 Parnelli/Offy which was featured in a 2014 display. Designed by F1 designer Maurice Philippe for the Vel's Parneli Jones 'Superteam', with unique dihedral wings, it never raced in this configuration. Pretty as it was, pre-race testing showed that a conventional rear wing was more effective so the V-shaped wings disappeared.
Never truly competitive but always a crowd favourite, the Novi V-8 engine (built in Novi, Michigan) was raced for a couple decades in a variety of chassis during the period when four-cylinder Offenhauser engines were the norm. Fitted with a gear-driven centrifugal supercharger that turned at five times crankshaft speed, it emitted a banshee-like wail, while also producing a basso profundo exhaust note like that of a fighter plane.
This 2005 Panoz Honda was driven by 23-year-old rookie Danica Patrick to fourth place in both qualifying for the Indy 500 and in the race itself. Among the pit-stop shuffles, she led 19 laps of the race, making her the first female driver ever to have led a lap of the Indianapolis 500 under green flag, full racing conditions.
From the reinstatement of racing following WWII until the rear-engine invasion of the 1960s, the traditional front-engined Indy roadsters, built by a number of small American builders such as Kurtiss and Watson, were the established norm. While they did evolve, they did not fundamentally change over that period.
Before the roadsters, many of the Indy racers were developed from or were dirt-track racers, for dirt oval short-tracks were where they raced for the rest of the year. Important as it was, the Indy 500 was a once-a-year race.
Until the arrival of the big factory-backed teams in the '60s and '70s, most of the Indy racers were identified as their sponsors' "Specials." Many of those sponsors weren't big corporations as they later became but relatively local businesses.
The cockpits of most early race cars were tight and sparse accommodations. No computerized, multi-functional steering wheel back then! It's only function was to steer the wheels - and give the driver something to hang onto.
Automakers have been directly involved in the Indy 500 since the very first race and the Marmon Wasp but perhaps never more so than in the 1930s, during what has become derisively known as the "Junk Formula" era. Speedway president Eddie Rickenbacker changed the rules to allow larger, production-based non-racing engines in an attempt to attract manufacturer involvement and make the cars more like those sold to the public. The results were cars like this immaculate 1932 Studebaker Special.
While race cars make up the bulk of the museum's collection, there are production cars there too – most of them with some connection to the race or at least to the state of Indiana. Cars like this 1914 Marmon Roadster, which has both.
This front-wheel-drive 1932 Cord L-29 was not only built in nearby Connersville, Indiana, it was the pace car for the 1932 Indianapolis 500.
Feature displays in the museum change often and it's not unusual for them to include cars on loan from other venues, such as this exotic 1938 Delahaye Type 165 Cabriolet with bodywork by Figoni et Falaschi, from the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles.
A display of sports racing cars included this 1954 Mercedes-Benz W-196 which is one of the most famous racing cars of all time. Juan Manuel Fangio won back-to-back Grand Prix World Championships in 1954 and 1955 in the then-revolutionary W-196s.
This 1956 Chevrolet Corvette SR-2 is one of three built as an extension of Chevrolet's fledgling Sebring race program, which died with the manufacturers' agreement to stop racing in 1957. The first of the three SR-2s ostensibly was built to be raced by Jerry Earl, son of GM styling chief Harley Earl.
While Indy cars are the primary focus of the museum, this significant NASCAR Winston Cup race car was the first of its type added to the collection. It's one of the Pontiac Grand Prix racers driven by NASCAR legend Richard Petty in 1992 - his last season as a driver.
Perhaps the largest vehicle ever displayed in the museum – and one of the most imposing – was Craig Breedlove's 1965 Spirit of America Sonic 1 land-speed record car. Breedlove set a new record of 600.601 mph (966.574 km/h) on November 15, 1965, and it stood until 1970 when it was broken by a rocket-powered car.
The powerful gas turbine engine used in some 1967-68 Indy cars was dwarfed by the GE J79 jet engine from an F-4 Phantom II fighter that propelled the Spirit of America Sonic 1 to a world land-speed record.
There's something for everybody to see at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and that includes kids. It's a popular destination for school class tours.
Sometimes there's even a chance for kids to get hands on, and feet too, in what might be the ultimate kiddy car!
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