500 facts: after the "Great War" 

The track was dark for the first World War

click to enlarge 500facts_webheaders9.jpg

207. The Indy 500 wasn't the Indy 500 in 1919.

The first race after the end of World War I brought a new name: the race became the "Liberty Sweepstakes."

208. Howdy Wilcox first broke triple-digits in 1919.

Wilcox qualified with a speed of 100.01 mph in the first race after the Great War.

209. 1919 also saw the first 100-plus mph pole-sitter.

Rene Thomas qualified with a speed of 104.780 mph.

210. Three men died during the '19 race.

Driver Arthur Thurman was killed in a wreck in the first quarter of the race, and driver Louis LeCocq (who was from Iowa, despite his international-sounding name) and his riding mechanic Robert Bandini perished when a blown tire sent their car into the wall and ruptured their fuel tank. The car exploded.

211. A Chevrolet won in 1920.

Not the engine or chassis, but the driver: Gaston Chevrolet was the younger brother of Louis, founder of the car company.

212. Jimmy Murphy was the first pole sitter to win the 500 in 1922.

Murphy — who won the French Grand Prix the previous year — qualified first with a speed of 100.5 mph and won the race after leading 153 laps.

213. Cliff Durant was the 100th driver to complete the 500.

Durant finished 12th in 1922.

214. The top five finishers in  1922 all averaged over 90 mph.

The '22 race was speedy for its day — winner Jimmy Murphy averaged 94.484.

215. Drivers were allowed to fly solo in 1923.

The riding mechanic requirement was scrapped from the rules for the '23 sweepstakes, only to be reinstated by Eddie Rickenbacker a few years later.

216. But if you really wanted company, it was allowed.

Riding mechanics were optional from'23-'29.

217. The Indiana General Assembly tried to block the race from its Memorial Day run in 1923

A bill banning non-amateur sporting events on the actual holiday was passed by the state legislature, only to be vetoed by the Governor, Warren McCray.

Gov Warren McRay, race fan. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Gov Warren McRay, race fan.
  • Wikimedia Commons

218. Bert Shoup was the first spectator killed during the 500.

When Tom Alley's car plowed through the wall on the 22nd lap in 1923, 16-year-old Shoup was fatally injured. Two other spectators who were injured survived.

219. Wilbur Shaw was one of the earliest drivers to trade his leather headgear for a helmet.

Shaw put a helmet on in 1923 after fracturing his skull, and by 1932 he'd be wearing a helmet behind the wheel at Indy.

220. But Rickenbacker had a steel brain bucket that he'd used as early as 1916.

"I don't know if he used it in the race or not," notes Donald Davidson. "There was a man from Monaco named Louis Chiron that had one in 1929, but the first one that really got attention was Wilbur Shaw's polo helmet in 1932. The other drivers were laughing at him, but one by one others started to use them."

221. Two men won the 1924 500.

Nope, it wasn't a tie — when L.L. Corum was spelled by Joe Boyer, Boyer went on to take the checkered. Since both men had run the winning "supercharged" Duesenberg, they were both awarded laurels. There would only be one more set of co-winners in 500 history, Floyd Davis and Mauri Rose in 1941.

222. And Corum was the only man who won without leading a lap

Nora Spitznogle explains:

On lap 111 he was replaced by driver Joe Boyer who had to give up his own car to jump in Lora's. Joe Boyer was doing well in the race until his car broke on lap 111. Lora was running in fourth and team owner Fred Duesenberg wasn't happy. He called Lora in and replaced him with the Joe. Joe worked his way up and took the lead on lap 177 ... Traditionally relief drivers did not get credit, but in this case they were awarded the joint win.

223. Earl Cooper cracked 110 mph in the 1925 quals.

Cooper was running a Miller engine.

224. And the field's average was over 100 for quals that year too.

IMS tells us that the 1925 field average was 104.488 mph.

225. Pete DePaolo became the first driver to average more than 100 mph for the entire race.

DePaolo, driving a supercharged Duesenberg, notched an average of 101.1 for the entire 500 miles in 1925.

226. And the 1925 race featured the 100th lead change.

Peter DePaolo passed Phil Shafer on Lap 68.

click to enlarge Pete DaPaolo, first driver to average more than 100 mph for the entire race. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Pete DaPaolo, first driver to average more than 100 mph for the entire race.
  • Wikimedia Commons

227. Dale Lewis took second place in a front-wheel drive car in 1925.

The idea had been Jimmy Murphy's, winner of the '22 500. The motor — mounted with a transverse transmission — powered the car without the need for a differential, which reduced the car's weight considerably. Although Murphy never drove a front-wheel-drive car at Indy — he died in 1924 — the idea would become an Indy staple for years, and find its way into the consumer market.

228. Herb Jones was the first driver to die during quals.

Jones rolled his car during the 1926 time trials and died from his injuries a day after the wreck.

229. Frank Lockhart won the first rain-shortened 500.

Rain washed out the 1926 race after 160 laps (400 miles), and Lockhart — who had a two-lap lead — was awarded the victory.

230. Speedway became its own town in July of 1926.

Speedwayin.gov says: "The entire Indianapolis Motor Speedway is actually located within the limits of the Town of Speedway. The town is a separate governmental unit within Indianapolis with its own town council, police department, fire department, street department" and so on — school system, too.

231. The 120 mph barrier was broken in 1927.

Frank Lockhart qualified with a speed of 120.546. Like Cooper, he was powered by a Miller motor.

232. The entire field qualified at over 100 in 1927.

Not an average — that was a first for Indy.

233. Norm Batten drove part of a lap standing up in 1927.

Norm was hailed as a hero when during the 1927 Indy 500, he (literally) took a hot lap on the track. His car caught fire on the main straight and he drove (standing up!) the full length of the straightaway, steering the blazing car away from the pits and crowd, jumping from the running car only after he was past the pits.   

— Nora Spitznogle


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Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck has been writing for NUVO (as well as several other Indiana publications) for nearly 20 years while moonlighting as a radio host. He became Managing Editor of NUVO in 2013. He's authored four books and also reports for WISH-TV's Boomer TV program.

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