500 facts: pop culture 

The race in movies and video games — and celeb attendees

click to enlarge 500facts_webheaders18.jpg

419. James A. Murphy was the first 500 winner to make a screen appearance.

Murphy, who started the 500 five times and won the 1922 race, appeared in the silent feature Racing Hearts in 1923 "to add authenticity," according to the NY Times.

420. The 1929 film Speedway may be the oldest surviving feature shot at Indy.

We cut to imdb.com for more:

According to contemporary newspaper reports, the cast and crew filmed scenes on location in Indianapolis for three weeks. The main cast did much of their own driving at the actual Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The film — the last silent movie for MGM star William Haines — also includes footage of the 1929 race, including a fatal crash.

421 The same footage from the Brickyard was used in two different movies in the 1930s, one starring James Cagney.

Cagney played driver "Joe Greer" in the 1932 flick The Crowd Roars (co-starring Joan Blondell and directed by Howard Hawks), and apparently some of the same racing footage was lifted for the 1939 film Indianapolis Speedway — a word–for-word remake of the Cagney picture. Speedway's also notable for some shots that suggest Indy has some waterfront property on the Pacific. Thanks, guys!

422. Amelia Earhart attended the '35 race.

Earhart had joined the faculty of Purdue as a visiting member that year. She would disappear in 1937 attempting to circumnavigate the globe via the air.

423. One of Jimmy Stewart's earliest starring roles was partially set at the 500.

The 1936 rom-drama Speed includes Indy footage.

424. 500 footage also shows up in the Mickey Rooney flick The Big Wheel.

This 1939 picture also includes a mention of Wilbur Shaw.

425. For a time, the Borg-Warner company flew in Hollywood actresses to appear in Victory Lane.

The first was Carole Landis in 1947, the last would be Erin O'Brien, who hugged winner Rodger Ward in '59.


426. Clark Gable turned up at Indy during the shooting of To Please a Lady.

Gable's 1950 flop about a midget-car driver saw Gable doing promo appearances at the Speedway. Gable became quite the fan.

427. To Please a Lady included footage of the '50 500.

It also included Joie Chitwood driving the No. 17 car, and Mauri Rose turns up in one shot.

428. James Garner was a big Indy fan.

Garner, who started coming to the track during his time on the TV show Maverick (1957-1962) saw racing at Indy through his Rockford days and on into the 2000s.

429. A.J. Foyt met Ray Harroun in 1961 when the pair was sent to New York by Tony Hulman to appear on the TV quiz show What's My Line?

Foyt told some guy named Ed Wenck during a May 2011 interview on WIBC that A.J. asked Harroun one question: When do you know it's time to retire? "He says, 'Well, it'll just come to you.'"

430. The Beatles stayed at the old Speedway Motel in 1964.

After their two shows at the Fairgrounds on September 3, 1964, fans heard that the band would be staying at the Essex House Hotel downtown. The Fab Four's management, fearing for the band's safety, moved the group to the Speedway Motel. The band was photographed clowning around on the golf course and was eventually given a ride around the track in a Cadillac, according to George Harrison.

431. The film Winning opens with a wreck from a '60s-era 500.

AJ Foyt's in the shot from this Paul Newman flick; Bobby Unser also makes a cameo, and some scenes were shot at Indianapolis Raceway Park.

432.Winning also may have sparked Newman's interest in racing.

Although it's been debated, Newman's fascinating with motorsports may have been inspired by this role. In any event, Newman's interest was at least cemented by his turn here, and he became a notable driver in his own right. Winning, however, was far from a hit. Quentin Tarantino: "I'd rather saw my fingers off than sit through that again."

433. An Indy-themed story called "The Pacer" is featured in the August, 1968 issue No. 91 of Hot Rods and Racing Cars from Charlton Comics.

Now available in a reprint collection from ACE Comics, the capsule reads: "It's the final day for qualifying at Indy! Hugh Hightower was determined to make the starting field of 33 cars! After turning in a brilliant first lap at 168.3 mph, he drifted too far out, hurtled in the air and bounced off the concrete! Is his misfortune an opportunity for Clint Curtis?" This book (No. 91) would've cost you 12 cents if you'd bought it in '68.

434. The first home Indy 500 video game was released on Sept. 11, 1977.

Atari introduced its "2600" home gaming console along with nine gaming cartridges, one of which was the insanely primitive "Indy 500" title.

click to enlarge Indy's mountains are AWESOME. - ATARI 2600 GAME, 1977
  • Indy's mountains are AWESOME.
  • Atari 2600 game, 1977

435. Janet Guthrie was part of the "Supersisters" trading card set released in 1979.

The cards — a reaction to the preponderance of male figures on trading cards — featured accomplished women from all walks of life. Guthrie, posing with her No. 51 Texaco car, appears on card No. 53, sequentially just after Hoosier Jane Pauley's card, No. 52. There were 72 cards in all.

436. Indianapolis 500: The Simulation marked a breakthrough in racing video games.

This 1989 first-person computer game leaned on actual physics and telemetry for what's regarded as the first true expression of "sim" racing. Unlike arcade style games, a proper line was required and wrecks and blowouts could take the driver completely out of the game.

437. The Indianapolis 500 pinball machine appeared in 1995.

Midway/Bally was responsible for the device.

438. Sarah Fisher had a fake Nickelodeon "sponsorship" in 2003.

Sarah Fisher and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team were looking for sponsorship, and Sarah's crew always said they'd do anything to help. She told them that they had a chance to get sponsorship money from Nickelodeon and SpongeBob SquarePants. She said that a Nickelodeon crew wanted to shoot footage of the team working on her car wearing SpongeBob attire, which just happened to be SpongeBob SquarePants boxer shorts and white T-shirts. 

The crew members agreed and IMS Productions filmed Sarah's crew working on her race car in the SpongeBob boxer shorts.

When they finished filming in the garage, Sarah told them they needed one more shot to show that they were at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The crew agreed to walk through the garage in full view of the other teams and pose in front of the timing and scoring pylon.

She had the crew practice saying together in front of the camera, "Hi, we're the No. 23 SpongeBob SquarePants team." When crew couldn't get it right, she held up a sign that said "Gotcha — you're on Speedway Spoofs." When the crew read the sign, they chased her. No word on how they got her back.

— Nora Spitznogle

439 Helio Castroneves won the 2007 edition (season five) of ABC's reality show Dancing with the Stars.

Not to diminish his achievement, but the man was dancing with Julianne Hough, for God's sake. A vacuum cleaner could've won the thing, amirite?

440. Jack Nicholson wouldn't come off the crow's nest after waving the green flag in 2011.

Nicholson got such a buzz off waving the start that he stayed above the track for several restarts.

441. An IndyCar was parked in the Dreamworks studio during the production of the 2013 cartoon feature Turbo.

It's easier to animate an object when you can look at the real thing.


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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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