Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson has been the expert on the history of the Racing Capital of the World since he arrived in Central Indiana in the mid-1960s. Now 2010 Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Davidson is answering your questions periodically in this blog!
Q: With the Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP race approaching, I find myself wondering if any Indiana-built (or even Indianapolis-built) motorcycles ever raced or were tested at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
—Scott Smith, Brownsburg, Ind.
A: It turns out that there were actually several motorcycle companies in Indiana in the early days, but as with the majority of the automobile firms, they were short-lived, typically lasting only a year or two. Certainly none ever was tested at the track in the early days, the only makes participating in the seven events held during the one and only day of actual competition—Aug, 14, 1909—being Indian, Harley-Davidson, NSU, Excelsior, Reading Standard, Peugeot, Merkel, Minneapolis and Thor.
Q: I am in a discussion with an old friend about a certain Indianapolis 500 qualifying day, probably in the ’80s or early ’90s. I can remember going to the track and experiencing a freak snowstorm. Can anyone else remember such an incident?
—Jim Young, Lapel, Ind.
A: I believe you may be thinking of the bitterly cold opening day in 1989, when a handful of snowflakes were blowing around as Arie Luyendyk was taking the first ceremonial laps of the month.
Q: In a YouTube video, Johnny Rutherford claims that he is one of only nine drivers who raced in both front-engine and rear engine cars at the “500.” With the help of a friend, and without trying all that hard, we’ve come up with 20: Rutherford, A.J. Foyt, Bobby Unser, Roger McCluskey, Eddie Sachs, Lloyd Ruby, Ronnie Duman, Rodger Ward, Parnelli Jones, Bobby Marshman, Gordon Johncock, Len Sutton, Johnny Boyd, Bill Cheesbourg, Bud Tingelstad, Bobby Grim, Jim McElreath, Don Branson, Bob Harkey and Chuck Rodee.
—Bill McIlwain, via e-mail
A: Johnny was referring to living drivers, of which there are only eight, rather than nine, the other seven being Foyt, Jones, Bobby Unser, Johncock, McElreath, Harkey and one you didn’t have, Chuck Hulse, who was in attendance at this year’s “500.” Of those who are deceased, you can add nine more: Jim Hurtubise, Duane Carter, Chuck Stevenson, Eddie Johnson, Bob Veith, Arnie Knepper and three more “foolers.” Don’t forget that a handful of rear-engined cars ran in the years immediately surrounding World War II, thus expanding the total list of names to 30 with the addition of George Bailey, Al Miller (the original) and George Barringer.
Q: I heard the story that Jimmy (Bryan) walked up to the Pontiac Pace Car (after winning the 1958 “500″) and drove it back to the rooming house in Speedway where he was staying. Is that true?
—Lee Robison, via e-mail
A: Not quite. He was not presented with the keys to the pace car until the Victory Banquet the following evening. In fact, Jimmy and his wife were dropped off at the house a couple of hours after the race by a friend, Jimmy still dressed in his yellow Belond uniform. It had been a bittersweet victory because he had learned in Victory Lane what he had feared might be so during almost four grueling hours of driving in the race — that his close friend Pat O’Connor had perished in a multicar first-lap accident. While Mrs. Bryan went on into the house, the new winner chose instead to lie down in the front yard and contemplate the day by hanging out with his host’s two teenaged sons and their dog, the pedestrian homeward-bound race fans being completely unaware that the fellow lying there in the yellow uniform was the winner of the very race that they had been attending all day.
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