Ask Donald Davidson: 500 miles and no pit stops? Yes.

Published On October 21, 2015 » 2685 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History

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How many drivers have completed the full 500 miles without making a single pit stop?T. Sullivan, Beech Grove, Indiana

There have been four of those, starting with Dave Evans and the Cummins Diesel Special in 1931.

It was not until 1965 that any pit stops were required at all, with two being mandated for that first year, and four being required shortly thereafter for the next several years. With a substantial modification to specifications for 1930 in an attempt to encourage the return of the automobile manufacturers to racing, Cummins Engine Company of Columbus, Indiana, decided to prepare an entry for 1931. A huge diesel truck engine was placed in a specially-built, beefed-up Duesenberg chassis, and because Clessie Cummins was concerned that the car might not be able to qualify fast enough to make the field (40 cars that year instead of 33) a special concession was made whereby the diesel would be included in the field regardless of its speed providing it could turn a four-lap qualifying run in excess of 80 mph. Driver Dave Evans made it with plenty to spare at 96.871 mph. He was out there for about five and three-quarter grueling hours, averaging just over 86 mph, consuming 31 gallons of crude oil and taking the checkered flag in 13th position about 38 minutes after Louis Schneider had won the race.

Dave Evans didn't come close to winning in 1931, but claimed a unique "500" first in running a stop-free race.

Dave Evans didn’t come close to winning in 1931, but claimed a unique “500” first in running a stop-free race.

The next non-stop runner came a decade later in 1941. Cliff Bergere was one of three drivers on the Lou Moore team that year, master strategist Moore having long since chosen to use less exotic fuels and give up horsepower in return for better fuel mileage with the result that Floyd Roberts had been able to win for him in 1938 with only one stop. For 1941, Moore and Bergere decided to take it one stage further and use an extra-large tank in an attempt at going the distance without stopping at all. They succeeded, but not with the result they had envisioned. When two-time defending winner Wilbur Shaw spun and hit the Turn 1 wall on lap 152, Bergere did assume the lead but he was already slowing down, deeply affected by the inhalation of fumes swirling around in the cockpit. He never did give up, but by the time he mercifully completed the distance, he had fallen to fifth position and was barely hanging on.

The final two non-stoppers were Jimmy Jackson and Johnny Mantz in 1949, finishing sixth and seventh respectively, while Duke Dinsmore came close to joining them, forced out by a broken radius rod after a non-stop run of 174 laps.

As late as 1951, winner Lee Wallard was able to get by with only one pit stop but as the speeds increased and tire wear became more of an issue, second and third stops soon became necessary. A three-stop race was typical by 1963 when Scotland’s Jim Clark pulled a surprise with a stock-block Ford-powered rear-engined Lotus, finishing second with only one. And Rookie of the Year Johnny White came home fourth in 1964 with only one stop for replenishments in this the final year before major overhaul to the regulations put an end to non-stop runs.

Two years before Jim Clark's watershed win in a Lotus, he was a runner-up in '63 in a Lotus that took just one stop.

Two years before Jim Clark’s watershed win in a Lotus, he was a runner-up in ’63 in a Lotus that took just one stop.


About The Author

Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.