Ask Donald Davidson: Flagging the field and rain-shortened races

Published On July 1, 2015 » 2396 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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When did they first start flagging in the rest of the field after the winner had taken the checkered flag? — @nickpapandria, via Twitter

From the very beginning (1911) until 1963, the policy was always to let as many cars as was reasonable complete the entire 500 miles with the standard being at least 10, regardless of how long it took. Ebb Rose in 1963, for instance, completed the full 500 miles to place 14th, but he received the checkered something like 17 minutes after Parnelli Jones had won the race. Longtime listeners to the worldwide IMS radio broadcast well remember hearing the winner being interviewed in Victory Lane while cars were still roaring by in the background on their way to trying to finish seventh or ninth or whatever it was.

Ebb Rose, driver of one of the "other" Sheraton-Thompson Specials in 1963, finished on the lead lap but long after winner Parnelli Jones. A.J. Foyt was third in a Sheraton-Thompson car.

Ebb Rose, driver of one of the “other” Sheraton-Thompson Specials in 1963, finished on the lead lap but long after winner Parnelli Jones. A.J. Foyt was third in a Sheraton-Thompson car.

In 1964, with ABC’s “live” television coverage still being more than 20 years away, an arrangement was made with MCA for providing “closed circuit” coverage whereby the “500” could be seen in selected theatres and other auditoriums around the country. One of MCA’s requests was that the winner could be interviewed on the main straight shortly after the Victory Lane ceremonies had been concluded, thus requiring that all of the other cars would have to be flagged in as soon as possible. A yell of protest went up from J.R. “Dick” McGeorge, the very colorful public relations director for the Champion Spark Plug Company. The highly cherished “Champion 100 MPH Club” was still very much a part of the scene at the time, with any driver able to complete the entire 500 miles at a speed of greater than 100 mph and without the aid of a relief driver being formally inducted into this very exclusive organization at a dinner a few nights before the following year’s “500.” Flagging in everybody after the winner had taken the flag, protested McGeorge, would result in only a couple of drivers realistically having an opportunity to earn membership into the organization. Although he pleaded for at least 10 minutes of additional running, the ruling for 1964 was five minutes only, the result being that the greatest number of drivers to complete 200 laps over the next nine years was six in 1968.

Even after the Champion 100 MPH Club quietly went by the wayside following the passing of McGeorge in 1970, the “five-minute” procedure remained in effect. Shortly after Johnny Rutherford took the checkered flag to win in 1974, a number of well-meaning race fans climbed over the Turn 3 infield fence and ran out to the edge of the track in order to salute “J.R.” as he rolled by on his “cool off” laps. With others still at speed and striving to complete their own personal version of 500 miles, officials, for reasons of safety, had starter Pat Vidan throw the red and checkered flags simultaneously, thus ending the race about three minutes after Rutherford had won. During the winter it was determined that the five-minute rule no longer served any particular purpose and so henceforth, the “500” would conclude in the same fashion as all other races, specifically that each car following the winner would be shown the checkered flag and then be required to return to the pits after a “cool off” lap. Although this was to have gone into effect in 1975, both the 1975 and 1976 races were ended prematurely by rain, and so it was not until 1977 that the current procedure could finally be implemented.

How many “500” races have been shortened due to rain? – Justin Creech, via Facebook

Several were stopped because of rain and restarted, but of those which were declared “official” short of the full distance, the answer is seven: 1926, 1950, 1973, 1975, 1976, 2004 and 2007.

Dario Franchitti was a very wet -- but happy -- champion in the most recent rain-shortened "500."

Dario Franchitti was a very wet — but happy — champion in the most recent rain-shortened “500.”


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.