Ask Donald Davidson: From first to worst, commands and the Knox Automobile Co.

Published On June 8, 2016 » 2409 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

Do you have a question for Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson? Ask via Twitter with the hashtag #AskDonald or on Facebook. For previous editions of “Ask Donald Davidson,” click here.

Other than Juan Pablo Montoya (this year), has a “500” winner ever finished last the year after winning? — @CPMski, via Twitter

Yes, that has happened twice before. In defense of his 1958 win, Jimmy Bryan was unable to get his car in gear upon the call to fire the engines in 1959, and after pulling to the inside of Turn 1, where his crew worked diligently for several minutes, he finally joined the race in-progress for two very slow laps before pulling back in to retire for good. A couple of decades later, after being declared the winner when the rain-soaked 1976 affair was finally called official after 102 laps, Johnny Rutherford ended his three-year run of finishing first, second and first when a gearbox failure at Lap 12 in 1977 relegated him to a dead-last 33rd.

Johnny Rutherford wasn't long for the 1977 "500," one year after his second win.

Johnny Rutherford wasn’t long for the 1977 “500,” one year after his second win.

Other than for Jim Nabors, when was the last time anyone other than a member of the Hulman-George family gave the command to start the engines? — @GregCriser, via Twitter

Prior to 2014, when Mari Hulman George asked Jim Nabors to join her, one has to go all the way back to 1954 when retired three-time “500” winner Wilbur Shaw, then IMS President and General Manager, delivered the command for his final time. He was to perish five months later in a private plane crash near Decatur, Indiana, while returning from a trip to Detroit, after which Tony Hulman assumed the duties.

Mari Hulman George and Jim Nabors teamed up to issue the command in 2014.

Mari Hulman George and Jim Nabors teamed up to issue the command in 2014.

In one of the very early Indianapolis 500s, there was a driver with the last name of Knox. Do you know anything about him (full name, where he was from, etc.)? — Jeanine Easom Williams, via Facebook

There was never a “500” driver by that name, but the Knox Automobile Company from Springfield, Massachusetts, certainly had an entry in the first two years, completing the full 500 miles both times. Fred Belcher led four laps during the early stages of the 1911 event and went on to finish ninth, utilizing John Coffey as a relief driver, while 1911 runner-up Ralph Mulford took over for 1912 and finished 10th.

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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.
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