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.
My dad was a riding mechanic and finished 10th in 1937 in a Studebaker, No. 53. Could this be the same Studebaker Indy car in the museum?—John Peck, via Facebook
One never knows who we might hear from! Your dad was obviously Jack Peck and we believe the answer to your question is “yes.” Although five of those Rigling & Henning-bodied cars were built for Studebaker in 1932, the understanding has always been that the 10th-place finisher in 1937 was the same one Cliff Bergere had driven to third in its debut. Four of the five were re-bodied for 1933 and then all sold off when Studebaker elected to stop racing at the end of that year. The Bergere car apparently remained pretty close to home because it was still South Bend-owned when the S.S. Engineering Co. entered it as the Sobonite Plastics Special for the very colorful Louis Tomei in 1937. Tomei, who drove in 10 races (eight starts and two more as a relief driver) was a longtime Hollywood stuntman who died in a speedboat accident in 1955 during the filming of “Hell On Frisco Bay”, starring Alan Ladd.
Can you elaborate on the proposed road course that was part of the original plans for the Speedway when it was first constructed?—Mike Zoeller, via Facebook
Indeed, a road course was part of the original plans but it was never completed (if even started), mainly due to the problems with the laying down of the 2½-mile oval section. There seems to have been two or three versions proposed, the most commonly known one depicted on a postcard, which in spite of being well over 100 years old still surfaces from time to time and is known to be in a number of private collections. In fact, there was a period about a dozen years ago when eight or 10 per year would surface in various states around the country, although that rate has since slowed way down.
The proposal was that the infield section would commence with a left-hand turn a short way down the backstretch and then wind back and forth a couple of times through the infield, rejoining the backstretch just a few yards north of where the infield excursion had begun. The inclusion of this would increase the distance of a full lap to five miles.
Track founder Carl Fisher, whose brain was always leaping from one grand idea to the next, fantasized about landing both the Vanderbilt Cup and the American Grand Prize events for this circuit, envisioning the spectators on the main straight entertained throughout the day by having cars whiz by in front of them as well as behind. All of this was soon to be forgotten, however, with the trials and tribulations of laying the oval and it was not until around Christmas 1998 that an infield road course finally began to take shape.