Ask Donald Davidson: Talking brakes and tires

Published On October 22, 2014 » 2631 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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Bill Vukovich's famous 1952 Kurtis-Offy was also notable for its brakes.

Bill Vukovich’s famous 1952 Kurtis-Offy was also notable for its brakes.

When was the first race in which the cars began implementing the use of disc brakes rather than the less-efficient drum brakes? – Maximilian McClain Finnegan, via Facebook

My understanding is that the first use of disc brakes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway took place in 1949 when the very progressive co-chief mechanics of Howard Keck’s team – Frank Coon and Jim Travers – used disc brakes on the front-drive car driven by Jimmy Jackson. It finished sixth. Both Ted Halibrand and the Conze brothers then began to adapt the small, lightweight “spot” brakes for Indianapolis, the Halibrand version appearing on the famous 1952 Keck entry, the Bill Vukovich-driven Kurtis/Offy which was the first of the so-called “roadsters.” There was a claim in Europe in mid-June of 1953 that use of disc brakes on the C-Type Jaguar driven to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans constituted the first victory of any major race in the world by such a setup, but the reality is that the Jaguar victory came almost one month after Vukovich had won the 1953 “500” with Halibrand’s product.

Do you have any documentation on IMS buying tires prior to the Depression from Haywood Tire and Rubber in Indianapolis? This was my great-grandfather’s company and I understand he supplied tires for the “500.” – Chuck White, via Facebook

A: I wouldn’t think so, unless your great-grandfather’s company had a connection with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Although a number of tire brands were used in the very beginning, some teams simply used the tires that came supplied with stripped-down passenger cars they were racing, a tire manufacturer conceivably not even being aware that their product was being raced. It wasn’t long, however, before Firestone was pretty much the only company still involved, and after English Dunlop tires were used on the cars driven by foreign visitors Louis Chiron and Jules Moriceau in 1929, no company other than Firestone was represented until Dunlop returned on Jack Brabham’s Cooper in 1961. In spite of being the only game in town for a while, Firestone was always heavily committed with its Racing Division represented at all the major events and vigorous tire testing conducted at IMS throughout each summer. So any involvement your great-grandfather would have had out at the track would likely have been supporting the factory effort.

Jules Moriceau drove on Dunlop tires in the 1929 Indianapolis 500, which weren't seen again until ...

Jules Moriceau drove on Dunlop tires in the 1929 Indianapolis 500, which weren’t seen again until …

... the Jack Brabham-driven Cooper-Climax car in 1961.

… the Jack Brabham-driven Cooper-Climax car in 1961.



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.