Ask Donald Davidson: Native Hoosier champions and grandstand lettering

Published On November 18, 2015 » 2321 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Uncategorized

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.

Today, Donald answers a couple of questions he hears all the time.

How many Indianapolis 500 winners were actually born in Indiana?

Well, the total is seven, but it has been a quite a while since the last one, the most recent being 1937, ’39 and ‘40 winner Wilbur Shaw, who was born in Shelbyville.

The first Hoosier winner was Joe Dawson (1912), who while frequently listed as having been born in Indianapolis, was actually from Odon, a couple of hours drive southwest in Daviess County.

Next came 1919 winner Howdy Wilcox, who lived most of his life in Indianapolis but was born in Crawfordsville.

The last native Hoosier "500" champion: Wilbur Shaw, 1940.

The last native Hoosier “500” champion: Wilbur Shaw, 1940.

L.L. Corum, co-winner in 1924, is another who is often listed as being born in the capital city but in fact first saw the light of day in tiny Jonesville, just south of Columbus in Bartholomew County.

George Souders, 1927 winner, was a Lafayette native who attended Lafayette Jefferson High School and later Purdue University, where he was an undergraduate.

A pair of Indianapolis born-and-bred champions followed, 1931 victor Louis Schneider and 1934 winner Bill Cummings both being local products. Schneider, a one-time Indianapolis motorcycle policeman, was the son of a tailor whose business was located just matter of yards from Monument Circle, while Cummings later claimed that, as a youngster, he could hear the sounds of the cars running at the track while he played with his toys in the backyard of the family home not far from the Marmon factory at Kentucky and West Morris Street.

For a number of years, there was yet another supposed Hoosier who came after Wilbur Shaw, but this was finally discounted when it came to light that 1960 winner Jim Rathmann, a habitual prankster, was really born in Los Angeles rather than Valparaiso, Indiana, as he had once claimed. That misinformation dated back to 1949 when he first drove in the “500,” aged only 20, but claiming to be several years older and listing Valparaiso on his application because that is where his parents had resided at the time he said he was born!

I have never understood the lettering system for the grandstands. Stand “A” is next to “B,” but then comes “E,” while north of the Paddock, grandstands “J,” “H” and “C” are next to each other, but “G” is all the way over at the entrance to Turn 2. Help!

The designation dates back to the order in which the originals were built 100-plus years ago, grandstand “A” being the first to go up, followed by “B,” “C,” etc. Every time a stand was replaced, the new one would always assume the designation of the original.


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.

Every time I read "Ask Donald" his voice is in my head.  I can't be the only one.


Donald Davidson is not only a wonderful IMS Historian, but, also such a nice, kind man who has time to talk with as many people as possible. He is just another reason why the Indianapolis 500 is such a wonderful race and tradition.