Being first on the track, on the first day

Published On May 16, 2016 » 1906 Views» By John Schwarb » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 13 days to go, we take a look at yet another tradition of the Month of May.

Let the record show that Ed Carpenter, in the No. 20 Chevrolet, was the first one on track for the first day of practice today for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Yes, like so many other goings-on at the “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” being first on track on the first day is a thing.

In the 1950s, newspaper reporters entrenched on the Indianapolis 500 beat were hungry for any story. Springtime meant tracking car entries as they trickled in, then Larry Bisceglia’s arrival as the famous “first fan” at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, then following cars as they arrived in Gasoline Alley. Then, on opening day, the scribes would watch for the first car on the 2.5-mile oval.

“For several years in the early- to mid-1950s, it was a chief mechanic (out first),” IMS Historian Donald Davidson said. “A chief mechanic would take a car out, take one or two slow laps, and that might be it for the rest of the day.”

Eddie Sacks hit the track first in 1963. Note the media all around the car.

Eddie Sachs hit the track first in 1963. Note the media all around the car.

Then, in 1958, a distributor for Bryant Heating & Cooling saw an opportunity for publicity and for the next decade-plus, Bryant-sponsored cars would get that media bump as the first ones out. Drivers such as Bobby Marshman (1962), Eddie Sachs (1963) and Len Sutton (1964-65) were the beneficiaries along with Bryant.

Sometimes, Davidson said, there would be a couple of cars in pit lane scrambling to get out first, other times it was just those Bryant cars.

In 1970, a rookie driver named Dick Simon drove under the Bryant colors for owner Rolla Vollstedt and made a name for himself as the first out. Then in 1983, when owning his own Indy 500 teams, Simon took the tradition for his cars.

Simon himself was first out again from 1983-85, then a driver named Chip Ganassi went out for Simon (in a Bryant car, again) in 1986. And so on. When Simon last owned teams in 1995, his four cars ran four-abreast for a first-time-out photo opportunity.

Simon sold the team to Team Scandia for the 1996 “500” and, naturally, driver Michele Alboreto was first out.

The tradition hasn’t been quite the boost for media in recent years, but there are still notables on the record book. Veteran driver Sarah Fisher was first in 2004, then rookie Danica Patrick was first in 2005. From 2010-15, Team Penske was ready to go right away with its drivers first every year, five of the six years with Helio Castroneves.

Today, it was Ed Carpenter. Who knows how he’ll fare on May 29, but he’s already claimed one small honor in the Month of May.


About The Author

John Schwarb

I joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway communications team in July 2014 and love sharing stories from the World Capital of Racing, particularly its rich history. Most of my professional career has been in racing or golf, so if I'm not in the IMS media center, the office at 16th and Georgetown or milling around Gasoline Alley, maybe I'll be standing over a birdie putt at Brickyard Crossing. Follow us at @IMS or drop me a line at @JohnSchwarb and come back to the blog often for more stories.