From D-A Lubricant to IMS to ‘Home Improvement,’ the legacy of Tom Binford

Published On May 18, 2016 » 8826 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.

In the 1950s, Indiana’s own D-A Lubricant was a sponsor of Indy cars both at the “500” and throughout the season. Then an unfortunate thing happened in 1958 – a D-A car won the owner’s championship.

How could that be unfortunate? Well, the company president was also the president of the United States Auto Club, and that man – Tom Binford – didn’t want there to be any semblance of a conflict of interest.

That’s the kind of guy he was. D-A Lubricant wouldn’t be seen on the side of a car again for more than 50 years. (The company now sponsors Graham Rahal’s car, and its PennGrade Motor Oil is a presenting sponsor of the 100th Indy 500.)

Binford died in 1999 but his name lives on, from around Indianapolis and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to even the entertainment world.

Tom Binford, in the 1978 Chevy Corvette Pace Car.

Tom Binford, in the 1978 Chevy Corvette Pace Car.

“He was ‘The Man,’ the No. 1 mover and shaker,” said IMS Historian Donald Davidson of the man who served as Chief Steward of the Indianapolis 500 from 1974-95. “If you wanted something to be a success, you needed Binford.”

Binford was a civic leader in Indy for decades, serving as chairman of the Indiana National Bank, the president and general manager of the Indiana Pacers and the founder of the Urban League of Indianapolis, just to name a few of his many affiliations.

In racing, Binford was a founding member of Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway) and helped negotiate the arrival of a drag race before the facility was even built. Today, the U.S. Nationals is the crown jewel of the NHRA season.

As Indy 500 Chief Steward, he was a diplomat and a trusted voice in a position where it’s not easy to liked by the majority.

“He was a like a Henry Kissinger type, a very intelligent man that could come up with a good solution, and he had the personality to discuss it,” Davidson said.

After his death in 1999, Mayor Steve Goldsmith named a major northeast side road in Binford’s name (if you’re reading this in Indianapolis, chances are good that you’ve been on Binford Boulevard), and his name will live forever in syndication.

If you were a fan of the ABC show “Home Improvement” that ran from 1991-99, you’ll remember the Binford tool company was a sponsor of “Tool Time,” the show-within-the-show hosted by Tim Allen’s character. Yes, that’s named after Tom Binford.

The show’s creator, David McFadzean, attended the University of Evansville and while there met his future wife, whose father worked at D-A Lubricant while Binford owned it (he sold it in the late 1970s). Years later, while trying to think of a fictitious tool company name for the show, McFadzean began reminiscing about his father-in-law, and that led to Binford and “Binford Tools.”

Binford Tools ... as in Tom Binford.

Binford Tools … as in Tom Binford.

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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.
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