How the Indy 500 basically created Wonder Bread

Published On May 5, 2016 » 6576 Views» By Jeff Vrabel » 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 24 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.

More Vrabel: James Garner, devoted fan | Million-dollar mistake | Sullivan on “Miami Vice” | SNL’s “Superfans” | Harroun and the rearview mirror | “500” in Hollywood’s glory days | A.J. Foyt has a secret | Late-night TV hosts at Indy | The “500” in reality TV shows | In old TV | In silent movie | In “Cars” | In “Turbo” | The Beatles at IMS | Pace Car drivers | Snake Pit rebirthThe ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600On “Jeopardy!”More 100 days blogs

If you’ve been previously unaware of the connection between the Indianapolis 500 and Wonder Bread, this post will be the greatest thing since … rats, we forgot how this metaphor ends.

In 1921, Elmer Cline, vice president of the Indianapolis-based Taggart Bakery, had a problem. He was tasked with naming the soft, fluffy 1 1/2-pound loaf of white bread his bakery had begun producing, and was in need of baked inspiration. Naming bread is probably harder than it sounds, so to relax he headed to that year’s 500 — more specifically, the balloon race that preceded the 500 Mile Race. And the sight of the colorful balloons floating in the blue sky instilled in Cline a sense of delight, of joy, of childhood enjoyment, of … well you get the idea. Before long, Wonder Bread (bearing balloon-themed packaging, of course) had become a nationwide name and remains instantly recognizable, judging by the way you just imagined the colorful wrapping and fluffy, stark-white, cloudlike bread inside. (Random trivia, in case this ever comes up: Taggart was bought in 1925 by the Continental Baking Company, which installed slicing machines and made Wonder Bread the first pre-sliced bread on planet Earth.)

Epilogue: In the 1930s, when racing sponsorships started to become a big deal, Wonder became one of the first companies to put its name and colorful balloon imagery on the side of an Indy 500 race car. Remarkably, the Wonder Bread car hung around — in good enough shape, in fact, to be driven around the “500” track in 2012 by none other than Bobby Unser. To this day, the car is in fine enough condition to continue appearing at Concours d’Elegance events across the country.

Joe Russo drove the Wonder Bread car in 1933, joined in the photo by Wonder "baking girls."

Joe Russo drove the Wonder Bread car in 1933, joined in the photo by Wonder “baking girls.”

The Wonder Bread car rolls on today (pictured in 2012) as one of the more colorful cars of the 1930s.

The Wonder Bread car rolls on today (pictured in 2012) as one of the more colorful cars of the 1930s.

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About The Author

Jeff Vrabel

I’m an Indiana native and former resident of Chicago and Hilton Head Island who’s written for for such outlets as GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post and my hometown Indianapolis Monthly. I spent decades listening to the 500 on the radio and have run two Mini-Marathons around the IMS track, but only dropped a packet of energy beans on Turn 3 during one of them. And I live near Indianapolis with my family; my oldest son just stole bacon off your plate and the youngest was personally approved by Springsteen (long story). Find me at the cleverly named http://jeffvrabel.com or http://twitter.com/jeffvrabel.
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