Inside the winner’s wreath

Published On May 11, 2016 » 1868 Views» By Donald Davidson » 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 18 days to go, IMS Historian Donald Davidson explains another cherished Indy 500 tradition.

More Donald Davidson: How the balloons began | Opening with a bang | The Yellow Shirts | Origins of: the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” | “Back Home Again in Indiana” | Brick-kissing | The milk | The Pace Car Why Indy is a 500-miler | Why it’s 33 cars | How “Gentlemen, Start Your Engines” beganMore 100 days blogs

Long used in international Grand Prix racing, the winner’s wreath at Indianapolis appears to have debuted in 1960 when a wreath featuring several exotic-looking dark-yellow and brown flowers was placed on the shoulders of that year’s “500” winner, Jim Rathmann. Underwritten by BorgWarner Corporation, the wreaths were the creation of William J. “Bill” Cronin, a longtime Indianapolis florist who was a one-time consultant for the parades of the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl and the 500 Festival. He died in 1989. His widow, Pat, was the lady who for many years was the charming hostess who ran the Pace Car hospitality room for the press and visiting dignitaries on the ground floor of the Master Control Tower. For the last 30-plus years, the wreath has featured 33 ivory-colored Cymbidium orchids with burgundy tips, plus 33 miniature checkered flags, intertwined with red, white and blue ribbons.

The first wreath: Jim Rathmann, 1960.

The first wreath: Jim Rathmann, 1960.

The most recent wreath: Juan Pablo Montoya, 2015.

The most recent wreath: Juan Pablo Montoya, 2015.

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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.
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