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” began | More 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.