We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 71 days to go, we look back at one of the race’s most enduring champions.
Aside from being a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner (1937, ’39 and ’40), Wilbur Shaw is one of the most important figures in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Born in Shelbyville, Indiana in 1902, Shaw made his first Indianapolis 500 start in 1927, finishing fourth with co-driving assistance from Louis Meyer.
Shaw failed to finish his next three Indianapolis starts, but a second place finish in 1933 kicked off one of the most spectacular runs of success in the 100-year history of IMS. From 1935 to 1940, Shaw collected three Indianapolis 500 victories, a pair of second places and seventh place in 1936.
Racing activity at Indianapolis ceased following the 1941 race due to World War II, and Shaw took a job with the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. Shaw was enlisted to help develop a synthetic rubber tire the company had under development, but when they went to IMS in November, 1944 to test the new product, they found the old track in a state of terrible disarray after being essentially abandoned for nearly four years.
Following the Firestone test, IMS owner Eddie Rickenbacker informed Shaw that he intended to develop the Speedway grounds into a housing subdivision. Shaw reacted quickly, commencing what has been described as a one-man crusade to save his beloved track.
Shaw’s search for a savior eventually led him to Terre Haute, Indiana, where he was introduced to Anton ‘Tony’ Hulman, whose family business Hulman & Company achieved great success with Clabber Girl baking products. Hulman completed the purchase of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a reported $750,000 in November, 1945.
When Hulman chose to take a behind-the-scenes role in the management of IMS, he named Shaw President and General Manager of the track. Over the next ten years, Shaw remained in that capacity, helping Hulman grow and promote the Indianapolis 500 into “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” until he was tragically killed in a plane crash on October 30, 1954. He remains the last native Hoosier to win the Indianapolis 500.