#TBT: ‘Animal’ cars at the Indianapolis 500

Published On November 13, 2014 » 3087 Views» By John Schwarb » #TBT, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

Last month on the blog, Cassie Conklin gave us a peek inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway “Zoo.” Seriously, we’ve seen horses, dogs, cats and ducks over the years here.

And that got us thinking about other racing animals, if you will.

The discussion has to start at the first Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, which was of course won by Ray Harroun’s Marmon Wasp, so named for its yellow color and long, pointed end.

Yellow and a long, pointed end made the Marmon a "Wasp." (Pictured with Parnelli Jones driving during IMS' Centennial Era.)

Yellow and a long, pointed end made the Marmon a “Wasp.” (Pictured with Parnelli Jones driving during IMS’ Centennial Era.)

Other cars over the years have had animal names including Kingfish (named for owner Grant King), Longhorn, Mongoose and Eagle – like the 1974 Dan Gurney Racing “Olsonite Eagle,” featuring a cool eagle paint job on the sidepods. Bobby Unser, whose helmet had an eagle too, drove it to a runner-up finish.

Bobby Unser's 1974 Olsonite Eagle looked fast with its eagle striping.

Bobby Unser’s 1974 Olsonite Eagle looked fast with its eagle striping.

Arguably the most famous animal-named car of the last half-century at Indianapolis is A.J. Foyt’s Coyote, with which Super Tex collected his final two “500” wins in 1967 and 1977. The coyote was a nod to Foyt’s home state, Texas, and later incorporated into his company’s logo.

A.J. Foyt won his last two Indianapolis 500s in the "Coyote," pictured here in 1977.

A.J. Foyt won his last two Indianapolis 500s in the “Coyote,” pictured here in 1977.

And then there were cars with animal sponsors, like the unique 1973 entry driven by Mel Kenyon. He finished fourth in a car sponsored by the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, a match we’ll likely never see again. In 2007, owner Paul Diatlovich of PDM Racing tried to put “Go Colts” on his Jimmy Kite-driven car but an NFL spokesman said the league prohibited cross-promotion with other sports. (Kite failed to qualify for the race.)

The NFL's Atlanta Falcons sponsored this 1973 entry. Are those Falcons coaches behind it or pit crew members?

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons sponsored this 1973 entry. Are those Falcons coaches behind it or pit crew members?

Nearly 40 years earlier, Wilbur Shaw ran the “Lion Head Special,” named for a brand of oil. Alas, the three-time champion turned in his worst “500” result in the animal-adorned car, finishing 28th in 1934.

Wilbur Shaw's 1934 "Lion Head Special" didn't quite roar -- it bowed out after 15 laps.

Wilbur Shaw’s 1934 “Lion Head Special” didn’t quite roar — it bowed out after 15 laps.

There were a few drivers with animal nicknames too, most notably Travis “Spider” Webb, a member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame who made six “500” starts between 1948 and 1954. Leslie “Bugs” Allen was another, a one-time starter who began and finished ninth in 1930.

We could go on – Panther Racing, Luczo Dragon Racing, Bob Harkey’s 1974 eighth-place car sponsored by the City of Peru Circus – but that’s more animal talk for another blog.

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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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