The Look of the 500: 1920s

Published On September 19, 2014 » 3426 Views» By Heather Lloyd » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500, Photography, The Look of the 500

The Roaring ’20s ushered in a new era in U.S. history. World War I was over. America had established itself as a world power. Industry was booming. Technology was born and gave birth to the modern age. Henry Ford’s Model T revolutionized transportation. And radio hit the airwaves. Society was changing. And it was changing fast.

Things were also moving fast at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bolstered by new technology, the cars were faster than ever, hitting average speeds of 100 mph for the first time.


1923 – Mercedes Engine

In 1920, qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 went from one lap to four. And the lineup went to three-wide from four (and previously five). The Citizens of Indianapolis Lap Prize Fund was also established that year.


1922 – Starting grid

By 1923, single-seat cars were the norm, which were smaller and noticeably sleeker, though they continued to use relief drivers when necessary. That year, Tommy Milton became the first two-time winner of the Indy 500 (he won his first in 1921).


1920 – Tommy Milton the first 2-time winner of the Indy 500

A familiar sight, the Goodyear Blimp, made its first appearance in photographs in 1923.


1923 – The Goodyear blimp

Following the 1925 race, the beloved Pagoda was burned down after it was deemed too close to the track. A new, slightly larger one was erected the following year, set back significantly from the original location.


1925 – Pagoda fire


1926 – A new Pagoda

And some of the biggest changes yet came later that decade. In 1927, for the sum of $750,000, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, an auto executive from Detroit, purchased the track. Gone were Carl Fisher, James Allison, Arthur Newby, and Frank Wheeler, the founding fathers of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.


1928 – Rickenbacker

In an effort to make the track more seasonal, a golf course was constructed which included holes both inside and outside the oval track. It opened in 1929 and is still operating today under the name Brickyard Crossing.


1930 – Golfing at Brickyard Crossing

Fashion also drastically changed during the 20s, as women’s hairstyles trended shorter, necklines plunged, hemlines rose, and the use of makeup went mainstream. Women’s rights were established and consumerism was rampant. For the first time, women had the opportunity to express themselves through what they wore and their taste was decidedly more practical, more comfortable, and more revealing.


1929 – Women’s fashion changes

With most spectators now arriving by car, parking was at a premium, as race fans pulled up close to watch from the comfort of their vehicles (or the roofs of their vehicles).


1928 – Fans watch from their cars

And if you think fancy, over-the-top cakes are a product of modern day reality television…check out this one, presented to Louis Meyer, the 16th winner of the Indy 500 in 1928.


1928 – Cake for Louis Meyer

It was a new age and a new world and a new race for the Indy 500 in the 1920s. And it only built on the tradition established by the previous decade.

In the coming years, the Indianapolis 500 would gain a beloved tradition, set new standards in safety, and suffer through a devastating economic depression.


More in “The Look of the 500″ series: 1911-1920, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s , 1990s, 2000s, Today, The Best of The Look of the 500


About The Author

Heather Lloyd

Heather Lloyd is an Indy sports blogger who grew up in Minneapolis, graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, worked as a news anchor, then moved to Indianapolis where she became a professional fan. A die-hard Colts, Pacers, IndyCar, and Big Ten fan, when she’s not watching her teams, she’s either talking about them, writing about them, or tweeting about them. You can find her at and follow her on twitter @TheBlueMare. Ms. Lloyd has been known to blow off barbecues, birthday parties, and baby showers to watch sports. And she isn’t sorry.