While The Great Depression couldn’t stop The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the 1940s proved that even the greatest was not unstoppable.
While Europe was again at war, the Indianapolis 500 ran in 1940 and 1941. But later that year, on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor thrust the U.S. into World War II and a national speed limit of 35 mph thrust the gates on the track closed from 1942-1945. When they reopened, they did so under the ownership of Terre Haute businessman Tony Hulman, who purchased the Speedway for $750,000 in 1945.
The track underwent a rapid renovation, which brought in modern amenities and much needed repairs before the gates opened to the largest crowd to date in May of 1946. Hulman also ushered in a new tradition when his friend, opera singer James Melton, sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the start of the race for the first time.
After the war, conservatism ruled the day and the feminism of ’20s and ’30s took a back seat to family life, the baby boom and a return to traditional roles, the changes of which were reflected in the styles of the day.
During the war, fashion had almost a utilitarian feel. Afterwards, with America’s emergence as a superpower, it was old Hollywood glamour displaying the confidence and hope of a nation. Tailored peplums were popular, as were wide-brimmed hats and statement jewels. Full skirts and waist-cinching jackets were coined “The New Look” by Harper’s magazine. And that look was on display everywhere, including the Indianapolis 500.
Midi length skirts (so this season) were represented from the grandstands to the tailgates.
Even the ultra-casual shirtless fan (more common today) was represented in the infield lot back in 1949. It’s a look that’s better reserved (and easier to pull off) for the younger fan.
It’s hard to imagine coordinating an event like the Indy 500 without the convenience of modern technology. Landline phones weren’t attached to their users hands at all times, but they were attached to a very long cord.
The race was televised live for the first time in 1949. Channel 6 (WFBM) aired a documentary “The Crucible of Speed” followed by live coverage of the race. Even though few people owned televisions at the time, it was the first TV broadcast in the city of Indianapolis.
By 1950, the cars were smaller, sleeker, sexier and attracting the attention of Hollywood celebrities.
“The greatest” kept getting greater.