We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 46 days to go, IMS Historian Donald Davidson explains another cherished Indy 500 tradition.
More Donald Davidson: 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
From the time the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909 until immediately after World War II, all events at the track were policed by the Indiana National Guard. Shortly after Tony Hulman purchased the track in November 1945, one of his right-hand men, Joseph Quinn of the Clabber Girl Baking Powder Company in Terre Haute, Indiana, established a Board of Safety which sought input from all of the major law-enforcement agencies.
By 1948, the track’s own Safety Patrol had been established, featuring dark-blue uniforms and pith helmets, those of department heads painted gold, and the “rank and file” painted silver. The long-sleeved shirts, made of wool, were extremely uncomfortable to wear—both on hot days and when soaked with rain. In the early 1970s, some of the senior staff members switched on weekends to considerably more comfortable short-sleeved yellow shirts, while golden plastic “bump” or “batting” helmets replaced the pith helmets. By 1975, all of the blue uniforms had disappeared entirely, baseball caps had replaced the bump helmets and the term “yellow shirt” had come into vogue.