The story behind the ‘Yellow Shirts’

Published On April 13, 2016 » 2408 Views» By Donald Davidson » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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” beganMore 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.

In 1958, dark outfits were the norm for the Safety Patrol. Not ideal for May's hottest days.

In 1958, dark outfits were the norm for the Safety Patrol. Not ideal for May’s hottest days.

In this 1970 photo, gold helmets and the now-familiar yellow shirts appeared with the IMS Safety Patrol.

In this 1970 photo, gold helmets and the now-familiar yellow shirts appeared with the IMS Safety Patrol.

 

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About The Author

Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.
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