Highlights from the the Indianapolis 500, Runnings 21-30

Meyer and Shaw in 1939. Photo: IMS Archive
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The Associated Press has compiled a list of highlights of all past Indianapolis 500 races, as the buildup to the 100th running presented by PennGrade Motor Oil takes place this May 29.

Here are runnings 21-30, from 1933 through 1946. The 1946 race took place after a five-year hiatus for World War II, hence why this year’s running is the 100th, 70 years later.

Past pieces:

RACE: 21st Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1933

WINNER: Louis Meyer

AVERAGE SPEED: 104.162 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: It was a tragic and bizarre month at Indianapolis. Five participants died in May, including drivers Mark Billman and Lester Spangler and mechanic G.L. Jordan, who were all killed in race day crashes. Then in a strange twist, a Colorado newspaper mistakenly proclaimed rookie Will Overhead had won the race. One problem: Overhead didn’t exist. Instead, driver-owner Louis Meyer joined Tommy Milton as the only two-time winners of the race. Meyer took the lead on Lap 130 and pulled away from future three-time winner Wilbur Shaw by more than 6 minutes to finish with a record average speed of 104.162 mph.

NOTABLE: Despite having a 42-car field, the largest in race history, prize money took a major hit during the Depression. The total purse of $54,450 was Indy’s lowest payout in 14 years. It never went that low again.

RACE: 22nd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1934

WINNER: Bill Cummings, H.C. Henning

AVERAGE SPEED: 104.863 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: The big race turned into a dramatic two-man showdown between Bill Cummings, the 1933 pole winner, and future two-time winner Mauri Rose. Though neither led over the first 71 laps, one of the two led all but three of the final 129 laps. Cummings barely held off Rose by 27.25 seconds in the closest finish in Indy 500 history, and it took a record speed to win it. Rose filed a protest after the race, but the results were upheld.

NOTABLE: Race organizers settled on the traditional three-car, 11-row, 33-car starting grid to make the race safer, but of the 33 starters only 12 finished the race. Organizers also lowered total fuel capacity to 45 gallons, meaning cars had to average more than 11 miles per gallon to finish the race.

RACE: 23rd Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1935

WINNER: Kelly Petillo

AVERAGE SPEED: 106.240 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Petillo made nine career starts in the Indy 500 and finished on top in 1935 when he broke the speed record with an average of 106.240 mph and made Wilbur Shaw the runner-up for the second time in three years. Rex Mays won the first of his four poles but a mechanical failure knocked him out of the race after 123 laps. Safety again was at the forefront as drivers were required to wear helmets for the first time, and green and yellow lights were installed around the track. Still, three drivers and a mechanic died as a result of May crashes.

NOTABLE: Race organizers cut the race’s fuel limit for the second straight year to 42 1/2 gallons.

RACE: 24th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1936

WINNER: Louis Meyer

AVERAGE SPEED: 109.069 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: On a historic day at the 2.5-mile oval, Meyer becomes the first three-time winner of the race. He smashes the previous speed mark by almost 3 mph and ties Ray Harroun’s record by winning from the No. 28 starting spot. It wasn’t even close: Meyer won by 2 minutes, 17.15 seconds and led for 96 of the last 111 laps. He also celebrated by drinking buttermilk, starting one of the best-known traditions in sports.

NOTABLE: The Borg-Warner Trophy made its debut in 1936. Ted Horn finished second, the first of nine consecutive top-10 finishes in the 500, though he never won. Future two-time winner Mauri Rose finished fourth using a four-wheel drive car. New safety measures included asphalt on some parts of the track and a requirement all rookies had to pass a test before driving.

RACE: 25th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 31, 1937

WINNER: Wilbur Shaw

AVERAGE SPEED: 113.580 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: In 92 degree heat, the man with four top-10 finishes in the previous seven races, including two runner-ups, finally broke through – just barely. Shaw led by two minutes with 20 laps to go when the oil pressure started dropping. So he backed off the pace to save the car and limped across the finish line with a race record average speed of 113.580 mph but just 2.16 seconds ahead of Ralph Hepburn. Three-time winner Louis Meyer, who had teamed up with Shaw in 1927, came in fourth.

NOTABLE: The margin of victory remained a record until the dramatic 1982 race when Gordon Johncock beat Rick Mears by 0.16 seconds. Rex Mays became the second driver to take the pole in back-to-back years. The Offy engines powered six of the top 11 finishers, including the cars of Shaw and Hepburn.

RACE: 26th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1938

WINNER: Floyd Roberts

AVERAGE SPEED: 117.200 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Floyd Roberts took the lead with 55 laps to go and pulled away. Roberts set a race-day speed record but his wife had stayed home and missed seeing his first and only Indy win. Wilbur Shaw finished second in his effort to become the first back-to-back winner in 500 history. The race was marred by another death. Everett Spence, a 33-year-old fan, was killed after he was hit by a wheel hurled into the stands following Emil Andres’ early crash.

NOTABLE: Roberts became the first pole winner to win the race since 1930, ending the third-longest drought for pole winners in race history. After mandating the use of riding mechanics from 1930-37, they were optional in 1938. But no drivers used them.

RACE: 27th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1939

WINNER: Wilbur Shaw

AVERAGE SPEED: 115.035 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Wilbur Shaw qualified second and passed Louis Meyer with 17 laps to go and held on to beat pole-winner Jimmy Snyder by more than 1 minute, 48 seconds. But Shaw’s second win in three years – and his sixth straight top-seven finish – came on another dark day. A horrible crash a little more than midway through the race sent three drivers and two spectators to the hospital. One of the injured drivers, defending champion Floyd Roberts, died before the race ended. He was the first former winner to be killed during the 500.

NOTABLE: For the first time in eight years, the winning average speed did not set a record. George Bailey became the first Indy qualifier to drive a car powered with a rear engine, finishing 26th. The race’s first three-time winner, Louis Meyer, said goodbye to 500 fans with a 12th-place finish after crashing with three laps to go.

RACE: 28th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1940

WINNER: Wilbur Shaw

AVERAGE SPEED: 114.277 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: Wilbur Shaw won his third title in four years, tying Louis Meyer’s record victory total. Shaw took the lead on Lap 105 and never trailed again as the final 50 laps were run under yellow because of rain. In all, Shaw led 136 laps and beat pole-winner Rex Mays. It marked the seventh consecutive time Shaw finished in the top seven and the fifth time in six years that he was first or second.

NOTABLE: Shaw became the first back-to-back winner and he won both races in the same car. It was also the only time from 1936-48, a span of nine races, that Ted Horn failed to complete all 200 laps. Horn finished 199 laps in 1939 and finished fourth.

RACE: 29th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1941

WINNER: Floyd Davis/Mauri Rose

AVERAGE SPEED: 114.277 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: The final Indianapolis 500 for several years ended in stunning fashion, with pole-winner Mauri Rose abandoning his car because of a spark plug problem after 60 laps, replacing Floyd Davis in the No. 16 car and driving it to victory. Rose led for five laps early in the race, then took the lead for good in Davis’ car on Lap 162. Rex Mays was the hard-luck runner-up for the second straight year, this time after starting from the No. 2 spot. Rose was credited with the first of his record-tying three wins.

NOTABLE: A little more than six months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked and no races were held in Indy again until 1946. Joie Chitwood, the grandfather of Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III, made the first of his seven career starts at Indianapolis. A fire in the garage area just before the race destroyed three cars and injured several people.

RACE: 30th Indianapolis 500

DATE: May 30, 1946

WINNER: George Robson

AVERAGE SPEED: 114.820 mph

WHAT HAPPENED: George Robson won at the first Indy 500 held since 1941 following World War II. Robson, who died in a racing accident less than four months later, beat rookie Jimmy Jackson by 44.04 seconds.

NOTABLE: Three-time race winner Wilbur Shaw urged Tony Hulman, a businessman from Terre Haute, Indiana, to buy the run-down track for $750,000. By May, Hulman had the track back in shape for the race, and the Hulman-George family has owned the track ever since. The late baritone voice of Tom Carnegie resounded on the speedway’s public address system for the first time. Carnegie continued as the speedway’s PA announcer for the next 61 years. James Melton, of the New York Metropolitan Opera Company, sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” before the race, a tradition that still exists today.