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Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum – Profile

1911 Benz 150HP Grand Prix at Indy 500 Museum
1911 Benz 150HP Grand Prix at Indy 500 Museum

By Leigh Dorrington

The history of the Indianapolis 500 fills one of the most remarkable galleries in all of racing.

Dan Weldon‘s 2011 race-winning car soon will join this collection—the most exclusive in racing—a collection of Indianapolis 500-winning automobiles. Other significant automobiles are displayed separately.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum is located in the Speedway infield between Turns One and Two and attracts visitors from around the world throughout the year. Exhibits change and a special exhibition was staged during the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500. But a visit to the museum shortly before the 2011 500 revealed the extraordinary attraction of this very special place.

Visitors enter the museum and turn left—of course—entering a room comparable to a Crown Room, where the jewel-like creations of Harry Miller are displayed. Miller-designed cars and engines traded 500 victories with Duesenberg in the 1920s, but absolutely dominated the race in the 1930s. Historian Griffith Borgeson described Miller’s ‘preoccupation’ with esthetics, which are displayed in the extraordinary machines created by Miller and built by long-time Miller superintendent Fred Offenhauser.

A.J. Foyt’s 1967 and 1977 Indianapolis 500-winning Coyote-Fords share this gallery against a backdrop of original Gasoline Alley garages, saved when new concrete garages were built. Inside one of the original garages is the George Silah’s ‘lay-down’ Offy Roadster with its engine placed on its side to cheat the wind with a lower profile, driven to back-to-back 500 victories in 1956 and 1957 by Sam Hanks and Jimmy Bryan. Nearby are the Kuzma and Watson Offy Roadsters driven to victory by Bryan and Jim Rathmann in the 1957-58 “Race of Two Worlds” at Monza.

Rear-drive and Front-drive Millers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Rear-drive and Front-drive Millers

Turning around, visitors stand face-to-face with a legendary supercharged Novi V-8 powered racer—the loudest, fastest in its day and arguably most popular car in Speedway history. Early Novi V-8s were mounted in chassis created by Frank Kurtis, who is credited with designing the first Indy Roadster driven by Bill Vukovich in 1953. Beside the Novi is a Cummins diesel; also in a Kurtis chassis and looking not a little like a Ferrari 500, one of four successful Cummins-powered entries in 1931, 1934, 1950 and in 1952 when the Cummins diesel entry was the fastest car in the 500.

The little-known history of the inconspicuous looking yellow car nearby is hidden under its seldom-opened hood. The Sampson ‘16’ Special was built by Myron Stevens to be driven by Bob Swanson in 1939-40. The car’s true significance is that it was built around the unique 183 cu. in. 16-cylinder Miller engine designed and built by Frank Lockhart for the Stutz Blackhawk Special and his fatal attempt on the Land Speed Record at Daytona Beach in 1927.


Front-Engine Champions


Stepping through a doorway, a glance to the right reveals both the 1961 and 1964 Watson-Offy Roadsters that carried A. J. Foyt to the first two of his record four Indianapolis 500 victories. But a glance in the other direction is heart stopping. There, a line of early race cars illustrates every era in front-engine history at the Speedway.

Front-engine Indianapolis 500 Champions at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum
Front-engine Indianapolis 500 Champions at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

Ray Harroun’s 1911 race-winning Marmon Wasp, built in Indianapolis just a few miles away from the Speedway, typically enjoys pride of place. The National driven to victory by Joe Dawson in 1912 remained the last American-built car to win the 500 until 1920, and the last stock-chassis car ever to win at the Speedway.

Advances at the Speedway are traced through the silent line. A 1914 Delage driven to victory by René Thomas represents an era bracketing WWI when French-built cars dominated the Speedway. Duesenberg and Miller traded victories throughout the 1920s, including Jimmy Murphy’s 1922-winning Duesenberg powered by a Miller 8-cylinder engine. The front-drive 1932 Miller-Hartz is typical of a decade when Miller-engine cars continued to dominate but a proliferation of new chassis emerged from builders like Harry Hartz, Myron Stevens, ‘Curley’ Wetroth and others.

Marmon Wasp - 1911 Indianapolis 500 Winner
Marmon Wasp, Winner of the 1911 Indianapolis 500 Winner

American-built cars won the 500 for nineteen-straight years from 1920-1938 before Wilbur Shaw won back-to-back victories in the Mike Boyle-entered Maserati 8CTF in 1939-40. Shaw was also leading the race convincingly in 1941 when a wheel broke. Shaw’s success drew a large number of pre-war grand prix cars to the first post-war 500 in 1946, but none were remotely as successful.

The Novi, front-drive Blue Crown Specials and Cummins diesels were typical of new thinking that dominated the 500 from 1946-1964. The Belanger #99 that won the 1951 500 also represents the old-style ‘dirt cars’ from a time when the Speedway was the only paved track on the Championship Trail. Following Lee Wallard’s victory in the 500, Tony Bettenhausen drove the car to eight wins in the remaining twelve races of 1951. But it was the newer Kurtis-Kraft, Watson and other Roadster chassis powered by the venerable Offenhauser engine—descended from Harry Miller’s original design—that won the 500 year after year.

The Speedway collection includes the Kurtis-Offy Fuel Injection Special driven by Bill Vukovich to 500 victories in 1953-54. Other race-winning Roadsters on display include the 1955 John Zink Special Kurtis-Offy driven by Bob Sweikert for crew chief A.J. Watson, whose own cars won six of the next nine Indianapolis 500s. Parnelli Jones’ #98, ‘Old Calhoun’, set the first 150mph lap in Speedway history in 1962 and won the 1963 500 by beating Jim Clark’s Lotus-Ford.

Parnelli Jones Willard Battery Special was the first 150 mph qualifier and 1963 Indy 500 winner
Parnelli Jones’ #98 was the first 150 mph qualifier and 1963 Indy 500 winner

Rear-Engine Champions


A similar line of rear-engine race winners fills the opposite side of the gallery. Missing among them is Jim Clark’s 1965 Lotus 38, the first rear-engine car to win the Indianapolis 500. Clark’s Lotus is part of the permanent collection of the Henry Ford Museum. Clark’s 1963 Lotus-Ford is a part of the IMS collection, however.

Jim Clark's 1963 Lotus-Ford finished second to Parnelli Jones
Jim Clark’s 1963 Lotus-Ford finished second to Parnelli Jones

Bobby Unser’s Rislone Eagle-Offy won the first of many Speedway victories for Dan Gurney’s Eagles and was powered by the first turbocharged engine to win the 500, leading to an era of turbo-powered cars that will return to the Speedway in 2012. Mario Andretti’s STP Brawner Hawk-Ford was Andretti’s only Indianapolis 500 winner, in 1969, and also carried the first turbocharged four-cam Indy Ford V-8 to victory.

Other cars are equally significant, each for their own reasons. Al Unser won his first two 500s in 1970-71 in Parnelli Jones’ Colt-Ford Johnny Lightning Specials named after a toy company. Mark Donohue drove the Sunoco Penske McLaren-Offy to win the 1972 race, adding the 500 to his Trans-Am and Can-Am championships. The 1972 car was the first Roger Penske-entered winner and the first McLaren to win at the Speedway.

Al Unser won again in 1978 in a Lola-Cosworth entered by Jim Hall’s Chaparral Racing team in their first attempt at the Speedway and provided the first victory for a Cosworth-powered entry—the first of nine in a row. Hall’s Pennzoil Chaparral, nicknamed the Yellow Submarine, carried Johnny Rutherford to his third 500 victory and was the first ground effects chassis to win at the Speedway.

The 1982 Patrick Wildcat entered by oilman Pat Patrick and driven by Gordon Johncock is still the last American-built chassis to win the 500. The subsequent March-Lola era at the Speedway is represented by Tom Sneva’s 1983 Texaco Star and Arie Luyendyk’s 1990 Domino’s Pizza winners.

Jacque Villeneuve’s Player’s Reynard-Cosworth carried him to a 1995 Indianapolis 500 victory two years before he claimed the 1997 Formula One World Championship. Most recently, the 500 has been dominated by the Dallara and G-Force spec chassis, with Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing winning seven of the ten Indianapolis 500 races since 2001.

1968 to 1971 Rear-engine Indianapolis 500 Winners
1968-1971 Rear-engine Indianapolis 500 Winners


Crossing the Aisle


A second gallery is reached by crossing an atrium in which recent race winners are frequently displayed.

The automobiles displayed across the aisle are also historically significant, isolated only because they are not 500 winners. These include important early rear-engine cars like Jack Brabham’s 1961 Cooper-Climax, Jim Clark’s 1963 Lotus-Ford and Graham Hill’s 1968 Lotus Turbine car.

Jack Brabham 1961 Cooper-Climax
Jack Brabham 1961 Cooper-Climax

Other cars that might have changed Speedway history include a Ferrari 375 Indianapolis ‘Special’, one of four built for the 1952 500. Alberto Ascari’s Ferrari was the only one of four Ferraris to qualify but went out of the race early with a wheel failure. A 1938 Alfa Romeo 308C grand prix car was driven to three Top Ten finishes at the Speedway in 1946-48.

Several important sports cars have also found a home at the museum, where Speedway owner Tony Hulman actively sought other automobiles to place the 500 in historic perspective. These include a Mercedes-Benz W196 streamlined grand prix car, one of the team cars that carried Juan Manual Fangio to World Championships in both 1954 and 1955. A magnesium-bodied Corvette SS created by Zora Arkus-Dontov and John Fitch for the 12 Hours of Sebring set a 1957 lap record, but did not finish the race.

A red #21 Ferrari 250LM sits modestly among the great champions that fill the IMS Museum. Few visitors may realize that this car is the N.A.R.T. entry driven to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1965 by Masten Gregory and Jochen Rindt—still the last Ferrari to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans overall.

1952 Ferrari 375 Indianapolis Special
1952 Ferrari 375 Indianapolis
1955-56 Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner
1954-1955 Mercedes-Benz W196 Streamliner
1957 Corvette SS and 1965 Ferrari 250 LM
1957 Corvette SS and 1965 Ferrari 250 LM

Other attractions include collections of trophies, helmets and 500 art. An extensive collection of engines also displays outstanding examples of Duesenberg, Miller, Offenhauser, Ford, Cosworth and others, from different eras.


Caracciola Trophy Collection


Every visitor entering and leaving the IMS Museum passes a glass case filled with polished silver and other fine objects, but very few seem to grasp its significance—easy enough, in these surroundings. The glass case contains the complete collection of trophies and awards won by Rudolf Caracciola in his lifetime.

The connection between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Rudi Caracciola may be one of the least-known pieces of Speedway history, in spite of this exhibit.

Caracciola was a three-time European Champion in 1935, 1937 and 1938, the equivalent of today’s World Champion, and won more Grands Prix than any other driver between 1926 to 1939. Caracciola was entered for the 1946 Indianapolis 500 to drive a pre-war Mercedes-Benz W165. The car could not be shipped from Europe and Caracciola accepted an opportunity to drive the Sparks “Big Six” for car owner Joel Thorne. Caracciola was seriously injured in a crash while preparing to qualify for the 500 and was invited, with his wife Alice, to convalesce at a lodge owned by Tony Hulman. This began an enduring friendship, and Caracciola’s trophies were left to the IMS Museum years later.

Other Historic Automobiles


An exceptional collection of historic automobiles is also part of the Speedway Museum. IMS founder Carl Fisher envisioned the Speedway as a high-speed test track that would promote Indiana automobile development. Early rules were written to encourage stock automobiles, although this didn’t last long. New rules announced for 1930 were again intended to encourage participation by automobile manufacturers in the Indianapolis 500.

The extent of the IMS Museum collection is perhaps unknown except to a few individuals. Examples include the Indianapolis-built Stutz, whose sales slogan was “The Car That Made Good in a Day” following the first car’s success in the inaugural 500-mile race in 1911.

1914 Stutz and other veteran automobiles
1914 Stutz and other veteran automobiles

One of the earliest cars in the museum is the Indianapolis-built 923 cu. in. Premier racer designed by Carl Fisher to race in the first Vanderbilt Cup Race on Long Island in 1904. The air-cooled Premier produced 100 hp at 1,000 rpm, but exceeded the weight limit by 300 lbs. Nearly 500 holes were drilled in the car in an attempt to lighten it, but the car was still overweight. Undaunted, Fisher drove the car at a speed of 59.21 mph at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

This car is part of the permanent collection of the IMS Hall of Fame Museum as a tribute to the unbounded automotive passion of Carl Fisher who made the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a reality.

Premier racer designed by Speedway founder Carl Fisher
Premier racer designed by Speedway founder Carl Fisher


Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum Information

The IMS Hall of Fame Museum has approximately 75 vehicles on display at all times, including more than 30 Indy 500 race winners. About one-third of the museum’s estimated 250,000 annual visitors tour the museum during May, the month of the annual Indianapolis 500. In addition to the cars, the Museum displays the equipment and methods used for timing and scoring from the first race to the 21st century, including a viewer-activated computer presentation that explains the progress through the years. The Museum also offers visitors the 48-seat Tony Hulman Theater, featuring a 20-minute presentation of rare historic footage and Indianapolis 500 highlights.

Hours of operation are daily from 9am-5pm March to October and 10am-4pm November to February, with extended hours during the race weeks in May. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children 6-15 years old and free for children under six. Gate admission is not included in the admission price to the Museum during days of Indianapolis 500 practice, qualifications and races. Gate admission price also must be paid.

For more information, visit Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

[Source: Leigh Dorrington]