Tag Archives: Indianapolis 500

Celebrating Louis Chevrolet

If you are in Indianapolis for an auto event like the Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, Bloomington Gold Corvettes USA Show, Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, or another automotive enthusiast event, I would like to share two must see sights celebrating Louis Chevrolet.

Louis Chevrolet Memorial
Louis Chevrolet Memorial

Your first stop should be the Louis Chevrolet Memorial just west of the main entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. This memorial, erected in spring 1975, celebrates Chevrolet’s exploits as an early racer, the designer of the first of the more than 125 million cars that bear his name built in 1911, and the first car builder to win two Indianapolis 500 mile races.

The four bronze panels depict Chevrolet and W. C. Durant, founder of General Motors, with the first Chevrolet passenger car in 1911; Chevrolet’s first winning car at Indianapolis, driven to victory in 1920 by brother Gaston; Chevrolet’s second Indianapolis winner, driven by Tommy Milton in 1921; and Chevrolet’s 1923 Barber-Warnock Fronty Ford at the Speedway with Henry Ford at the wheel. Most any time I visit the Hall of Fame Museum I stop by the memorial to think about these early days at the Speedway.

Chevrolet brothers memorial
Chevrolet brothers memorial

Next, head south to the Chevrolet brothers’ memorial at Holy Cross & St. Joseph Cemeteries at 2446 S. Meridian St. At the intersection with Pleasant Run Parkway N. Dr., turn west and go about two blocks. Then turn north at the cemetery entrance and proceed to the flag pole to find their gravesites at the fork in the road. Gaston was buried here in November 25, 1920, six months after winning the Indianapolis 500. Louis was buried here June 6, 1941, after complications from a leg amputation. Louis’ sons Charlot and Charles L. are buried just north of the bench. Arthur’s son also named Arthur, was also buried here in 1931 in the grave miss-marked as Arthur 1884-1946 (senior). Arthur senior is buried in Slidell, Louisiana. Sometimes when you visit the gravesites, they may be marked with a checkered flag or toy Chevrolet Camaro.

Close associates and fellow workers described Louis Chevrolet as fearless and daring, but never reckless; persevering, but quick-tempered and impetuous at times; a perfectionist who took pride in his work, with very little patience for the mistakes of others; and a dedicated innovator who deplored any and all social amenities which interfered with his customary 16-hour work day.

The next time you are visiting Indianapolis on an auto-enthusiast adventure I encourage you to visit the Louis Chevrolet Memorial and the Chevrolet brothers’ memorial to celebrate our car culture.

For more information about Louis Chevrolet, follow this link.
emorial

Wall Smacker by Peter De Paolo

On January 21st, I attended the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s Collectible Show and found Wall Smacker a book written by Peter De Paolo in 1935.

Pete De Paolo in his 1925 Duesenberg
Pete De Paolo in his 1925 Duesenberg

After perusing the many tables of racing collectibles, I picked De Paolo’s book to learn about auto racing in the early days. In this well-written book, De Paolo describes his life as a riding mechanic and as championship driver from 1920 to 1935.

His introduction started watching his Uncle Ralph De Palma’s racing exploits at the Brighton Beach Course in 1914, where he won all five of the program’s races. His uncle went on to win the 1915 Indianapolis 500 driving a Mercedes Benz. Shortly thereafter, his uncle convinced De Paolo to get some mechanical experience working on cars in New York City.

In the fall of 1919, his uncle hired him as a riding mechanic on a Ballot racer that they campaigned across the country in 1920. Of his first racing experience at the Beverly Hills, California, board speedway, De Paolo stated, “I’ll never forget the thrills that were packed into those opening laps of my first speed experience.” He shares a lot of details of his first experience at the Indianapolis 500 where they finished fifth. Later that summer, they raced Ballot racers in France and Italy.

After the spring 1922 Beverly Hills race, De Paolo parted working with his Uncle Ralph. De Paolo started his first race driving one of Louis Chevrolet’s Frontenacs. In his first Indianapolis 500 driving the Frontenac, at 255 miles he had a lap and a half lead before having to stop for fuel and tires. After returning to the race, while attempting to pass three Duesenbergs, he slid into the northeast infield and smacked the inside wall and damaged the transmission. As the relief driver for Joe Thomas’ Duesenberg, De Paolo finished in tenth place.

In 1924 at Indianapolis, De Paolo finished in sixth place driving a Duesenberg Special. He drove the rest of the season for Duesenberg. In spring 1925, De Paolo finished second at Culver City, California, and first at Fresno, California. De Paolo’s confidence was growing as they reached Indianapolis for the 500. He qualified in second place to start the race. By the 25th lap as he came down the home stretch, no other car was less than a mile behind him. On his 250-mile pit stop, he was relieved from his car for bleeding hands. When he took over again, his car was in fifth place and quickly moved up to second place. He soon drove the Duesenberg Special to first place. In winning the Thirteenth Annual Indianapolis Classic he set a record of 101.13 miles an hour average, which stood for seven years, and answered a question many times asked of him – “What was your greatest thrill?” His total winnings were approximately $40,000. Later that summer, he won at Altoona, Pennsylvania, and Laurel, Maryland.

He continued to win in 1926, at Fulford-By-the-Sea, near Miami, Florida, and finished fifth at Indianapolis. He finished third place in the national standings. He continued to race in 1927, winning again at Altoona, and finishing second at Salem, New Hampshire and won the AAA National Championship. He retired from racing in 1929. In 1935, he was the mentor for Kelly Petillo in winning the Indianapolis 500.

Pete De Paolo had a colorful career in auto racing. His book Wall Smacker does a great job telling his story. I invite you obtain a copy and enjoy the story.

You should attend the Indiana Racing Memorial Association’s Collectible Show in late January and the Indy Bench Racing Weekend in late March to find some racing collectibles.

Lexington Motor Car Company

Another of the lessor-known autos in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit is the 1922 Lexington Model U.

1922 Lexington Model U
1922 Lexington Model U

This manufacturer’s Indiana history began in 1910, when a group of Connersville businessmen enticed the infant Lexington Motor Car Company to relocate from Lexington, Kentucky, to Connersville.

The company was promotionally minded and entered both the Glidden Tour and the Indianapolis 500 in 1912 to attract attention.

In 1915, the four-cylinder engine was supplemented by a light six and a supreme six. With the new Ansted engines, Lexingtons became modern and powerful.

Lexingtons became popular with the release of the Thoroughbred Six and Minute Man Six models. In 1918, the newly formed Ansted Engine Company acquired the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation of Hagerstown. The combined Lexington and Ansted facilities measured three blocks long and two blocks wide totaling 270,000 sq. ft. of floor space.

Lexington built two short-wheelbase race cars with the powerful Ansted engine for the 1920 Pikes Peak hill climb. The cars placed first and second in their initial outing and brought home the Penrose trophy. The company cars also second place wins in 1921 through 1924. Again in 1924, Otto Loesche won in 18 minutes and 15 seconds. He brought the trophy home for keeps. The Penrose trophy is on display at the Reynolds Museum on Vine Street in Connersville. In the 1926 event, Joe Unser, an uncle of Indianapolis winners Bobby and Al Unser, placed second place.

Frank B. Ansted, president, announced the formation of the United States Automotive Corporation at the New York Auto Show on January 12, 1920. It was a $10 million merger with the Lexington Motor Car Company, the Ansted Engineering Company, and The Connersville Foundry Corporation from Connersville, plus the Teetor-Hartley Motor Corporation of Hagerstown.

The high point of Lexington production arrived in 1920 with over 6,000 cars built. On December 16, 1921, William C. Durant, founder and former president of General Motors, ordered 30,000 Ansted engines for his new Durant Six that was being built in Muncie by Durant Motors of Indiana, Inc.

Records show that in 1922, United States Automotive Corporation owned 10 different factories that were building parts for its cars. Lexington Motor Car Company and United States Automotive Corporation were affected by recessionary events in the early 20’s. Production in 1922 plummeted to roughly a third of the 1920 total.

In 1923, The Ansted Engine Company entered receivership with William C. Durant as a principle shareholder. Lexington Motor Car Company also entered receivership in 1923. In 1927, E.L. Cord’s Auburn Automobile Company purchased Ansted Engine and the Lexington Motor Car Company, respectively. The Lexington was soon phased out.

I believe the story of the Lexington Motor Car Company adds to Indiana automotive history and thank the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum for sharing this car.

Be sure to visit the Indiana Automobiles: Precision over Production exhibit ending March 26, 2017, to see the gems of Indiana automotive production.

For more information on Indiana-built automobiles, follow this link.

Congratulations to Indiana Racing Memorial Association for recognizing the Chevrolet brothers

I must say congratulations to the Indiana Racing Memorial Association for renovating the Chevrolet brothers grave site in Indianapolis.

Chevrolet brothers memorial

I have known about the Chevrolet grave sites in southern Indianapolis for many years, but was concerned about the poor up-keep and failure to recognized their accomplishments in our automotive industry.

The Indiana Racing Memorial Association, with sponsorship from Chevrolet Motorsports, and the Central Indiana Chevrolet Dealers Association have corrected this oversight. They have created a renovated grave site in the Holy Cross and St. Joseph Cemetery at 2446 S. Meridian Street. They have constructed an exquisite granite monument for
the Chevrolet brothers: Louis, Arthur, and Gaston.

chevrolet-brothers-marker

In addition to the monument, they dedicated a historical marker celebrating their automotive accomplishments. All three raced multiple times in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Louis winning the first 10-mile race at the Speedway in August 1909 and Gaston taking the 1920 Indianapolis 500.

In 1911, Louis was named president of the Chevrolet Division of General Motors and developed the Chevrolet Classic Six five-passenger touring car. Upon leaving General Motors in 1915, he began developing race cars that competed at the Speedway and across the country. In 1922, Louis and Arthur created the Chevrolet Brothers Company, in Indianapolis, to develop Frontenac cylinder heads to extract greater horsepower from the Ford Model T engine. They produced over 10,000 units that dominated dirt track racing across America.

The easiest way to get to the site is to turn west on Pleasant Run Parkway off South Meridian Street and go about a quarter-mile. Then turn north into the cemetery and proceed to the flagpole. The monument and marker are right there north of the flagpole.

I believe IRMA’s efforts with the monument and historical marker beautifully recognizes the Chevrolet brothers automotive accomplishments. Thanks to IRMA for commemorating our automotive heritage.

For other Louis Chevrolet articles click here. For more information on Indiana auto pioneers follow this link.

Homage to Parnelli Jones

In the early 1960’s Parnelli Jones was one of the popular drivers on the United States Auto Club circuits. At that time, I was a gearhead who went to many USAC races around Indiana and cheered Parnelli on to victory. Later on, I built these scale models to celebrate his racing accomplishments.

Homage to Parnelli Jones
Homage to Parnelli Jones

From left to right are the 1964 Mercury Marauder that he drove to the 1964 USAC Stock Car championship, the J. C. Agajanian Special in which he won the 1963 Indianapolis 500-mile race, and the Fike Plumbing Special which he drove to USAC sprint car crowns in 1960, 1961, and 1962.

The Fike Plumbing Special has special meaning to me, because in the summer of 1963 I was a parts washer and go-fer on this car while assisting the crew at their garage in Speedway. This is a scratch-built model I built to reminisce about this adventure. Scratch-built items include the sectioned body, grille, driver’s seat with vinyl upholstery, exhaust pipes, rear bumper, roll bar, and computer generated the decals. I started this project in the early 1970’s, put it aside, and finished in the fall of 1998.

The Mercury Marauder and the Indianapolis roadster are vintage AMT kits that I built and detailed with Fred Caddy decals in the late 1990’s.

These models have a special meaning to me that I hope comes across in the finished products. I believe they are the only 1/25 scale models of these famous racers. They are my homage to Parnelli Jones.