Tag Archives: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

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.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Records Despite Zero Weather

Lewis Strang at the wheel of a Renault in 1908
Lewis Strang at the wheel of a Renault in 1908

As reported in The Automobile, December 18, 1909 – Considering the weather conditions, the speed trials on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway yesterday and today could be termed eminently successful. The events, which were the first on the course since the track has been paved with brick, merely gave an indication of what may be expected when the weather is more favorable.

The speedway management, in fact, is fairly well satisfied with the results. With the thermometer hovering near the zero mark, causing frequent carburetor trouble, and with the drivers suffering from the intense cold, some remarkable time was made. The most notable feat was that of Lewis Strang in his 120-horsepower Fiat covering five-miles in 3:17.70, establishing a new record, the former record for the distance being 4:11.3, held by Barney Oldfield and established on the local course last August.

Inclemency of weather detracted somewhat from the mass of interested spectators, yet the total attendance was quite satisfactory, being of the substantial sort, to whom a little detail like zero weather would have but small influence in the face of the expected performance, nor can it be claimed that they were disappointed. Then, there were opening speeches, congratulatory opportunities, they who stood shoulder to shoulder in the good fight.

Just prior to the first trials yesterday afternoon, the ceremony of placing the last brick in the course was held in front of the judge’s stand, at the finish line. The brick is of coin silver, plated with gold and weights about fifty-two pounds. It was placed in position by Governor Thomas R. Marshall, assisted by his private secretary, Mark Thistlewaite.

Strang’s time for the five-miles was easily the sensation of the meet. The drivers suffered intensely from the cold. Despite the fact that they wore heavy gloves and had their faces protected by woolen bandages they were almost frozen during the trials. When they stopped their cars, they could scarcely move their bodies and frequently had to be lifted out. Once after Strang had completed a trial he found his face almost frozen and washed it in the icy water of the stream that runs nearby.

The Speedway management is to be congratulated for its persistence, having expended a vast sum of money in brick-paving the track, after it was found that no other class of pavement could be regarded as safe, considering the possible speeds of modern racing automobiles. That all records will be broken, under fair conditions of weather, is now assured.

I feel this is an incredible story of the trials on the newly paved Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Can you imagine driving an open car for five-miles during zero-degree weather?

Stay tuned for more stories about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

Visiting Indianapolis’ automotive sites

Over the years I have developed Indianapolis Auto Tours to visit the city’s numerous automotive sites. I would like to share some of the highlights.

In the afternoon, we could kick-off our celebration at the James A. Allison and Frank H. Wheeler’s mansions along millionaire row on the Marian University campus. Let’s look inside these 100 year-old time capsules of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, automotive, and transportation founders.

Allison Mansion
Allison Mansion

Next, we’ll continue with an Auto Pioneer Burial Site Tour at Crown Hill Cemetery nestled along the Dixie Highway. Auto pioneers Carl G. Fisher and Louis Schwitzer are buried on Strawberry Hill near James Whitcomb Riley, President Benjamin Harrison, and Eli Lilly.

Later, we’ll tour the Stutz Motor Car Company complex on Capitol Avenue to view some automobiles built in the building from 1912 -1935. Building proprietor Turner J. Woodard has autos ranging from a Stutz Bearcat to a Stutz Pak-Age-Car.

On the next morning, we’ll go on an Auto Pioneers Tour visiting some mansions along Meridian Street and Fall Creek Parkway. We then continue along Indianapolis’ Automobile Row on North Capitol and auto manufacturing sites around the belt railroads circling the city.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum

After lunch, we’ll go to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum to see Fisher’s custom-built 1905 Premier racer designed for the Vanderbilt Cup Race and the Fisher-era Stoddard-Dayton. Our afternoon will finished up by touring by the Prest-O-Lite and Allison Engineering factories on Main Street in Speedway.

It is interesting how this part of Indianapolis’ business and social heritage started over 120 years ago when Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, and Arthur C. Newby met while being members of the Zig-Zag Cycling Club during the 1890’s bicycle craze. Their friendships went on to form the genesis for ventures like the Fisher Automobile Company, Prest-O-Lite Company, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Lincoln Highway, the Dixie Highway, the development of Miami Beach, Allison Engineering Company, Allison Transmission, Indianapolis Stamping Company (the predecessor of today’s Diamond Chain Company), and National Automobile Company. These men and their ideas have brought employment and enjoyment to tens of thousand’s of individuals through the years.

I invite you to contact me at Indianapolis Auto Tours to customize your visit Indianapolis’ automotive sites.

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Mark Dill’s First Super Speedway

I believe one of the best websites about the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is Mark Dill’s First Super Speedway..

First Super Speedway

Copyright © 2009 Mark Dill Enterprises

I’ve been monitoring his website for many years since I was introduced to him at the Speedway in 2011. His incredible in-depth reporting about the early days of racing in America is second to none. For example, his recent article about racing in the early 1900’s shares an incredible amount of information on the Brooklands, the Vanderbilt cup races and the beginnings of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Then there is Mark’s research on the Speedway founders Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby and Frank H. Wheeler telling the story of their venture to launch the Speedway as an automotive testing ground. Their tenacity in improving the track after the disastrous first auto races in August 1909 led to races on Memorial Day 1910 and announcing the first Indianapolis 500 in May 1911.

1905 Premier Special
1905 Premier Special
Copyright © 2012 Dennis E. Horvath

Another of his articles talks about Carl Fisher’s 1905 Premier racer built for the Vanderbilt Cup race. Unfortunately, the car was 300 pounds overweight, and the American Automobile Association wouldn’t allow him to race in the Vanderbilt. In November, Fisher drove the mechanized beast to win a five-mile handicap support race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Mark does a great job of telling the story of the Speedway over the years. I invite you the check out the First Super Speedway to peruse the continuing story of the Speedway.

For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

From my Bookshelf-Summer 2016 Edition

If you’re like me, I know you’re continually looking for interesting auto related books. Here are some picks from my bookshelf for summer 2016.

Industrial Strength Design
Industrial Strength Design

One of the first things that draws me to an automobile is styling. In Industrial Strength Design: How Brooks Stevens Shaped Your World, author Glenn Adamson documents Brooks Stevens’ career in Industrial Design from 1934 – 1979.

One automotive example is how Brooks Stevens customized his own Cord L-29 Cabriolet in 1938. Stevens made slight changes to the body and fender contours, finished off with a streamline paint job, and added a sloping windshield and chrome wheel discs over the stock wire wheels. Next, he removed the rumble seat and folding top and installed a seamless rear body with a rounded fin protruding from the center. (This may be the earliest tail fin to appear on an American car.) He dramatically transformed the front of the car with a bar type grille with sculptured chrome bumpers and teardrop shaped “wood lights.” Today, this car resides in a private collection.

Adamson yields a thorough look at Brooks Stevens’ influence on industrial design. The author provides insights about this creative force for over four decades.

Industrial Strength Design at Amazon.com.

Umbrella mike

I am interested in stories that involve the Indianapolis 500. In Umbrella Mike: The True Story of the Chicago Gangster Behind the Indy 500, author Brock Yates documents Mike Boyle’s love of high-speed automobiles that began at the age of 16 when he attended the Chicago Times-Herald race on November 28, 1895 (one of the America’s first auto races). This event later led to Boyle’s quest to win the Indianapolis 500. Boyle cars won the 500 three times, once with Bill Cummings as the driver in 1934, and twice with Wilbur Shaw in 1939 and 1940.

Boyle’s quest for new speedsters led him to the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island, NY, where he witnessed the dominance of European-built machines. Here he became further acquainted with Wilbur Shaw driving a Maserati. In early 1939, Shaw was assigned to drive the new Maserati 8CTF and drove this car to victory in the next two 500’s.

Yates provides an interesting look at Mike Boyle’s desire to be at the top of American auto racing. The author draws you into the action on the track.

Peruse Umbrella Mike: The True Story of the Chicago Gangster Behind the Indy 500 at Amazon.com.

Arsenal of Ddemocracy
Arsenal of Ddemocracy

I have always been interested in how the American automotive industry became known as the “Arsenal of Democracy.” In The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War, author A. J. Baime documents how Henry Ford and his son Edsel, with the Ford Motor Company, used automotive production methods to create the Willow Run aircraft factory. The facility was able to produce bombers at the unheard of rate of a “bomber an hour.” Ford’s initiative is a leading example of how the American automotive industry became known as the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

The first Ford-produced B-24 Liberator rolled off the huge Willow Run assembly line on May 15, 1942. The B-24 Liberator remains the most mass-produced American military aircraft ever. Of the total 18,482 Liberators built during the war, 8,685 rolled out of Willow Run. At the peak of production, the plant employed over 42,000 workers.

Baime’s looks at the automotive industry’s quest to arm America and her allies.

Peruse The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War at Amazon.com.

Built for Adventure
Built for Adventure

After reading Clive Cussler’s Artic Drift, I became aware of one of his nonfiction works – Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt

For a genuine car nut like myself, this book was a venture into cars from the classic era. The fact that 13 of the 58 cars highlighted in the book are Indiana-built didn’t surprise me. These included Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Marmon and Stutz models. My choice of the best Indiana-built car is the 1932 V-12 Auburn boattail speedster that is also featured on the back of the Artic Drift dust cover.

Author Clive Cussler does an outstanding job of documenting these classic cars from his collection. He presents a brief history of each auto producer, thoughts about what drew him to each car, and details about the features of each particular auto.

Cussler’s weaves a thorough look at these classic icons. The book’s production fits a classic theme with an outstanding layout and first class photography.

Peruse Built for Adventure: The Classic Automobiles of Clive Cussler and Dirk Pitt at Amazon.com.

So, if you’re looking for some different books about our automotive heritage, I invite you to peruse these. See you the next time from my bookshelf.

For more information on our bookstore follow this link.