30-31 May: this Weekend in Motor Sports History

Discover the momentous motor sports events that took place this weekend in history ……

~30 May~

1911: Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500, averaging 74.6mph in the Marmon Wasp. The Indy 500 was the creation of Carl Fisher. In the fall of 1909, Fisher replaced the ruined, crushed-stone surface of his 2.5-mile oval with a brand-new brick one. It was the largest paved, banked oval in the United States. Fisher then made two decisions vital to the success of the Indy 500. First, he determined to hold only one race per year on his Indianapolis Motor Speedway; second, he elected to offer the richest purse in racing as a reward for competing in his annual 500-mile event. By the second year of the Indy 500, 1912, it was the highest-paying, single-day sporting event in the entire world. The purse alone guaranteed that Indy would attract the media’s undivided attention. Add to Fisher’s marketing tactics the fact that European racing suffered from an absence of major events due to the ban on public road racing, and you have the ingredients that made Indy instantly successful. The media attention, in turn, meant that the best drivers in the world would come to Indy to make their reputation. Manufacturers acknowledged that a car bearing their name would mean millions in free advertising. It’s a simple formula by today’s standards, but in Fisher’s time the risk of putting so much money down was rarely taken. In the very first race at Indy, Harroun’s Marmon became nationally recognized. The car was owned, built, and entered by the factory, and Harroun drove as a hired employee. Among the Marmon Wasp’s novel features, it is cited as the first car fitted with a rear-view mirror. But if the Indy 500 was responsible for attracting the industry to racing, it was even more responsible for creating racing as an industry. In 1911, the typical race car was built off the chassis of a big luxury car. They had huge four-cylinder engines. Instead of the heavy body of the luxury cars, the race cars were fitted with “doghouse” bodies that just covered the car’s engine and cockpit. The floorboards were wood boards, the wheels were made of ash wood, and the seats were metal buckets bolted firmly to the floorboards. The cars were equipped with rear-wheel drum brakes only. Bolster tanks, like tubular sofa bolsters, held the oil and gasoline. Due to the ill-fitting pistons, gaskets, and valves that comprised the cars’ innards, the best cars dropped nearly a dozen gallons of oil on the brick racetrack over the course of the 500-mile event. So these cars, equipped with no suspension, raced at speeds near 80mph on a brick track covered in oil. Only a decade later in 1922, nearly all the cars that started the Indy 500 were purpose-built race cars. All of them carried aerodynamic bodies, with narrow grills and teardrop-shaped tails. Knock-off wire wheels made for quick, efficient tire changes, and the new straight-sided tires lasted much longer than their early pneumatic counterparts. The best cars were equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes and inline 3.0-liter V-8 engines made of aluminum. The cars were smaller, lighter, more efficient, and far more expensive. They resembled nothing that could be purchased in a storeroom. Ray Harroun’s speed of 74.6mph would have finished him 10th at the 1922 Indy 500. It wasn’t the speeds that had changed so much as the driver’s control over the car. Racing, at least partly because of Indy, had become a sport rather than an exhibition. In the mid-1920s, the Miller and Duesenberg cars took racing to another level. Indy became what it is today, a high-paying event for the world’s most expensive cars.

1912: Ralph DePalma’s Mercedes broke its connecting rod after leading 196 laps. Joe Dawson, in a National, won after leading the only 2 laps of his Indy career. No driver has ever matched DePalma’s 196 fruitless laps in the lead, (only not being in the lead for the first two and the last two laps) and only Billy Arnold’s 198 lap domination of the 1930 race has topped DePalma’s time at the front; no driver has equalled or undercut Dawson’s 2 laps led by a winner, the fewest ever.

1913: French born Jules Goux driving a Peugeot L76 recorded a 13 minute, 8 second victory over second place Spencer Wishart in the Indianapolis 500. Goux’s victory was the first race, excluding the first, won by a rookie driver.

1914: France took its second consecutive Indianapolis 500 victory, this time with René Thomas.

1916: The 6th International 300-Mile Sweepstakes Race was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The management scheduled the race for 120 laps, 300 miles (480 km), the only Indianapolis 500 scheduled for less than 500 miles (800 km). Although the common belief is that the race distance was changed due to the onset of World War I, it was in fact Speedway management that changed the distance in order to make the race shorter and more appealing to fans. Despite the one-time altered distance, the race is still considered part of the continuous lineage of the Memorial Day classic, known as the Indianapolis 500. In addition to the altered distance, the start time was moved from 10:00 a.m. to the early afternoon (1:30 p.m.) Eddie Rickenbacker took the lead at the start, and led the first nine laps until dropping out with steering problems. Dario Resta led 103 of the 120 laps, and claimed the victory. Resta was accompanied by riding mechanic Bob Dahnke. Seven of the cars were entered by the Speedway or its owners, in order to ensure a strong field during the war. None of them finished in the top five. Despite the promoter’s entries, the field consisted of only 21 cars, the smallest in Indy history. Eddie Rickenbacker and Peter Henderson became the first drivers to wear protective headgear during the Indianapolis 500.

1921: Indianapolis 500 was won by Tommy Milton. Ralph DePalma led 109 laps but his connecting rod broke and he rolled to a halt. DePalma never led another Indianapolis 500, retiring after the 1922 race

1922: Jimmy Murphy became the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 from pole position. He was accompanied by riding mechanic Ernie Olson.

1923: Despite suffering loss of circulation and blistering in his hands due to shrinkage of his tight-fitting, ‘White Kid’ gloves, Tommy Milton became the first driver to win the Indianpolis 500 twice.

1946: Tony Hulman, the new Speedway President presided over his first Indianapolis 500 race, won by George Robson. Sadly, Robson would be killed later that year.

1948: Veteran driver Paul Pappy outran 19-year-old rookie Fireball Roberts to win the 40-lap Modified championship race at Jacksonville. It was the first time Roberts emerged as a stout contender.

1949: After two years of failures to his teammate, Bill Holland finally won the Indianapolis 500 for himself, giving Lou Moore his third consecutive victory.

1951: Lee Wallard in a Kurtis Kraft-Offenhauser won the Indianapolis 500.

1952: Bill Vukovich led for 150 laps at the Indianapolis 500 until his steering pin broke and he crashed on lap 192. Twenty-two-year-old Troy Ruttman took the checkered flag, the youngest-ever winner.

1952: Herb Thomas, a 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee, drove a Fabulous Hudson Hornet to victory in the Poor Man’s 500 at Canfield (Ohio, US) Speedway. Bill Blair finished second by a margin of four feet as the only other car on the lead lap. Bob Moore took third, one lap down on the half-mile dirt track.

1953: The one-mile superspeedway in Raleigh, North Carolina, US, joined NASCAR and presented a Memorial Day 300-miler. Fonty Flock came from his 43rd starting position to win. Tim Flock fell to third in the final laps when he pitted to remove monkey copilot Jocko Flocko from his car.

1953: On the hottest day on record for the running of the Indianapolis 500, Bill Vukovich led for 195 laps and cruised to a win by nearly three laps over 1952 rookie of the year Art Cross. Vukovich won without relief help in a race that saw one entry being driven by as many as five separate drivers, and suffered the death of driver Carl Scarborough due to heat prostration.

1955 After two wins and leading 485 laps out of a possible 656 (74%), Bill Vukovich (36) was killed on lap 57 of the Indy 500 after crashing out of the lead. Rodger Ward broke a rear axle and a back marker tangled with him in front of Vukovich, whose car hits them and vaults over the backstretch wall into a car park. Bob Sweikert won after Art Cross blows his engine on lap 169 and Don Freeland lost drive on lap 179.

1956: The AAA dropped out of sanctioning racing after the 1955 Vukovich crash at the Indianapolis 500 and public outcry that briefly followed, and the tragedy at Le Mans that same year. The USAC was formed to sanction Indianapolis style racing. Pat Flaherty won.

1957: After thirteen years of trying, Sam Hanks finally won the Indianapolis 500, and then, amidst tears, became the second winner, after Ray Harroun in 1911, to announce his retirement in victory lane. Hanks’ win came in a radical “lay-down” roadster chassis design created by engineer George Salih that, with the engine tilting 72-degrees to the right, gave the car a profile of a mere 21 inches off the ground. Salih built the car next to his California home, and was rewarded with victory as both designer and owner after stepping out on a financial limb in entering the car himself.

1958: Fireball Roberts drove his Chevrolet to a big win in the 500-mile NASCAR Grand National race at Trenton, New Jersey (US). The race was the first 500-miler staged north of Darlington (North Carolina, US).

1958: A huge wreck in turn three on the opening lap of the Indianapolis 500 wiped out several cars, and driver Pat O’Connor was fatally injured. Jimmy Bryan was the race winner.

1959: A record sixteen cars finished the entire Indianapolis 500 miles as Rodger Ward held off Jim Rathmann for the win.

1960: Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward took the lead from three-time runner up Jim Rathmann on lap 194 but slowed with tyre trouble and Rathmann retook the lead on lap 197 to win. Tragically, two spectators in the infield were killed, and several are injured, when a homemade scaffolding collapsed at the start of the race.

1962: A historic pole day at Indianpolis as Parnelli Jones broke the 150 mph barrier in qualifying. Rodger Ward and Len Sutton finished 1-2 for Leader Cards Racing.

1963: Parnelli Jones won the Indianapolis 500 despite his car (nicknamed “Calhoun”) spewing oil from a broken tank for many laps. Officials put off black flagging him until the oil level dropped and the trail stopped. Colin Chapman, whose English built, rear-engined Lotus Ford finished second in the hands of Scotsman Jim Clark, accused the officials of being biased towards the American driver and car.

1955: Paul Hawkins crashed into the harbour during the Monaco Grand Prix at Monte Carlo, which was won by Graham Hill driving a BRM P261. He is one of only two Formula One drivers, along with Italian Alberto Ascari, to have crashed into the harbour in Monaco during a Grand Prix. He escaped from the crash unhurt.

1966 Jackie Stewart led the Indianapolis 500 by over a lap when his oil pressure dropped too low on lap 192 and his car stalled. Fellow rookie Graham Hill led a total of 10 laps to win, the first rookie winner since 1927.

1970: Al Unser won his first Indianapolis 500 driving the Johnny Lightning Special. It was the first Indy 500 with a million dollar purse. Stock car racer Donnie Allison was named Indy Rookie of the Year after finishing fourth.

1976: The Monaco Grand Prix was contested over 78 laps of the 3.3 km street circuit for a race distance of 257 kilometres. The race was won by Ferrari driver Niki Lauda, who had also taken pole position in his Ferrari 312T2.

1976: Rain stopped the Indianapolis 500 on lap 102. Two hours later, the race was about to be restarted, but rain fell again. Officials called the race at that point and Johnny Rutherford was declared the winner.

1982: Gordon Johncock, who had previously won the rain-shortened 1973 race, was the winner of the Indy 500. Rick Mears finished second by a margin of 0.16 seconds, the closest finish in Indy 500 history to that point.

1993: Dale Earnhardt overcame three penalties, one for rough driving, to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Carolina (US). Earnhardt took a 129-point lead in the championship chase over Rusty Wallace, who raced despite injuries suffered at Talladega

1993: Emerson Fittipaldi won the 77th Indianapolis 500, after taking the lead with 16 laps to go, at an average speed of 157.2 mph.

1999: Mika Häkkinen driving a McLaren-Mercedes MP4-14 Spanish Grand Prix held in Barcelona.

1999: Kenny Brack won the 83rd running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, which marked the 90th Anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

2014: Michael Schumacher in a Ferrari F2004 won the European Grand Prix at Nürburgring.

2014: Buddy Rice won a rain-shortened 88th Indianapolis 500-Mile Race for team owners Bobby Rahal, the 1986 “500” winner, and late-night talk show host Dave Letterman, an Indianapolis native.

~31 May~

1909: Guy Lee Evans, riding an Indian, became the first American to win a motorcycle race at Brooklands in England.

1915: Ralph DePalma driving a Mercedes 18/100 accompanied by riding mechanic Louis Fontaine won the Indianapolis 500. The traditional race date of May 30 fell on a Sunday, but race organizers declined to schedule the race for Sunday. The race was set for Saturday May 29, but heavy rains in the days leading up to the race flooded the grounds and made some roads leading to the track impassible. Officials decided to postpone the race until Monday May 31 in order to allow the grounds to dry out. Speedway management would maintain their policy to not race on Sundays until 1974.

1919: With the track reopened after the war, local Indiana-born driver Howdy Wilcox driving a Peugeot broke a four-race winning streak by European drivers at the ‘500’. 19 rookies started the race, the most newcomers in one Indy 500 field (if one discounts the “all-rookie” field of 1911). It was also the first Indy 500 win for Goodyear tyres and the first playing of the song “Back Home Again in Indiana” at the 500.

1920: Ralph DePalma led the Indianapolis 500 by 2 laps with 13 to go when his engine caught fire. Gaston Chevrolet, brother to Chevrolet company founder Louis, took the lead and won. DePalma finished 5th. Seven months later, Chevrolet was killed during a race at Beverly Hills, becoming the first winner of the ‘500’ to die.

1926: Twenty three year-old racing sensation Frank Lockhart won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in a Miller 122. He was the first winner born in the 20th century. Louis Chevrolet drove the Chrysler pace car for the start

1937: The 25th International 500-Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday, May 31, 1937. With temperatures topping out at 92°F, it is one of the hottest days on record for the Indy 500. Late in the race, Wilbur Shaw held a comfortable lead, and had lapped second place Ralph Hepburn. With about 20 laps to go, however, Shaw’s car had been leaking oil, and had nearly lost nearly all of the oil out of the crankcase. In addition, the right rear tire was heavily worn. Shaw slowed down considerably in an effort to nurse his car to the finish line. Shaw and his riding mechanic John “Jigger” Johnson were both suffering from burns due to the leaking oil. Second place Hepburn realized Shaw’s problems, and began a charge to catch him. He unlapped himself, and went on a tear in hopes of victory. As the laps dwindled down, Ralph Hepburn was closing dramatically. Shaw was largely defenseless, as he was carefully nursing the car around. As the car went in and out of the turns, the oil pressure was rising and dropping, and Shaw was calculating how much time he could give up per lap and still maintain the lead. Hepburn closed to a straightaway deficit, then was nearly in reach. On the final lap Hepburn pulled to within a few seconds, and by the last turn he was directly behind Shaw and looking to pass him for the win. With nothing to lose, Shaw floored the accelerator and pulled away down the final straight. He held off Hepburn for the win by 2.16 seconds, the closest finish in Indy 500 history to that point. The margin would stand as the closest finish ever at Indy until 1982.

1948: For the second year in a row, the Blue Crown Spark Plug teammates Mauri Rose and Bill Holland finished 1st-2nd at the Indianapolis 500. Rose became the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in consecutive years

1952: In San Francisco the first Golden Gate Park Road Race was held. A 3.1-mile, eight-turn course was laid out in the western half of the park. Co-sponsored by The Guardsmen and the San Francisco Parks and Recreation Department, the meeting was SCCA-sanctioned. Fifty-eight entries were accepted for the three races on the card: F3, sportscars under and sportscars over 1500cc. The under-1500s consisted mostly of MG TCs and TDs, while among the over-1500s were Jaguar XK120s, Allards, an Aston Martin, a Ferrari and a variety of specials. An estimated 50,000 spectators saw Roger Barlow (Simca Special) win the small-capacity category and Bill Pollack’s Cad-Allard beat Phil Hill’s Ferrari 212 in the main event. There were several changes made to improve crowd control and the racing for the second running in 1953. An even bigger crowd was anticipated and miles of snow fencing was erected to keep fans further from the track. An additional production car class replaced F3 and more entries were accepted: 87. OSCA, Giaur, Jowett, Nardi, C-type Jaguars and Healey Silverstones joined the more familiar MGs, Allards, Porsches and homebuilt specials. Ken Miles’ R-1, an MG-based special, was the fastest 1500, but the man of the meeting was 21-year-old Masten Gregory, who belied his inexperience — just two races prior to this one — with a mature drive to victory aboard a C-type. A record 100,000 lined the course. The third meeting in 1954 was bigger and better: 143 entries, 115,000 spectators, four races. Bill David’s OSCA ran away with the under-1500cc event and Jack McAfee’s Ferrari 375 outran the field in the main event. Journalists and officials were by now speculating that Golden Gate Park’s races might gain grand prix status and attract top international drivers to compete with America’s best. Not everybody was enamoured, though. Environmentalists wielded power even then and the city fathers succumbed to their pressure to stop the races: too many people, too much noise, and damage to plants and trees. Racing cars were getting faster, too, increasing the chance of a big accident. The venue was consigned to history.

1954: Bill Vukovich won his second consecutive 500. Vukovich died the following year attempting to win his third consecutive Indy 500. The race reportedly went 110 laps before the first yellow light.

1958: Riverside International Race­way in Southern California opened with three 500-mile races in one weekend. Eddie Gray captured the Crown America 500 for NASCAR Grand National cars in an event that took more than six hours to ­complete.

1959: The Dutch Grand Prix held over 75 laps of the four kilometre circuit for a race distance of 314 kilometres, was won by Swedish driver Joakim Bonnier driving a BRM P25. It would be the only World Championship victory of Bonnier’s fifteen-year Grand Prix career. It was also the first win for the Owen Racing Organisation, the race team of the constructor BRM, after almost a decade of effort.

1965: Jim Clark of Britain became the first non-American winner of the Indianapolis 500, winning in his Lotus at an average speed of 150.69 mph. He is the only driver in history to win the Indy 500 and Formula One World Championship in the same year.

1970: Jim Clark of Britain became the first non-American winner of the Indianapolis 500, winning in his Lotus at an average speed of 150.69 mph. He is the only driver in history to win the Indy 500 and Formula One World Championship in the same year.

1977: Floyd Davis (67), winner of the 1941 Indianapolis 500, died.

1981: Nelson Piquet led for much of the Monaco Grand Prix, but crashed out late on. New race leader Alan Jones then suffered a fuel feed problem in the latter stages of the race, allowing Gilles Villeneuve in his Ferrari 126CK, to take his first victory since 1979.

1982: Bobby Rahal became the first to average over 170 mph in the Indianapolis 500.

1987: The Monaco Grand Prix was won by Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna driving a Lotus 99T, the first of his six wins at the famous street circuit and the fifth Grand Prix victory of his career.

1992: Contested over 78 laps, the Monaco Grand Prix was won by Ayrton Senna after a close battle for the lead in the final three laps with Nigel Mansell. Mansell has started from pole position and had been in first place from the start until lap 71 when he had to stop for a new set of tyres after he suspected puncture with his left rear tyre. Despite Senna’s victory, Mansell proved to be faster during the race, and seemed to be on course for a comfortable victory before his pitstop on lap 71.

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