100 Years of the Indy 500

This week, as part of the buildup toward the 100th Anniversary running of the Indy 500 next may, Indianapolis Motor Speedway rolled out 33 cars from the museum for a photo shoot on the famed Brickyard's front straightaway.

Zen Arcade

Mario Andretti's 1969 Indy 500 winning Brawner-Hawk

The very first race winner, the 1911 Marmon Wasp driven by Ray Harroun was on display along with the latest Indy 500 winner, the 2010 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Dallara driven by Dario Franchitti. 

Among the other 31 masterpieces were:

  • Jim Clark's Lotus/Ford
  • Wilber Shaw's 1939/1949 Boyle Maserati,
  • Parnelli Jones'1963 Willard Battery Special
  • Johnny Rutherford's 1980 Jim Hall Pennzoil Chaparral.

Pics can be found at the Indianapolis Motorspeedway blog. I would encourage all to take a look and try to appreciate the great history the Indianapolis 500 holds in the continuing story of American open wheel racing.

I sadly believe that the best era of human ingenuity, personal accomplishment and "old world" craftsmanship in racing - as represented by these 33 Indianapolis-winning cars. It is forever gone, another victim of progress that, like the 1969 Brawner Hawk/Ford that gave Mario Andretti his only Memorial Day 500 victory and which is now housed at the Smithsonian, we will only be able to experience in static form at some museum.

American racers don't make IndyCars anymore.  We make machines that make race cars, we tell the machines what to do and we have race car building industries but the personal touch -- and I mean bending metal, forming fiberglass, welding steel tubing by hand -- is all but gone from the sport.

The replica Brawner Hawk shown above is still the work of artisans.  It remains an example of what engineers and mechanics armed only with tape measures, slide rules, hand tools and a good eye, plus some real world experience, could do in their search for speed and performance.

Yes, I understand that the human element has simply shifted position in the production process.  That's progress, I get it and the benefit has been greater safety first, more performance second to the point that we can make cars that will go far faster than our light years better than the past safety improvements will prudently allow. 

That wasn't the case throughout the first eight decades of Indianapolis-style racing history.  And I for one am sorry to know that era has ended.

Never again will an IndyCar be conceived, engineered, drawn up and completely constructed in a race shop as big as a four car garage.  Fewer and fewer fabricators in the making will learn how to use an English Wheel to form the bodywork of a race car destined to compete in The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Andretti's Brawner Hawk was built in a small race shop in Phoenix, Arizona by Clint Brawner and Jim McGee.  Al Unser's Vel Parnelli Jones Colts, A.J. Foyt's Coyotes. Jim Hall's Chaparrals and even Al Unser Jr.'s 1992 winning Galmer were also racer-built by men who thought they had a better idea. 

Today our only ideas are superficial.  Ever since carbon fiber chassis and exotic, expensive materials became de reguer it seems the only avenues for racer creativity and ingenuity are paint schemes and marketing programs.

I'm looking forward to when the Racing in America Exhibition opens at The Henry Ford because I'm certain we'll be able to see many, many examples of how motorsports became the great, passion-filled sports and entertainment industry it has become.

But I'm still a little sad because I know racing and especially the cars of the future will never again be what they were in the past.  That's progress I guess.


Read more of Bill Tybur's thoughts on fantasy racing at FMFL

Photo Credit: JBon Vouloir