Indianapolis 500 by year

Indianapolis 500 by year

This article discusses the year-by-year history of the Indianapolis 500 race.

1909 & 1910

The first auto races held the Indianapolis Motor Speedway occur on August 19-21, 1909. After a series of races held in the summer of 1910, it was decided that one large event per year be held. The track founders settled on a Memorial Day event scheduled for a then-fantastic distance of 500 miles.

1911 to 1919

1911: An accident disrupts the official timing and scoring stand mid-way through the race. Ray Harroun receives the chequered flag first but many believe Ralph Mulford, classified second, actually won the race. Had he pulled straight into the winners circle Mulford might indeed have been heralded as the winner, but he ran some 'insurance laps', ironically in case the scorers had missed a lap. Harroun did pull in, received the plaudits, and very little else was said on the matter; Harroun, the defending AAA champion, retires after winning the race in the six-cylinder Marmon Wasp, a car he personally designed.

1912: Ralph DePalma's Mercedes breaks its connecting rod after leading 196 laps. Joe Dawson, in a National, wins 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 tops DePalma’s time at the front; no driver has equalled or undercut Dawson's 2 laps led by a winner, the fewest ever.

1913: A five-story, wooden pagoda-style timing and scoring tower on the inside of the main straightaway gives the Speedway an enduring landmark; the style reflects Speedway President Carl Fisher's apparent interest in Oriental architecture. French born Jules Goux drinks six bottles of champagne on his way to a record 13 minute, 8 second victory over second place Spencer Wishart. He averages approximately 10 miles per gallon of fuel — and an unknown quantity of champagne per stop. Goux's victory is the first race, excluding the first, won by a rookie driver.

1914: France takes its second consecutive 500 victory, this time with René Thomas, the first occasion for consecutive rookie winners. Also, in a technological breakthrough, inaugural race winner Ray Harroun, in charge of the United States Motor Company team, develops a fuel-sipping carburetor that runs on kerosene. Driver Willie Carlson's Maxwell chassis proceeds to run the race to an eventual ninth-place finish on a mere 30 gallons; with the price at $0.06 a gallon, Carlson's total $1.80 fuel bill stands as the most economical performance in motor racing history.

1915: Ralph DePalma's Mercedes again begins to slow with connecting rod problems late in the race. This time though he makes it to the finish to win.

1916: Dario Resta wins the race, which was shortened to 300 miles (500 km) due to the ongoing war in Europe. The field of 21 cars is the smallest ever. Later in the year, the Harvest Auto Racing Classic is also held.

1917-1918: Race is not held on account of World War I. Other tracks continue to host smaller events, but Indianapolis voluntarily suspends the race. Though closed to racing, the Speedway is used as an airstrip, serving as a fuel stop between Air Force bases in Dayton, Ohio and Rantoul, Illinois.

1919: With the track reopened after the war, local Indiana-born driver Howdy Wilcox breaks a four-race winning streak by Europeans. There are 19 rookies who start this year's race, the most newcomers in one Indy 500 field (if one discounts the "all-rookie" field of 1911).

1920 to 1929

1920: Ralph DePalma leads by 2 laps with 13 to go when his engine catches fire. Gaston Chevrolet, brother to Chevrolet company founder Louis, takes the lead and wins. DePalma finishes 5th. Seven months later, Chevrolet is killed during a race at Beverly Hills, becoming the first winner of the '500' to die.

1921: The race is won by Tommy Milton. Ralph DePalma leads 109 laps but once again his connecting rod breaks and he rolls to a halt. DePalma never leads another Indianapolis 500, retiring after the 1922 race. His final career total is 612 laps led for 1 win. DePalma's record number of circuits in front is finally topped by Al Unser 67 years later.

1922: Jimmy Murphy is the first driver to win the race from the pole position.

1923: Despite suffering loss of circulation and blistering in his hands due to shrinkage of his tight-fitting, 'White Kid' gloves, Tommy Milton becomes the first driver to win the race twice (Milton was relieved by Howdy Wilcox for laps 103-151).

1924: Lora L. Corum's car is taken over by Joe Boyer, who goes on to win. Corum wins without leading a single lap in his racing career at Indianapolis, the first driver to do so.

1925: The race is won by Ralph DePalma's nephew, and former riding mechanic, Peter DePaolo. Depaolo was the first to average over 100 mph on his way to victory.

1926: 23 year-old racing sensation Frank Lockhart wins the race as a rookie. He is the first winner born in the 20th century.

1927: Rookie George Souders wins by eight laps, the largest margin since 1913; consecutive rookie winners occurs for the second time. Many racing pundits view Souders' race as the most surprising, 'longest-shot' 500-Mile Race win in history until 1987.

1928: Jimmy Gleason has a good lead when he stops for water for the radiator on lap 195. A crew member misses the radiator and douses the car's magneto. Gleason is out and Louis Meyer wins.

1929: Louis Meyer stalls on his final pitstop, handing the race to Ray Keech, who is killed in a racing crash just two weeks after the '500'.

1930 to 1939

1930: Billy Arnold takes the lead on lap three and is never headed again. Arnold's 198 laps led in a race has never been bettered.

1931: 1930 winner Billy Arnold is 5 laps ahead on lap 162 when his rear axle breaks and Arnold crashes. His wheel flies over a fence and hits and kills 12 year old Wilbur Brink who is sitting in his garden on Georgetown Road. Arnold and his mechanic are injured. Louis Schneider leads the remaining laps.

1932: Fred Frame wins the race from 27th starting position, and is the eighth different leader of the race, a record at the time.

1933: The largest field to date with 42 starters. Louis Meyer wins after one of the most violent races ever, with five drivers or mechanics killed and several others seriously injured. The standard Victory Banquet after the race is not held, and the predominance of safety as chief concern for race organizers begins 'in force'. Prior to the 1933 race, Howdy Wilcox II (no relation to the 1919 winner) was disqualified when officials found out that he was a diabetic.

1934: Bill Cummings wins by 27 seconds from Mauri Rose, the closest ever finish at the time.

1935: The newly introduced yellow 'caution' light, requiring drivers to slow and hold position, makes its first appearance in race, to eventual race winner Kelly Petillo's advantage as many of the late laps are disrupted by rain, neutralising Petillo's race long battle with Rex Mays and Wilbur Shaw.

1936: Louis Meyer becomes the first driver to win a third time, drink milk (in actuality buttermilk) in Victory Lane, and receive the Borg-Warner Trophy.

1937: Wilbur Shaw leads most of the way but must slow late on to conserve engine oil. Ralph Hepburn catches Shaw in turn 4 on the final lap, but Shaw steps on the gas and pulls away to win by 2.16 seconds - the closest finish at that time.

1938: Floyd Roberts, driving the ill-fated Burd Piston Ring Special, dominates to win by three laps.

1939: Defending winner Floyd Roberts, driving the same car he drove into victory circle in 1938, dies in a crash coming off the second turn onto the backstretch on lap 107. Wilbur Shaw wins his second 500, driving a Maserati. Interesting fact: The Maserati used by Wilbur Shaw was also used by Bill Vukovich to accomplish his rookie test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

1940 to 1949

1940: Wilbur Shaw sets up a commanding lead until rain brings out the caution for the last 50 laps and guides Shaw to his third victory, and the first by a driver in consecutive years. This is the last time a native Hoosier has won the 500.

1941: Floyd Davis' car is relieved by Mauri Rose, who goes on to win. Davis joins L.L. Corum as a winner who not only didn't lead a lap during the race they won, but never led any laps at Indy. The race was marred by a morning fire which engulfed the entire garage area.Only one car, that of George Barringer, is destroyed in the blaze. Sam Hanks's car wrecked on the day before the race, and only 31 cars took the green flag.

1942-1945: Race is not held due to World War II. The 1942 race was originally scheduled, but was cancelled in the days following Pearl Harbor. Unlike during WWI, all automobile racing is banned in the United States, primarily due to rationing. The Speedway gates were locked, and the facility was abandoned, left in a state of disrepair.

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

1947: Bill Holland leads 143 laps before he is overtaken in the closing laps by team mate Mauri Rose. The team had displayed an 'EZY' signal, telling the drivers to hold station to the finish. Holland thought Rose was a lap behind and let him past, even waving at him as he went by. The confusion cost Holland the win, as Rose cruised to victory. Only 30 cars start the 1947 race because of a union dispute.

1948: Mauri Rose becomes the second back-to-back winner. Unlike last year's race, however, no controversy erupts in the way that Rose and Holland finish.

1949: After two years of failures to his teammate, Bill Holland finally wins one for himself, giving Lou Moore his third consecutive victory. Mauri Rose is fired by the team after the race when he again ignores orders and tries to pass Holland, only for his car to fail.

1950 to 1959

1950: Johnnie Parsons' engine has an irreparable crack in it so he decides to charge for the lap leader prizes. At 345 miles (555 km) the rain saves Parsons and he cruises to the win as the race is called at lap 138.

1951: Four days after winning the 500 Lee Wallard is severely burned in a sprint car race and lives the rest of his life unable to perspire properly and without the strength to drive a car.

1952: Bill Vukovich leads 150 laps until his steering pin breaks and he crashes on lap 192. Twenty-two-year-old Troy Ruttman takes the checkered flag, the youngest-ever winner. On the pole for the '52 race was Fred Agabashian's Diesel-powered racer that succumbed to supercharger trouble on lap 71.

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

1954: Picking up where he left off, Bill Vukovich wins again by one lap over Jimmy Bryan, after taking the lead for the final time just past the halfway point. Incredibly, for the second straight year one entry on race day is driven by five separate drivers, in temperatures only just below the previous year's record.

1955: After two wins and 485 laps led of a possible 656 (74%), Bill Vukovich is killed on lap 57 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 wins after Art Cross blows his engine on lap 169 and Don Freeland loses drive on lap 179. Sweikert dies in a sprint car race a year later. Interesting fact: Sweikert built the Offenhauser engine that brought him the victory, while his car owner (AJ Watson) was at his wife's bedside while she was in labor.

1956: AAA drops out of sanctioning racing after the 1955 Vukovich crash and public outcry that briefly followed, and the tragedy at Le Mans that same year, so USAC is formed to sanction Indianapolis style racing. Pat Flaherty wins.

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

1958: A huge wreck in turn three on the opening lap wipes out several cars, and driver Pat O'Connor is fatally injured. Jimmy Bryan goes on to win. Little-known rookie A.J. Foyt spins out and finishes 16th.

1959: A record sixteen cars finish the entire 500 miles as Rodger Ward holds off Jim Rathmann for the win.

1960 to 1969

1960: Defending winner Rodger Ward takes the lead from three-time runner up Jim Rathmann on lap 194 but slows with tire trouble and Rathmann retakes the lead on lap 197 and wins. Tragically, two spectators in the infield are killed, and several are injured, when a homemade scaffolding collapses at the start of the race.

1961: A.J. Foyt, in his fourth 500, looks set for a win, leading Eddie Sachs, until his crew signal that Foyt's last pit stop didn't get enough fuel in car. Foyt gives up the lead on lap 184 for a splash-and-go. Sachs leads by 25 seconds until the warning tread shows through on his rear tire and Sachs decides to play safe. Foyt returns to the lead when Sachs stops on lap 197 for tires and wins (on the first of four occasions) by 8.28 seconds. Sachs is killed in a crash at the start of the 1964 race, a race which is won by Foyt. Also, Jack Brabham drives in this race in a low-slung, rear-engined Cooper-Climax. In October 1961, the mainstrech is paved over in asphalt, and thus the entire track is now paved in asphalt. A single yard of bricks at the start/finish line is left exposed from the original 1909 surface. The remainder of the original 3,200,000 bricks now lie underneath the asphalt surface.

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

1963: Parnelli Jones wins despite his car (nicknamed "Calhoun") spewing oil from a broken tank for many laps. Officials put off black flagging him until the oil level drops and the trail stops. Colin Chapman, whose English built, rear-engined Lotus Ford finishes second in the hands of Scotsman Jim Clark, accuses the officials of being biased towards the American driver and car. Additionally, driver Eddie Sachs is punched by Jones at a victory dinner after Sachs tells Jones his win is tainted. Ironic fact: During a pitstop by the Andy Granatelli team, who was running a Novi machine, some oil went out of the engine due to a sudden stop. The car was black flagged. Andy Granatelli wound the Novi up to full song, and no oil came out. The wrong car was taken out of the race.

1964: A tragic day as fan favorite Eddie Sachs and rookie Dave MacDonald are killed in a fiery crash on lap 2. Fans look on in horror while the billowing black smoke becomes visible for miles, and the race is stopped for almost two hours. When the race resumes, Bobby Marshman dominates the early laps before driving too low in the third turn and tearing off the radiator cap to drop out, which then puts pole-sitter Jim Clark into a commanding lead before his Dunlop tires shred and break the car's suspension. Parnelli Jones takes the lead but he suffers a pit fire and is now out of the race. A.J. Foyt takes the checkered flag for the second time (the last win by a front-engined roadster), but is visibly subdued in victory lane, after losing his competitor and friend Sachs.

1965: The five-year old "British Invasion" finally breaks through as Jim Clark and Colin Chapman triumph in dominating fashion with the first rear-engined winning car, a Lotus. ABC covers the race for the first time on "Wide World of Sports".

1966: Jackie Stewart leads by over a lap when his oil pressure drops too low on Lap 192 and his car stalls. Fellow rookie Graham Hill leads a total of 10 laps to win, the first rookie winner since 1927. Eleven of the 33 starters, a whole third of the field, are eliminated in a first lap accident. Only seven cars, the fewest finishers ever, are still running by the end of the race. Interesting fact: Jim Clark's machine was supposed to have a 16 cylinder engine, which was supposed to give extra power, but the factory that made the engine was robbed, and the engine was lost. An 8-cylinder engine was put in, and he spun twice due to the improperly balanced weight.

1967: The race is stopped on lap 19 (May 30th) due to rain and completed the next day (May 31). Parnelli Jones' STP Granatelli turbine car ("Silent Sam") leads 171 laps until a transmission bearing fails on lap 197 and Jones coasts to a halt. A.J. Foyt wins a third 500 after working his way through a multi-car crash, involving Bobby Grim and Chuck Hulse, coming off of turn four of his 200th lap. The race is stopped immediately leaving Foyt as the only finisher (Second place, Al Unser, is stopped on his 198th lap).

1968: On lap 174 Lloyd Ruby’s engine misfires allowing Joe Leonard’s STP Lotus turbine into the lead. Leonard’s leading Lotus flames out on a lap 190 restart and rolls to a silent halt. Bobby Unser goes by to win. Jim Hurtubise's entry, which drops out after nine laps, is the last front-engine car to race in the 500.

1969: Mario Andretti crashes in practice and suffers burns two weeks before the race, but he hops into a back-up car and wins going away. Andy Granatelli, who abandoned the turbine cars for 1969, plants a famous kiss on his cheek in victory lane. Interesting fact: The type of engine in his car was known to overheat, so Cliff Brawner, his chief mechanic, managed to insert a radiator underneath Mario's seat, making it the hottest ride Mario had ever driven at the speedway. Also, for the official front row picture, Mario's twin brother Aldo was standing in for him.

1970 to 1979

1970: Following in the footsteps of his brother Bobby, Al Unser win the 500, leading 190 laps in the most dominating win since Bill Vukovich's leading all but five in 1953.

1971: Tragedy strikes at the start as local Indianapolis Dodge dealer Eldon Palmer wrecks the pace car into a photographer's stand. No one is killed, but several are injured, some seriously. Notwithstanding the distraction, Al Unser wins for a second year in a row. ABC television broadcasts the race for the first time in same-day tape delay.

1972: Gary Bettenhausen leads 138 laps until his engine blows on lap 176. Jerry Grant gets the lead but pits for new tires on lap 188 in team mate Bobby Unser’s pit. Bettenhausen’s Penske team mate Mark Donohue wins after leading 13 laps. After a post-race re-examination, scoring is stopped on Grant because of the pit lane violation. Bolt-on wings were allowed for the first time, and during qualifying Bobby Unser runs over 196 mph, breaking the one-year-old track record by over 17 mph. During the race, Wally Dallenbach Sr.'s car catches fire on each of his three refueling stops.

1973: The race was scheduled for Monday, however rain delays the start until late in the afternoon. At the start, Salt Walther tangles with another car and flips into the catch fencing, injuring several spectators. Rain prevents the race from resuming. On Tuesday, rain halts the race on the pace lap, preventing a start for the second day in a row. On Wednesday, rain threatens yet another washout, but the sky eventually clears well enough for the race to finally get going. On the 58th lap, Swede Savage is involved in a fiery crash at the exit of turn four. In the pit area, a crew member from Graham McRae's team (Savage's teammate), is struck and killed by a fire truck. After a long red flag, the race resumes, with Gordon Johncock (Savage's other teammate) leading. On lap 129, rain begins to fall again and the race is called on lap 133, with Johncock the winner. Savage dies of his injuries on July 2.

1974: In the midst of an energy crisis, and as an infield of hippies storm the track, Johnny Rutherford comes from the 25th starting position, deepest in the field since 1933, to record his first victory. During the month, as a gesture to the energy crisis, time trials were trimmed from four days down to two, and several days of practice were either reduced by several hours or eliminated outright. The race was also scheduled on Sunday for the first time, thereby ending the "never-on-a-Sunday" policy that had dated to 1911. The reduced practice time was well-received and noticiably adequate, and thus became a permanent change. But four-day time trial sessions are restored for 1975.

1975: Wally Dallenbach Sr. is 20 seconds in the lead when he retires on lap 162 with a burned piston. Johnny Rutherford loses the inherited lead to Bobby Unser when he pits. On lap 171 the yellow comes out for rain and the two leaders duck into the pits for fuel. On lap 174 a downpour stops the race and Unser is declared the winner. The rain stops a few minutes later. Early in the race, Tom Sneva touches wheels with Eldon Rasmussen and flips into a spectacular, fiery crash in turn two. He would walk away with only minor burns due to the improper embroidering of his uniform's patches, and from wearing a wristwatch.

1976: Rain stops the race on lap 102. Two hours later, the race is about to be restarted, but rain falls again. Officials call the race at that point and Johnny Rutherford is declared the winner. Rutherford walks to Victory Lane, having completed only 255 miles (410 km), the shortest official race on record. Later in the year, the entire track is repaved in asphalt, the first time the entire track is repaved at once since 1909. The yard of bricks at the start/finish line still remains from the original surface. Longtime "Voice of the 500" Sid Collins calls his final race, as he commits suicide 11 months later.

1977: Gordon Johncock leads 129 laps and has a 16 second lead on A.J. Foyt one lap after final pit stops when his crankshaft breaks. Foyt becomes the first driver to win four times. Tom Sneva breaks the 200 mph barrier in qualifying, and Janet Guthrie becomes the first female to drive in the race. On the radio, Paul Page becomes the new Voice of the 500. This also marks Tony Hulman's final Indianapolis 500 appearance; the man who resurrected the Speedway after World War II dies in October at the age of 76.

1978: Al Unser easily leads but bends his Lola's front wing in the pitlane on lap 180. Tom Sneva charges to catch the crippled Lola but is 8 seconds short at the finish. Unser leads 121 laps and holds on for a third win on a very hot day. Janet Guthrie finishes ninth on this day, the highest finish for a woman in Indy 500 history--a feat that is eventually topped 27 years later. For the first time, Mary Fendrich Hulman, widow of Tony Hulman, delivers the command for drivers to start engines.

1979: After a month of court hearings and controversy due to the start-up CART series, a field of 35 cars takes the green flag (the most since 1933), with second-year driver Rick Mears winning.

1980 to 1989

1980 · 1981 · 1982 · 1983 · 1984 · 1985 · 1986 · 1987 · 1988 · 1989

1990 to 1999

1990 · 1991 · 1992 · 1993 · 1994 · 1995 · 1996 · 1997 · 1998 · 1999

2000 to 2008

2000 · 2001 · 2002 · 2003 · 2004 · 2005 · 2006 · 2007 · 2008

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