Everyone: Start Your Engines for The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum

  • story by David M. Brown
  • posted on 05/2014
  • posted in: Great Garages

Even the cars standing still at The Brickyard are moving.

Five miles northwest of downtown Indianapolis at the world-famous 2.5–mile track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum showcases one of the great collections of racing vehicles and automobila.

Approximately 75 vehicles are displayed, and the cars regularly change in and out of the extensive inventory. The museum features not just Indianapolis 500 cars, but more than 30 winners of the great race are part of the collection. The 100th running will be 2016; no race was held in 1917 and 1918 and 1942–45 because of the world wars.

“It’s one of the most diverse car collections in the world, featuring racecars, passenger cars, pace cars and others,” says Ellen Bireley, director of the museum.

Four of these are the only two-time Indy winners: the Boyle Maserati (Wilbur Shaw, 1939–40); the Blue Crown Spark Plug Special (Mauri Rose, 1947–48); the Fuel Injection Special (Bill Vukovich 1953–54); and the Belond Special (Sam Hanks, 1957, and Jimmy Bryan, 1958).

The collection also includes the four cars driven to victory by A.J. Foyt Jr., including the 1977 car for his record-setting fourth Indy 500 win. The Duesenberg #12 Murphy Special is the only car to win both the Indianapolis 500 (1922) and the French Grand Prix at Le Mans (1921), and Dave Evans’ #8 Cummins Diesel Special was the first car to complete the Indy 500 without a pit stop in 1931.

In 1956, the original museum was established by the late Tony Hulman, who purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Nov. 14, 1945, and whose family still owns the facility, and Karl Kizer, its first director. Hulman built a larger, more contemporary museum in 1975 of pre-cast cement and Wyoming quartz. The museum and Speedway grounds became a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

The 96,000-square-foot glass-canopied building also houses two gift shops, the track’s photography department and other offices. In addition to the cars, the museum also features the Louis Chevrolet Memorial, with a bronze bust of Chevrolet and four bronze panels about his accomplishments; the equipment and methods used for timing and scoring the race; a trophy area, including the famed Borg-Warner Trophy for the winner of each Indianapolis 500; and the Tony Hulman Theater, showing a 20-minute presentation of historic footage and race highlights.

This year, in addition to the great race, the Speedway will host the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, June 6–8, with 500-plus of the world’s finest and most historic racecars competing on the recently reconfigured road course, including cars from the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, Formula One, Grand-Am prototypes and Trans-Am: in all, 12 different classes of racing.

Donald Davidson, the track historian, recently selected, with some pleasing pain, a few of the museum’s many great cars to discuss with Highline Autos:

•Marmon Wasp –– The “Yellow Jacket” (because of its paint job and tail shape) won the first Indy 500 in 1911 with Ray Harroun, “The Little Professor,” driving, and has been so honored on a U.S. postage stamp.

An engineer, Harroun was attracted to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway because it began as testing facility for automobile companies, with occasional racing events, Davidson explains.

The manufacturer, Nordyke & Marmon, entered two Marmons in 1911, a stripped-down passenger car and this one, a considerably modified streamlined single-seater.

“But the complaints were filed during practice that Harroun presented a potential safety hazard without the presence of a riding mechanic to serve as a ‘second pair of eyes,’” he says. So Harroun, who helped design the car, installed what is believed to be the first rearview mirror on an automobile, an idea which he incorporated from having seen one on a horse-drawn cab in Chicago. Looking back, it saw the future.

The 477-cubic-inch 6-cylinder Marmon won at an average speed of 74.602 mph. For the 2011 Indy Centennial, the 1963 Indy 500 champion Parnelli Jones drove the car at the track.

•1927 Duesenberg Model “A” –– Believed to have been built in late 1926, this car became the property of company co-founder Augie Duesenberg in the late 1920s or early 1930s, and it was owned by him when he died in 1955. The chassis and the 262-cubic-inch V-8 engine were constructed at the Duesenberg factory in Indianapolis, and the coachwork was by the Charles G. Schuette Body Company, Lancaster, Pa.

•1954/1955 Mercedes-Benz W196 –– Dominant in Grand Prix racing before WWII, Mercedes-Benz resurged splendidly in 1954 for two seasons, competing in 12 events and winning nine, five of which in one-two finishes. Unveiled at the 1954 French Grand Prix at Rheims were three futuristic-looking cars, designated W196, with fully enclosed wheels, making them appear more as a sports car than an F-1 single-seater.

They finished one-two the first time out, but because of body damage encountered on the much tighter course at Silverstone in England, an open-wheel version was used at the tighter tracks, with the streamlined bodies still employed for the faster circuits.

The legendary Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio won the World Championship for Mercedes-Benz in both years, with British teammate Stirling Moss finishing as runner-up in 1955.

•1964 Sheraton-Thompson Indy Winner –– This was the final time a front-engined car would win an Indianapolis 500. The A. J. Foyt-driven, A. J. Watson-built Sheraton-Thompson 4-cylinder Offenhauser-powered roadster appears virtually as it did on that day, Davidson says. “It even has some of the original oil stains in place.” It competed in only two further USAC races in 1964.

The car was built by Watson for the 1963 Indy, but Foyt chose to stay with his 1961winning car, offering the new one over to Ebb Rose, who finished 14th. Slightly refitted for 1964, it delivered Foyt to the second of his four Indianapolis wins.

•1965 Ferrari 250 LM –– At the 1965 24 Hours of Le Mans, everyone watched the factory- team entries of Ferrari and Ford, but this one-year-old 3.3-liter V-12 Ferrari 250 LM won, when the favored entries encountered difficulties. Entered by Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team, the car had American Masten Gregory partnering with future World Champion Jochen Rindt of Austria; they completed 347 laps of the 8.365-mile circuit, averaging 120.944 mph for the 24 hours. This was the last time Ferrari would win at Le Mans.

•Corvette SS –– Built in the spring of 1957 to participate in international sports car racing, the one-off racer appeared only once in a major event at the Sebring, Florida 12-hours endurance race in March. A decision by the executives of the Automobile Manufacturers Association (AMA) had disassociated members from participating in motor sports.

The SS involved many of Chevrolet’s legendary engineering staff, including Ed Cole, Harley Earl, Zora Arkus-Duntov, Bill Mitchell and Harry Barr, among others. The 283-cubic- inch V-8-powered SS was to have been driven at Sebring by the Argentinian ace Juan Manuel Fangio and Britain’s Stirling Moss, but both were released when the car was not completed in time for testing.

Instead, Italian Piero Taruffi and American John Fitch, the team manager for Corvette’s production car racing team, started the contest with virtually no practice. Handling and braking problems beset them from the outset, and the SS was withdrawn because of overheating after 23 laps.

“The potential was there, however, and plans were being made for the 24 Hours of Le Mans,” Davidson says. “But the AMA decision ended that.”

The Speedway Hall of Fame Museum is open 363 days a year (closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). Hours are 9 a.m. –5 p.m., March through October, and 10 a.m.–4 p.m., November through February. Extended hours are featured during May activities. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children, 6–15, and children under 6 are admitted free.

For more information, contact The Speedway Hall of Fame Museum, 317.492.6594, www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com