SI Vault
 
VROOM TO IMPROVE
ELIZABETH MCGARR
May 28, 2012
Since the first daredevils took to the bricks 101 years ago, the race has been on at Indy to find that balance of handling, safety and, above all, speed needed to prevail over 500 miles. Decade by decade, there have been both incremental advances and breathtaking leaps in automotive evolution—concluding with (for now) this year's wholly reimagined supercar
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May 28, 2012

Vroom To Improve

Since the first daredevils took to the bricks 101 years ago, the race has been on at Indy to find that balance of handling, safety and, above all, speed needed to prevail over 500 miles. Decade by decade, there have been both incremental advances and breathtaking leaps in automotive evolution—concluding with (for now) this year's wholly reimagined supercar

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1911

Ray Harroun drove the Marmon Wasp to victory in the inaugural Indy 500. His car was the only single-seater—and thus the most aerodynamically advanced vehicle—in the field; every other driver had a riding mechanic to act as spotter. "Virtually everything else that ran was a stripped-down passenger car," explains Donald Davidson, Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian. "[Harroun's] car was built from the ground up as a competition car."

MPH 74.602*

1920

Louis and Arthur Chevrolet designed and engineered their brother Gaston's winning Monroe-Frontenac, which helped launch the trend toward streamlining. The vehicles that ran at Indy were strictly two-seaters until 1923, and the sanctioning body did away with them altogether in '37. Single-seaters were more aerodynamic, plus, by reducing the number of men on the track, organizers cut down on the probability of casualties.

MPH 91.550

1938

Floyd Roberts set a qualifying record in this sturdy, rear-drive Burd Piston Ring Special, a Wetteroth-Miller, and on race day led 92 laps on his way to victory. Most passenger cars of the era were rear-drive, and while some front-drive cars were built especially to run at Indianapolis (the only track on the circuit at the time with a paved surface), the versatile rear-drive cars could run on dirt as well.

MPH 125.680

1947

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