After the historic cars were done running on Saturday, there really wasn’t much left to do. Luckily the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is located within the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And heads up, this is a history heavy story.
Because of the 500 the museum was pretty much all open wheel. It makes sense, since it is the Indy Museum, but there are also some GT cars mixed in too. And you want to hear a cool story? I completely forgot about it at the time, but this car has done something no other car has done. In 1921 it won the French Grand Prix, driven by Jimmy Murphy. Murphy was the first American to win a Grand Prix event in an American car. It was such an upset win, no one applauded Jimmy. But Duesenberg and Murphy didn’t stop there, in 1922 they brought the same car to Indy. They won. Making this the only car to ever win a Grand Prix event and the Indy 500. I love these types of stories.
But of all the cars, this is one of the most important. This Marmon Wasp is the winner of the very first Indy 500 back in 1911. Alongside the Wasp is Dan Wheldon’s 2011 Indy 500 winner, and there’s an odd story with that car. The 2011 Indy 500 was the 100th anniversary and Wheldon was racing for Brian Herta. Dan won the race because the cars ahead of him ran out of fuel, and he won racing the #98 car. Fast forward to this year with the 100th running. Alexander Rossi wins. So what? Well he was racing the #98 Brain Herta car that barely made it to the line on a fuel gamble. Brain Herta must have a thing for 100th anniversaries and fuel gambles.
Just a row of Indy 500 winners.
But these cars are the ones I really wanted to see, the Johnny Lightning Specials. While there’s no doubt cigarette and alcohol companies have some of the best liveries ever, the JL Specials are right up there. With a massive turbo attached to the V8, these cars pushed around 900 horsepower.
Both of these cars are past winners, car #2 won in 1970 and #1 won in 1971 with both cars driven by Al Unser.
In the ’40s a new engine was introduced. The Winfield, later known as the Novi, started showing up. These engines quickly became crowd favorites because of the noise. The deep rumble was unlike anything else at the time, and the shriek of the supercharger also added a whole new sound. But the cars had a downside, their power. They had so much torque and power, the somewhat simple cars couldn’t handle it. The Novi never won the Indy 500, but its shear power and noise made it an instant classic.
Smokey Yunick. That name to some is enough to fully describe this car.
Story time again. Smokey Yunick was a B17 pilot in World War 2, while overseas, he encountered a Blohm & Voss BV 141. An interesting plane because the cockpit was offset from the fuselage. In 1964 Smokey Yunick and Hurst Shifters collaborated on a special car for that years Indy 500. Smokey’s plan was to even out the weight of the driver, the engine and the fuel. The car was balanced front and rear, but was biased towards the left to help with corners. Smokey wanted a turbine engine, but last minute problems caused him to switch to a four cylinder Offy.
The shift knob doubled as a clutch and the steering wheel is square to give the driver more leg and arm room. The car never made it into the 500. During qualifying, the brakes caught sending the car into the wall. The driver was unhurt, but the car was too damaged to make it to race day. By 1965 rules changed, making the Capsule Car obsolete. Just another car to add to Smokey’s interesting repertoire of odd cars.
This engine with wheels is the 1905 Premier. Built in Indianapolis in 1905, it was made to race in the Vanderbilt Cup and the American Elimination Challenge. This is a 923.4 cubic inch four cylinder making possibly 100 horsepower. The car was 300 pounds over the weight limit, so a couple hundred holes were cut in the car. But it was still over weight, meaning it never actually raced.
This GT40 finished second place at the 1966 12 Hours of Sebring and a DNF at Le Mans. Chassis P/1032 was one of the cars that Holman and Moody used in the assault on Le Mans in 1966. The car was repainted to look like the winner, then later was restored back to its 1966 Le Mans markings.
I could almost write a whole story on this guy, but I’ll keep it short. Eddie Rickenbacker is easily my vote for the most interesting man ever. World War I fighter ace, started his own car company, raced in the first Indy 500 along with a couple others, raced for Peugeot and raced in various events in the teens and ’20s. Owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and was reported dead twice, but but emerged alive both times. Incredible.
And from one favorite to another. There’s no American driver in my mind that could pass Mark Donohue.
And this car is the reason, the Porsche 917/30. 5.3 liter twin turbo V12 made 1,500 horsepower in qualifying tune and 1,100 horsepower in race tune. And it only weighed 1,800 pounds. The most powerful sports car ever to race and is the reason for the death of the Can Am Series. And a 0 – 60 time around 2 seconds.
But Mark Donohue shined with it. In 1973 he won six out of the eight rounds in that years Can Am championship. What made me admire Mark is his remark on the 917/30, saying, “We’re far from having too much horsepower, my definition of too much horsepower is when all four wheels are spinning in every gear.” That is something only a madman would say. [Sounds reasonable to me. -Bohan]
But the 917/30 isn’t the only thing Mark raced. He won the Indy 500 in 1972, he won the Trans Am Championship, he won in NASCAR, he finished on the podium once in Formula 1, he raced at Le Mans and he won the 24 Hours of Daytona.
There was almost nothing he couldn’t race. But in 1975 during testing for an upcoming F1 race, the tire on his March failed sending him into the catch fence. He died two days later.
Along side Mark’s 917/30 and Javelin was George Follmer’s 917/10 from 1972. Built by Porsche with Penske and Donohue, its goal was to beat McLaren at their own game in Can Am. Donohue was injured just before the season opener, so Follmer stepped in. He won in his first start, then went on to win four more races and the championship.
That about wraps up the highlights from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. Every car here has an amazing story tied to it that will continue to amaze people for generations. Being a huge nerd, I can’t get over the stories of these cars. If you’re ever around Indianapolis, this should be a must see, plus they give tours of the track! The cars seem to be in constant rotation, so you never know what you’ll see. I’m just hoping I get to see Marks. 917/30 later this month at Goodwood.