Features - News Feature
MAY 1, 1989
A visit to the Indianapolis Museum
BY JOE SAWARD
Indianapolis, of course, has more or less everything on the Speedway site including a 96 room motel and not one, but two golf courses!
The Hall of Fame museum is difficult to miss because it is housed in a white building that wouldn't look out of place in Washington DC, but looks considerably out of place in the middle of a superspeedway.
Opened in 1976, this replaced an older museum situated at the Speedway's main entrance. It had grown too small for the cars that had been collected...
That isn't a great surprise when you discover just how many famous cars there are in the Hall of Fame.
At any given time around 60 cars will be displayed, though many of these changes on a rotational system. The remainder of the 200 vehicles are stored in the Hall of Fame basement.
Outside the museum is a memorial to Louis Chevrolet cast in bronze, but for just $US1 you can find your way into the Aladdin's Cave, dotted with fountains and topped by a glass canopy.
They have over 30 Indy 500 winning cars, accounting for 38 of the 72 winners of the great race -- all under one roof.
Most of the others 500 winners have either been destroyed or are in the hands of private collectors who will not part with them for any sum of money...
The machines on display trace the history of the 500 from the very first event in 1911, won by the Marmom Wasp with of Ray Harroun.
There are not one, but two cars from the following year: Joe Dawson's National and the huge Mercedes of Ralph DePalma and his Australian riding mechanic Rupert Jeffkins.
The Benz had dominated the event but five and a half laps from home, while in a five lap lead, the car broke down. The two leapt out and began pushing the two-ton monster round towards the line as Dawson unlapped himself time after time. The pair were on the home straight when Dawson went by to take the flag in one of the most famous incidents in the long history of the race.
The collection includes four double 500 winning machines: the Boyle Maserati of Wilbur Shaw; Mauri Rose's Blue Crown Spark Plug Special; Billy Vukovich's Fuel Injection Special and the Belond Special which took both Sam Hanks and Jimmy Bryan to victory in the late Fifties.
There is also a small white Duesenberg. The White Duesenberg with which Jimmy Murphy won his famous victory in the 1921 French Grand Prix (the first American to win a Grande Epreuve and the last to do so until Phil Hill won at Monza in 1960. The car was shipped home after its French triumph, fitted with a Miller engine and promptly won the 500 in 1922 with Murphy driving.
The museum has all four cars used by the legendary AJ Foyt in his quartet of Indy 500 victories: the 1961 Bowes Seal Fast Special; the 1964 Sheraton Thompson Special, the last front-engined machine to win; the rear-engined Sheraton-Thompson Special of 1967 and the 1977 Gilmore Racing Coyote.
And there's Sullivan's Penske March which Danny spun at full speed in 1985 and yet still managed to win with.
Not all the cars in the Hall of Fame were winners: there is the gorgeous Rex Mays Bowes Seal Fast Special of 1946; the 1952 Cummins Diesel of Freddy Agabashian and Parnelli Jones's STP turbine 'Silent Sam', the ungainly four-wheel drive car which outpaced everyone in 1967 before breaking down a few laps from home.
Whatever else, the Indianapolis Hall of Fame is a fascinating trip through Indycar design from the early monsters to the big roadsters and on to the hi-tech modern machinery: the 1963 Agajanian Special of Parnelli Jones; Unser's 1978 'Triple Crown' winning First National Lola-Cosworth which won all three of the 500s that year (Indy, Pocono, Ontario); the first ground effect Pennzoil Special with which Johnny Rutherford triumphed in 1980; and many more.
The museum also holds a number of antique Indiana-built passenger cars, this, lest we forget, having been the auto capital of America before Detroit emerged in that role.
The Hall of Fame has numerous video presentations, models, photographs, newspapers and helmets. There's a small section of the original brick surface and, of course, a selection of spectacular prizes: the beautiful Borg Warner Trophy presented to the 500 winners since 1936 and the Race of the Two Worlds Trophy.
Around the walls are works of art associated with the race and there are plans for a Library to be established on site! It's a formidable place.
The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas and if all this isn't enough you can always take a bus ride around the Speedway!
So, if you ever find yourself in Indianapolis with time on your hands and a dollar in your pocket, you'll know where to go. It's worth a lot more than a dollar...