Indianapolis 500 pace cars

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The pace car (a Chevrolet Corvette) leads the field past an accident site at the 2007 Indianapolis 500.

The Indianapolis 500 auto race has used a pace car every year since 1911. The pace car (or Safety car) is utilized for two primary purposes. At the start of the race, the pace car leads the assembled starting grid around the track for a predetermined number of unscored warm-up laps. Then if the officials deem appropriate, it releases the field at a purposeful speed to start the race. In addition, during yellow flag caution periods, the pace car enters the track and picks up the leader, bunching the field up at a reduced speed.

Prior to the first "500" in 1911, in the interest of safety, Indianapolis Motor Speedway founder Carl G. Fisher is commonly credited with the concept of a "rolling start" led by a pace car. Nearly all races at the time, as well as all Formula One races even to the present, utilize a standing start.

In almost every year since 1936, it has been a tradition that the winner of the Indianapolis 500 be presented with one of that year's pace cars (or a replica). In most years since 1911, the driver of the pace car at the start of the race has been an invited celebrity, a former racing driver, or notable figure in the automotive industry. Historically, the honor of supplying the pace car was, and continues to be, a coveted honor by the respective automobile manufactures and a marketing showcase for the particular make/model.[1]

Pace lap formats[edit]

1911-1957[edit]

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Pace Car

The pace car was used to take the starting field on one unscored lap. The field would use the lap to warm up their engines, tires, and then at the conclusion of the lap, at a prescribed speed, the pace car would pull off the track and allow for a rolling or "flying" start. Fisher himself drove the pace car in several early years, but it eventually became an honorary position, with invitations extended to former winners, notable figures in auto racing or the automobile industry. The invited driver was given the honor of "pacemaker," and manufacturers used the honor of providing the car as marketing exposure.

During his tenure as Speedway president, Tony Hulman rode in the pace car nearly every year, immediately after giving the command to start engines. His primary duty was to marshal the start.

1957-1976[edit]

1969 Chevrolet Camaro Pace Car

In most years through the early 1950s, the pace car led the field around the track for one warm up lap, and then the race began. The pace lap concept was popular with fans, as many drivers commonly waved at the fans and the rolling grid made for spectacular photographs. By 1957, the procedure was changed so the pace car led the field for two warm up laps. This allowed extra time to warm up the engines, oil temperatures, and tires, and allowed the drivers the chance to survey the conditions of the entire track at least once before receiving the green flag. This also allowed the fans on the mainstretch (where the largest grandstands are located) to see the entire field parade by one time before the start. Previously only fans on other parts of the track got to actually see the grid go by for photographs and waving.

For the 1957-1958 races, the grid was lined up and exited single-file from the newly constructed pit lane. The two laps allowed the field to properly form up, however, in practice it turned out to be difficult and both races saw incidents at the start. In 1959, the field went back to lining up the grid on the mainstretch, and continues to do so to this day.

By the late 1960s, not only would a special driver be behind the wheel of the pace car, but numerous celebrities would be invited to ride along as passengers. Automotive executives, NASA astronauts, reporters from ABC Sports and the IMS Radio Network, and other celebrities were among those invited to ride in the pace car.

In 1971, local Indianapolis Dodge dealer Eldon Palmer was involved in a crash driving the pace car. He crashed into a photographer's stand at the south end of the pit area, injuring several persons. In the years immediately following, the pace car driver utilized would only be an experienced race driver. Former Indy winner Jim Rathmann served six times (and once for caution periods only). Celebrities James Garner and Marty Robbins were chosen in part due to their experience in racing.

1977-present[edit]

In 1977, the format was changed to three warm up laps - two "parade laps" and one "pace lap". During the parade lap(s), often several replica festival pace cars join the field, usually carrying celebrities and/or special guest drivers. The 1978 race was the first to feature multiple pace cars on the track during the parade lap. Since 2010, the IndyCar "two-seater" (a retired Indy race car modified with a special passenger seat) has also been at the front of the field, carrying a celebrity or special guest. The non-participating vehicles pull off the track after one or two circuits, and the lone official pace car leads the field on the pace lap. In 2012, it was further expanded to four warm up laps (three "parade" laps and one "pace" lap), coinciding with the introduction of a new engine and chassis formula.

Starting in about 1994, the field was observed to be quite straggled about during the parade lap(s), and often circulated the track single-file. Drivers were known to weave back and forth, sometimes vigorously, in an effort to build up tire temperature. On the final pace lap, the field would finally form up into the eleven rows of three on the backstretch, but oftentimes it was still loose and not in pristine order. This practice was often the subject of harsh criticism from fans and media, especially when the start was strung out single file, breaking tradition. In 2010, officials announced they were going to police the parade and pace laps closer, requiring the drivers to stay in the rows of three during the extent of the warm up period.

In later years, the Speedway began experimenting with using pop culture celebrities driving the pace cars, a change that has met with mixed responses from fans.

Extra pace laps[edit]

1967 Chevrolet Camaro

1957: A new state-of-the-art pit lane was built. For the first time, the pit area was separated from the racing surface. For 1957–1958, the field was lined up in single file on the pit lane, rather than the traditional 11 rows of three on the race surface. This required the cars to pull away, then assemble into formation. This caused tremendous confusion in 1958, as the front row escaped from the pace car, and the field needed an extra pace lap to assemble before the green was displayed.

1967: The race was red-flagged for rain after 18 laps. The conclusion of the race was moved to the following day. At the time, the pace car was not used for caution periods. However, officials decided to utilize the pace car for the resumption on lap 19. The original pace car driver Mauri Rose drove the car for the restart as well. Two unscored laps (one parade lap and one pace lap) preceded the resumption at lap 19.

1970: Jim Malloy hit the outside wall in turn four as the field was about the take the green flag. The start was waved off, and the next time by, the field was red flagged to clean up the incident. The teams were allowed to replenish a few gallons of used up fuel, and a short time later, the field pulled away for two new pace laps.

1973: A crash occurred as the field was about to take the green flag. The start was red flagged, and the cars circulated around back to the pits. After clean up, the field restarted, with two pace laps before the green flag.

1986: Tom Sneva crashed on the backstrech on the pace lap. The start was waved off, and the next time around the cars were halted on the frontstrech with a red flag. During the cleanup, officials decided to replenish the teams' fuel tanks with 3 gallons of methanol. After that was completed, the field restarted, and took two warm up laps before the green flag.

1992: Additional pace laps were run (unscored) after Roberto Guerrero crashed during a parade lap. Instead of halting the proceedings, officials decided to simply extend the number of warm up laps. The race itself ended up having 85 laps of yellow flag conditions, therefore the fuel allotment did not become a factor.

1997: Additional laps were run (unscored) due to a three-car crash on the original pace lap.

2009: When the field came out of turn four for the start, the field was not well-aligned in the eleven rows of three. For the first time in modern history, the flagman decided to wave off the start, by displaying the yellow flag. The lap was not scored. The field re-formed, and received the green flag the next time by, with a slightly better formation.

Caution periods[edit]

Through 1978, the pace car was only used at the start of the race, and was not used during caution periods. Since 1979, the pace car has also been used to pack-up the field during caution flag periods. The ceremonial driver drove only at the start of the race. During caution periods, when the pace car is utilized to pace the field, a trained official has been the driver. In some cases, the officials utilize two separate pace cars (exactly the same models) one each for the start of the race, and the caution periods. Currently, the pace car driver for the caution periods is the same driver who drives the pace car for the Indy Racing League during all other events.

Cars[edit]

Starting roughly around the 1960s, the auto manufacturer who provided the official pace car, started selling replica pace cars to the general public. In many cases, the official on-track pace car was modified from its street-legal counterpart. Strobe lights, rolls bars, multi-point harnesses, and removing the air conditioning, are among some of the modifications made for the actual pace car. Some official pace cars, however, have undergone extensive modifications, including suspension, transmission, or even engine modifications from their production counterpart (the 1990 Chevrolet Beretta is an example of this). The special edition production replicas available to the public usually come with full paint and "Indy 500" decals, and may be part of a performance package upgrade.

1991 Dodge Stealth "Official Car"

In addition, the track typically is provided with dozens of lower-end pace car production replicas (or different makes by the same manufacturer) for use as festival cars throughout the month. Examples of this practice date back to the mid-1920s. The company who provides the pace car also often provides safety trucks for use at the track. For instance, in 1994, the Ford Mustang Cobra was chosen as the primary pace car. Ford Motor Company provided numerous Mustang GTs (a "stripped-down" model) for festival use. In 1996, the Dodge Viper GTS was chosen as the pace car. Rather than providing a fleet of Vipers, Chrysler provided numerous Stratus, Intrepids, and Special Edition Rams for festival use.

The replica pace cars and the festival cars are usually worth significantly less than the actual car used to perform the pace car duties. Few festival cars may actually have been driven on the track. Actual pace cars are rare and most are kept and owned by the Speedway museum and the manufacturers.

Traditionally, the make of the pace car has always been a domestic American brand. In 1991, the Dodge Stealth was originally named the pace car. However, the UAW, along with traditionalists, protested since the Stealth was a captive import built by Mitsubishi in Japan. Shortly before the race, the Stealth was downgraded to be the festival car. The pre-production Dodge Viper RT/10 was substituted on race day.

In 2001 and 2003, trucks were used instead of pace cars. In 2005, a specially restored 1955 Bel Air pace car was commissioned by the Indianapolis Race Committee to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Chevrolet V-8 engine. Only one car was built and it was displayed and used on the speedway. It differed from the first 1955 track cars in that is was black. The original 1955 Chevrolet pace cars were red and cream two-tone. This car is currently on display at the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum in Auburn, Indiana.

Since 1936, the winner of the race has traditionally been awarded a pace car. In some years, and in most cases for the past several decades, the winner is actually presented with one of the official street-legal pace car replicas.

Pace cars and drivers[edit]

Pacemakers (1911-1941)[edit]

1911 Stoddard-Dayton
1956 Fireflite Convertible
1956 DeSoto
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser
Year Car Pacemaker
1911 Stoddard-Dayton Carl G. Fisher
1912 Stutz Carl G. Fisher
1913 Stoddard-Dayton Carl G. Fisher
1914 Stoddard-Dayton Carl G. Fisher
1915 Packard 6 (Model 5-48) Carl G. Fisher
1916 Premier 6 (Model 6-56) Frank E. Smith
1919 Packard V12 (called Twin Six) Jesse G. Vincent
1920 Marmon 6 (Model 34) Barney Oldfield
1921 H.C.S. 6 Harry C. Stutz
1922 National Sextet Barney Oldfield
1923 Duesenberg Fred Duesenberg
1924 Cole V8 Lew Pettijohn
1925 Rickenbacker 8 Eddie Rickenbacker
1926 Chrysler Imperial 80 Louis Chevrolet
1927 LaSalle V-8 Series 303 Willard "Big Boy" Rader
1928 Marmon 8 (Model 78) Joe Dawson
1929 Studebaker President Roadster George Hunt
1930 Cord L-29 Wade Morton[2]
1931 Cadillac 370 Twelve "Big Boy" Rader
1932 Lincoln Model KB Edsel Ford
1933 Chrysler Imperial Phaeton Byron Foy
1934 LaSalle Model 350 "Big Boy" Rader
1935 Ford V8 Harry Mack
1936 Packard 120 Tommy Milton
1937 LaSalle Series 50 Ralph DePalma
1938 Hudson 112 Stuart Baits
1939 Buick Roadmaster 80 Charles Chayne
1940 Studebaker Champion Two Door Sedan Harry Hartz
1941 Chrysler Newport Parade Phaeton A.B. Couture

Pacemakers (1946-1978)[edit]

Year Car Pacemaker Passengers
1946 Lincoln Continental V-12 Henry Ford II
1947 Nash Ambassador George W. Mason
1948 Chevrolet Fleetmaster Six Wilbur Shaw
1949 Oldsmobile 88 Wilbur Shaw
1950 Mercury Benson Ford
1951 Chrysler New Yorker V8 David A. Wallace
1952 Studebaker Commander Convertible P.O. Peterson
1953 Ford Crestline Sunliner William Clay Ford, Sr.
1954 Dodge Royal 500 William C. Newburg
1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Thomas H. Keating Tony Hulman
1956 DeSoto Fireflite L.I. Woolson Tony Hulman
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser F.C. Reith Tony Hulman
1958 Pontiac Bonneville Sam Hanks* Tony Hulman
1959 Buick Electra 225 Sam Hanks* Tony Hulman
1960 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Sam Hanks* Tony Hulman
1961 Ford Thunderbird Sam Hanks* Tony Hulman
1962 Studebaker Lark Daytona Convertible Sam Hanks* Tony Hulman
1963 Chrysler 300 Sam Hanks* Tony Hulman
1964 Ford Mustang Benson Ford Tony Hulman
1965 Plymouth Sport Fury P.M. Buckminster Tony Hulman
1966 Mercury Comet Cyclone GT Benson Ford Tony Hulman
1967 Chevrolet Camaro Mauri Rose Tony Hulman
1968 Ford Torino GT William Clay Ford, Sr. Tony Hulman, Duke Nalon
1969 Chevrolet Camaro SS Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Pete Conrad
1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 Rodger Ward Tony Hulman, Pete Conrad
1971 Dodge Challenger Eldon Palmer Tony Hulman, John Glenn, Chris Schenkel
1972 Hurst/Olds Cutlass Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Pete Conrad, Chris Schenkel, Bob Draper, Dolly Cole
1973 Cadillac Eldorado Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Alfred Worden, Chris Schenkel, Bob Lund, Dolly Cole
1974 Hurst/Olds Cutlass Jim Rathmann Tony Hulman, Frank Borman, Chris Schenkel, Bill Kay
1975 Buick Century Custom V-8 James Garner Tony Hulman, Jim Rathmann
1976 Buick Century V6 Marty Robbins Tony Hulman, Jim Rathmann, Chris Schenkel
1977 Oldsmobile Delta 88 James Garner Tony Hulman
1978 Chevrolet Corvette C3 Jim Rathmann
  • Note: From 1958-1963, retired driver Sam Hanks was named "Director of Racing" for USAC, and assumed the pace car duties. No "celebrity" drivers were used during that period.

Pace cars (1979–2014)[edit]

Image Year Car Driver
(Start of the race)
Driver
(Caution periods)
1979 Ford Mustang Official Pace Car.jpg 1979 Ford Mustang Jackie Stewart Jim Rathmann
Indy 500 Pace Car.jpg 1980 Pontiac Trans Am Turbo Johnnie Parsons Don Bailey
1981 Indy Pace Car.jpg 1981 Buick Regal V6 Duke Nalon Duke Nalon
1982 Chevy Camaro Pace Car.jpg 1982 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Jim Rathmann Don Bailey
Indypacecar1983.jpg 1983 Buick Riviera Convertible Duke Nalon Don Bailey
Indypacecar1984.jpg 1984 Pontiac Indy Fiero John Callies Don Bailey
Indypacecar1985.jpg 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais James Garner Don Bailey
Indy500pacecar1986.JPG 1986 Chevrolet Corvette convertible Chuck Yeager Don Bailey
008crop.jpg 1987 Chrysler LeBaron Carroll Shelby Don Bailey
1988Indy500PaceCar.JPG 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Chuck Yeager Don Bailey
Pontiac Trans Am 1989 Indianapolis 500 pace car.jpg 1989 20th Anniversary Pontiac Trans Am Bobby Unser Don Bailey
1990 Chevy Beretta Indy Pace Car Replica.jpg 1990 Chevrolet Beretta Convertible Jim Perkins Don Bailey
1991 Dodge Viper Indianapolis 500 Pace Car.jpg 1991 Dodge Viper RT/10 Carroll Shelby Don Bailey
Nick's IMG 1025.JPG 1992 Cadillac Allanté Bobby Unser Don Bailey
Chevrolet Camaro Z28 1993 Indianapolis 500 pace car.jpg 1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Jim Perkins Don Bailey
1994 Ford Mustang Cobra Parnelli Jones Don Bailey
Indy500pacecar1995.JPG 1995 Chevrolet Corvette C4 convertible Jim Perkins Don Bailey
1996 Dodge Viper GTS Bob Lutz Don Bailey
Luyendyk1997pacecar.jpg 1997 Oldsmobile Aurora Johnny Rutherford Don Bailey
Indy500pacecar1998.JPG 1998 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Parnelli Jones* Don Bailey
1999 Chevrolet Monte Carlo Jay Leno Don Bailey
2000 Oldsmobile Aurora Anthony Edwards Don Bailey
2001Indy500PaceCar.jpg 2001 Oldsmobile Bravada* Elaine Irwin Mellencamp Don Bailey
Indy500pacecar2002.JPG 2002 50th Anniversary Chevrolet Corvette C5 Jim Caviezel Joie Chitwood, III
2003 Chevrolet SSR* Herb Fishel Johnny Rutherford
Indy500pacecar2004.JPG 2004 Chevrolet Corvette C5 Morgan Freeman Joie Chitwood, III
Indy500pacecar2005.JPG 2005 Chevrolet Corvette C6 convertible General Colin Powell Joie Chitwood, III
Indy500pacecar2006.JPG 2006 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06 coupe Lance Armstrong Johnny Rutherford
Bloomington gold 2007 04.jpg 2007 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Patrick Dempsey Johnny Rutherford
Indy500pacecars2008.JPG 2008 Chevrolet Corvette C6 Z06 E85* Emerson Fittipaldi Johnny Rutherford
Camaro2009pacecar.JPG 2009 Chevrolet Camaro SS Josh Duhamel Johnny Rutherford
2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Indianapolis 500 Pace Car.jpg 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS[3] Robin Roberts Johnny Rutherford
Chevrolet Official Pace Car.jpg 2011 Chevrolet Camaro A. J. Foyt* Johnny Rutherford
2012indy500pacecar.JPG 2012 Chevrolet Corvette C6 ZR1 Guy Fieri Johnny Rutherford
2013Indy500PaceCar.JPG 2013 Chevrolet C7 Corvette Stingray Jim Harbaugh Johnny Rutherford
2014Indy500CamaroPaceCar.JPG 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z28 Dario Franchitti Johnny Rutherford
  • 1998: Professional golfer Greg Norman was originally selected to drive the pace car in 1998. He participated in testing runs in the early spring. However, Parnelli Jones was named a last-minute substitute after Norman was forced to withdraw because of shoulder surgery.
  • 2001 & 2003: Pace truck or SUV
  • 2008: There were two Chevrolet Corvette pace cars for the 2008 race; a metallic green pace car that runs on E85 driven by Fittipaldi at the start, and a pace car painted to resemble the 1978 pace car that runs on gasoline (used during caution periods)
  • 2011: Donald Trump was initially named the driver, but resigned the honor due to speculation about his candidacy in the 2012 presidential race as well as the negative fan reactions against his selection, including a Facebook campaign.[4]

Two-seater[edit]

The IndyCar "Two-seater"

Starting in 2010, the custom-built, IZOD IndyCar two-seater has also led the field during the parade and pace lap. Billed as the "Fastest Seat in Sports," it is driven by a former Indy driver, and carries a special passenger.[5]

Year Driver Passenger Notes
2010 Michael Andretti Mark Wahlberg Mario Andretti coached from the pits
2011 Mario Andretti Sgt. Latseen Benson Benson was a retired Iraq War veteran (U.S. Army)[6]
2012 Mario Andretti Thomas Patton Contest winner[7]
2013 Mario Andretti Cpl. Barry Walton Wounded veteran (U.S. Marines)[8]
2014 Mario Andretti Gracie Gold

Multiple appearances[edit]

Carl G. Fisher
Chuck Yeager

By driver (for start of the race, not caution periods only)[edit]

Appearances Driver Races
6 Sam Hanks 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963
Jim Rathmann 1969, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978, 1982
5 Carl G. Fisher 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915
3 "Big Boy" Rader 1927, 1931, 1934
Benson Ford 1950, 1964, 1966
James Garner 1975, 1977, 1985
Jim Perkins 1990, 1993, 1995
2 Barney Oldfield 1920, 1922
Wilbur Shaw 1948, 1949
William Clay Ford 1953, 1968
Duke Nalon 1981, 1983
Chuck Yeager 1986, 1988
Carroll Shelby 1987, 1991
Bobby Unser 1989, 1992
Parnelli Jones 1994, 1998

By car[edit]

Appearances Car Races
12 Chevrolet Corvette 1978, 1986, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013
8 Chevrolet Camaro 1967, 1969, 1982, 1993, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014
3 Stoddard-Dayton 1911, 1913, 1914
Packard 1915, 1919, 1936
LaSalle 1927, 1934, 1937
Ford Mustang 1964, 1979, 1994
2 Chrysler Imperial 1926, 1933
Hurst/Olds Cutlass 1972, 1974
Pontiac Trans Am 1980, 1989
Dodge Viper 1991, 1996
Oldsmobile Aurora 1997, 2000

By manufacturer[edit]

A list of manufacturers and the frequency in which they either provided official pace cars, or one of their vehicles were selected to pace the Indianapolis 500. This list counts all subsidiary marques, current and defunct, from each manufacturer along with vehicles made by a company that later merged with another on the list.

From 1997 to present (2014), all pace cars have been provided by General Motors.

Manufacturer Official pace cars fielded Notes
General Motors 47
Fiat 13 Includes the National Sextet, Nash Ambassador and Hudson 112, and the former Chrysler Corporation, all of which were later merged into Fiat.
The 1971 Dodge Challenger was provided by the Indianapolis area Dodge dealers, not by Chrysler Corporation, and driven by Eldon Palmer of Palmer Dodge in Indianapolis.
Ford 11
Studebaker 6 Including Packard vehicles
Stoddard-Dayton 3
Harry C. Stutz 2 Including the 1912 Stutz, made during his ownership of Stutz Motor Company and the H.C.S. 6 of 1921

Gallery[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Koenig, Bill (May 22, 2014). "Detroit's Lost Love Affair With The Indy 500". Auto (Forbes). Retrieved June 18, 2014. 
  2. ^ The Talk of Gasoline Alley - May 6, 2011
  3. ^ Powell, Eric (2009-12-18). "Chevrolet Camaro SS To Pace 2010 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race". Indy500.com (Indianapolis Motor Speedway). Retrieved 2009-12-21. 
  4. ^ "Sports Now". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ "Wahlberg, Andrettis Team Up For IZOD Fastest Seat In Sports At Indy". Indy500.com (Indianapolis Motor Speedway). 2010-05-26. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-05-26. 
  6. ^ "Wounded Warrior Rides With Andretti at Indy 500". Operation Homefront. Retrieved 2012-04-02. 
  7. ^ Honda Indy 500 Talking Points
  8. ^ America's Bravest Meets Honda's Fastest