Wilbur Shaw

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Warren Wilbur Shaw
Born (1902-10-31)October 31, 1902
Shelbyville, Indiana
Died October 30, 1954(1954-10-30) (aged 51)
Decatur, Indiana

Warren Wilbur Shaw (October 31, 1902 - October 30, 1954) was an American racing driver. He was president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1945 until his death in 1954. Shaw was the automotive test evaluator for Popular Science magazine.[1]

Biography[edit]

The car with which Wilbur Shaw won the Indianapolis 500 in both 1939 and 1940.

He was born in Shelbyville, Indiana on October 31, 1902. He participated in the 1927 Indianapolis 500.[1]

Wilbur Shaw won the Indianapolis 500 race three times, in 1937, 1939 and 1940. Shaw was the second person to win the 500 three times, and the first to win it twice in a row.[1] In the 1941 race, Shaw was injured when his car crashed; it was later discovered that a defective wheel had been placed on his car.

During World War II, Shaw was hired by the tire manufacturer Firestone Tire and Rubber Company to test a synthetic rubber automobile tire at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had been closed due to the war. He was dismayed at the dilapidated condition of the racetrack and quickly contacted then-owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the World War I flying ace and president and founder of Eastern Air Lines. When the United States entered World War II, ending racing at Indianapolis and elsewhere for the duration, Rickenbacker padlocked the gates and let the race course slowly begin to disintegrate.

During a meeting soon after the tire test, Rickenbacker informed Shaw that what was left of the track would be demolished and the land turned into a housing subdivision ... unless Shaw could find someone else who might have other ideas. Shaw sent out letters to the major car manufacturers trying to find a backer to buy the speedway. However, all indicated that should they buy the IMS they would turn it into a private testing facility for their own cars only and that its days as a racetrack would be well and truly over.

Shaw then met Terre Haute businessman Tony Hulman who had inherited his family's business, Hulman & Company, a wholesale grocer and producer of coffee and baking powder, Clabber Girl.

A lifelong fan of automobile racing in general and the "500" in particular, Hulman listened with great interest to what Shaw had to say. Despite what Hulman saw amongst the weeds and deterioration when Shaw took him to Indianapolis, he purchased the Speedway from Rickenbacker in November 1945 for the sum of $750,000. ( It was reported to me in a personal communication from David Cassidy that the price was $350,000 and Hulman leased the concession rights for 15 years for that amount to ARA. Al Freedman January 2014).

As a reward for his efforts to revive the Speedway, Shaw was appointed as its president, where he would have complete day-to-day control over the track. To this job, Shaw brought his extensive knowledge of the business of auto racing, something Hulman would admit that he himself didn't have, and Shaw's hard work only cemented the reputation of the "500" as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

It seemed as though Shaw and Hulman had a "Midas touch" at the Speedway. Hulman poured money into improvements, and Shaw delivered the world's greatest automobile race to enthusiastic crowds, which grew in number by the year. The Indianapolis "500" of the late Forties and early Fifties was a very special event through the work of Hulman and Shaw, although Hulman was always sure to point out that it was Wilbur putting it all together.

Shaw was killed in an airplane crash near Decatur, Indiana on October 30, 1954, one day before his fifty-second birthday. The pilot, Ray Grimes, and artist Ernest Roose were also killed.[1]

Legacy[edit]

As the automotive test evaluator Shaw's articles were superior to those of his contemporaries in that they gave consistently accurate reports without relying on Popular Science's lead in the marketplace over competitors such as Mechanix Illustrated.

Wilbur Shaw's highly regarded autobiography, "Gentlemen, Start your Engines," was published in 1955, and covers events through 1953.

Indy 500 results[edit]

Trivia[edit]

The first Champ Car event was held at the Milwaukee Mile on July 17, 1933. The show was rained out. Wilbur Shaw and the other drivers convinced the track promoters to run the race the following day and the term "Rain Date" was born.

Shaw was the first driver to win back-to back Indianapolis 500 races, the 1939 and 1940 races, only Mauri Rose in 1947 and 1948, Bill Vukovich in 1953 and 1954, Al Unser in 1970, and 1971, and Hélio Castroneves in 2001 and 2002 have accomplished the same feat.

Shaw is the last native Hoosier to win the Indianapolis 500.

Shaw is the namesake of the longest soap box derby track in the country (1000 ft), The Wilbur Shaw Memorial Soap Box Derby Hill, at 30th Street and Cold Springs Road in Indianapolis, IN.

Awards[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Associated Press (October 31, 1954). "Wilbur Shaw Is Killed In Indiana Plane Crash". Palm Beach Post. Retrieved 2012-10-08. "Shaw began racing on dirt tracks in his teens and made his first appearance at the Indianapolis track in 1927 He came in fourth in that first race. ..." 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Louis Meyer
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1937
Succeeded by
Floyd Roberts
Preceded by
Floyd Roberts
Indianapolis 500 Winner
1939-1940
Succeeded by
Mauri Rose
Floyd Davis