1919 Indianapolis 500

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7th Indianapolis 500
Indy500winningcar1919.jpg
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis 500
Sanctioning body AAA
Date May 31, 1919
Winner Howdy Wilcox
Winning Entrant I.M.S. Corp.
Average speed 88.050 mph (141.703 km/h)
Pole position René Thomas
Pole speed 104.780 mph (168.627 km/h)
Most laps led Howdy Wilcox (98)
Pre-race
Pace car Packard V12 (Twin Six)
Pace car driver Jesse G. Vincent
Chronology
Previous Next
1916 1920

The 7th Liberty 500-Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 31, 1919.

After a two-year hiatus due to World War I, the Indianapolis 500 returned to competition in 1919. Howdy Wilcox won, accompanied by riding mechanic Leo Banks. More than half the field (19 of 33 cars) consisted of rookie drivers, tied for the most ever, excluding the inaugural race where all 40 cars were considered "rookies." Ralph DePalma, the 1915 winner, and the driver who suffered a heartbreaking loss in 1912, again put in a dominating performance, DePalma led 93 of the first 102 laps, and drove the first half at record-breaking speed. Tire problems, however, necessitated a long pit stop, and DePalma finished in 6th place.

Rain was a factor during practice, limiting available track time in the days immediately leading up to time trials. Since most teams did not arrive until later in the month, some cars had very limited preparation time. Qualifying was supposed to be held on just one day, but officials decided to add two additional days due to the lost track time.

The first half of the race was marred by three fatalities. Driver Arthur Thurman died in a crash on lap 45. On lap 96, Louis LeCocq and his riding mechanic Robert Bandini wrecked in turn two, and both were burned to death.

Race background[edit]

Over two years had gone by since the last competitive events were held at the Speedway. The 1916 race was followed by the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, at which point the track was closed due to the escalation of World War I. When the Armistice was signed in November 1918, the Speedway management was anxious to begin planning for the resumption of the 500 in 1919. Some early rumors circulated that the race may change dates to July 4, or even expand to 1,000 miles. These rumors were briefly entertained when the AAA Contest Board announced that both May 30 and July 4 were being set aside on the calendar for the event.[1]

On December 6, 1918, Speedway business manager T.E. "Pop" Myers announced that the 1919 race would be scheduled for Friday, May 30. It was decided to keep the traditional date, and likewise return the race to a distance of 500 miles, following the 1916 running's shorter-scheduled distance of 300 miles (the only such shorter-scheduled race in history).[2] AAA would return as the sanctioning body. An editorial the following day in the Indianapolis News, however, sharply criticized the choice of Memorial Day. As it was going to be the first "Decoration Day" holiday following the end of the "Great War", they believed that the holiday should be left alone to properly honor the many thousands of war casualties.[3] About a week later, Speedway management announced that they would change the date to Saturday May 31. The race was deliberately moved off Memorial Day (Friday May 30) and pushed to Saturday so as not to detract from the holiday.[4]

The race was given a new name for 1919, the Liberty Sweepstakes as a gesture to the peacetime brought on by victory and the end of the war. Without hesitation, Cliff Durant submitted the first entry on December 16.[5]

Race schedule[edit]

Race schedule – May 1919
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1
 
2
 
3
 
4
 
5
 
6
 
7
 
8
 
9
 
10
 
11
 
12
 
13
 
14
 
15
 
16
 
17
 
18
 
19
 
20
 
21
 
22
 
23
 
24
 
25
 
26
 
27
Time Trials
28
Time Trials
29
Time Trials
30
Memorial Day
31
Indy 500
Color Notes
Green Track Available for Practice
Dark Blue Time trials
Silver Race day
Red Rained out*
Blank No track activity

* Includes days where track activity
was significantly limited due to rain

Practice[edit]

The deadline for entries to be submitted May midnight on Thursday May 1.[6][7] A total of 43 cars were entered, including three entries by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.[8][9] The AAA Contest Board confirmed that the maximum starting field rule of 33 cars would apply.[10]

  • Friday May 9: As the first full week of track availability was coming to an end, still only two non-local teams had arrived at the Speedway. The Ballot team out of France, and the Sunbeam team out of England. Poised to be spirited rivals, both were at the track with their full complement of drivers.[21] The only Americans at the track thus far were Howdy Wilcox, and Elmer T. Shannon.[22][23]
  • Saturday May 10: Visiting the Speedway was Barney Oldfield, in town for his tire company. Oldfield was planning to return later in the month to start his preparations.[24]
  • Sunday May 11: No track activity on Sunday. The prevailing topics of discussion for the week focused on the number of foreign entries and foreign drivers vying for the field.[25]
  • Monday May 12: Greek driver George Buzane was mentioned as a possible driver for one of the I.M.S. Premier entries.[26] Louis Wagner and Eddie Pullen were among drivers mentioned as possible qualifiers.[27]
  • Tuesday May 13: Dario Resta took practice laps for the first time during the month. Carl G. Fisher and James A. Allison were among those watching in attendance.[28] J. J. McCoy arrived at the track, and was expected to start taking laps as soon as his McCoy Special was unpacked.[29] With the prestigious French Grand Prix still not yet revived after the war, Indianapolis was being ranked as the biggest motor race of the year.[30]
  • Wednesday May 14: Predictions were being made of record speeds during the race.[31]
  • Thursday May 15: Dario Resta was practicing his Ballot entry, but nearly crashed. The shock absorbers were not affixed properly, and when the car hit a bump in turn one, it became airborne. The car jumped a foot off the ground, but Resta was able to slow the car down and keep it from crashing over the embankment. Resta and his crew made repairs, and he was soon back out on the track running several hot laps. Art Klein, Arthur Thurman, and J. M. Reynolds arrived at the Speedway.[32] The expectations were that practice would begin to pick up by Saturday and Sunday.[33]
  • Friday May 16: Of discussion was the budding rivalry between the American and European entries. The 7th 500 would be the "rubber match" between the two factions, each of whom had won the race three times apiece.[34]
  • Saturday May 17: Rene Thomas was clocked with a lap of 1 minute and 32 seconds, for an average speed of 97 mph.[35] Louis Disbrow took the Detroit Special for a few laps around the track.[36]
  • Sunday May 18: More drivers arrived from Europe, including André Boillot, Paul Bablot, and Louis Wagner. Also arriving in town was Ralph DePalma.[37][38] The track was open for practice, but closed to the public on Sunday. About four or five cars took to the track including Dario Resta and Jean Chassagne in the Sunbeam cars. Resta took some hot laps, while Chassagne took his time. Rene Thomas in the Ballot was observed opening up the throttle down the backstretch, but "loafing" in the turns. George Buzane took some hot laps in one of the I.M.S. Premiers late Sunday afternoon, leading some to think he may attempt to qualify.[36]
  • Monday May 19: Howdy Wilcox was officially named to an I.M.S. entry as a teammate to Jules Goux.[39] The Indianapolis Star published a photograph, purported to be the first-ever picture of the track taken from an airplane.[40] Several drivers, including Tommy Milton, were at Uniontown Speedway for another race, and were expected to arrive at Indianapolis soon.[41]
  • Tuesday May 20: The Sunbeam cars for Jean Chassagne and Dario Resta were ruled ineligible after it was discovered their engines were oversized.[42] Chief engineer Louis Coatalen discovered the infraction, and informed speedway officials that the team was withdrawing from the event. Tom Alley and A. E. Cotey arrived at the Speedway on Tuesday.[43]
  • Wednesday May 21: Many drivers and teams were arriving at the Speedway, but rain and foggy weather was limiting available track time.[44] Charles Kirkpatrick was named to the Detroit Special.[45]
  • Thursday May 22: Rain kept cars off the track.[46] After losing his ride with the withdrawn Sunbeam team, Dario Resta joined the Ballot team, possibly to serve as a relief driver on race day.[47]
  • Friday May 23: Jesse G. Vincent was named the driver of the pace car.[48] Two entries were scratched, the Jay-Bee Special for P.W. Monaghan, and the Hudson for C.W. Johnson.[49]
  • Saturday May 24: The fastest practice lap was made by Ralph DePalma at 98 mph. After many days of rainy weather,[49] sunny conditions saw heavy track activity, including many drivers taking their first laps of the month.[50][51]
  • Sunday May 25: George Buzane crashed and flipped over in the south turns. Buzane and his riding mechanic Carl Weinbrecht were not seriously injured.[52] The track was closed to the public on Sunday.[38]
  • Monday May 26: Denny Hickey blew a tire coming out of turn 2, spun the car around three times, and backed into the inside wall on the backstretch. The car suffered only minor damage. During the afternoon, Howdy Wilcox and Jules Goux took to the track together for many laps over the 90 mph range. Ira Hall was also out on the track. Monday was the final full day of practice available before elimination trials began.[53][54][55]

Time trials[edit]

Time trials were scheduled for three days, May 27–29. Elimination trials consisted of one timed lap. This would be the final time single-lap qualifying runs were used at Indianapolis. In 1920, four-lap time trial runs would be introduced. For the first time, qualifiers would line up in the grid by speed based on the day they qualified. All cars that qualified on the first day would line up by speed rank first, with the fastest qualifier starting on the pole position. The remaining cars that qualified on subsequent days would line up by speed rank behind the first day qualifiers. The cars from the second and third days, however, were merged on the grid. This format was adopted in order to encourage more drivers to qualify early on, instead of waiting until the last minute.

Originally it was planned for all elimination trials to be held on Tuesday, but due to inclement weather, the schedule was expanded to allow Wednesday and Thursday as well.[55] The minimum speed to qualify was set at 80 mph, and the field was set at a maximum of 33 cars. Based on the entries prepared at the track, the expectation was that about six cars would fail to qualify.

In an effort to foil the "bootleg" programs that were being printed and sold in and around the Speedway, car numbers were not assigned until race morning.

Tuesday May 27[edit]

The first day of time trials was held Tuesday May 27 starting at 10:00 a.m. Ralph DePalma (98.2 mph) was the first car in the field. Former winner René Thomas shattered the track record with a lap of 104.7 mph to secure the pole position. Thomas went out late in the afternoon, deciding to wait out windy conditions. A total of eleven cars completed runs, all over 90 mph. Howdy Wilcox went out after Thomas, and qualified second with a speed of 100.0 mph.

Pos Name Average Speed
(mph)
1 France René Thomas (W) 104.7
2 United States Howdy Wilcox 100.0
3 France Albert Guyot 98.3
4 Italy Ralph DePalma (W) 98.2
5 United States Eddie O'Donnell 97.3
6 France Paul Bablot (R) 94.9
7 United States Art Klein 94.9
8 United States Eddie Hearne 94.5
9 United States Earl Cooper 94.2
10 Canada Ira Vail (R) 94.1
11 United States Charles Kirkpatrick (R) 90.0
  • Note: Car numbers not assigned until race morning.

Sources: The Indianapolis Star,[56][57] The Indianapolis News[58]

Wednesday May 28[edit]

The second day of time trials was held Wednesday May 28. The qualifiers on the second and third day would line up behind the qualifiers from the first day. Louis Chevrolet drove a Frontenac at a speed of 103.1 mph to be the fastest car of the day. Tommy Milton was on his was to qualifying over 101 mph, but his car slowed, and he managed a lap of only 89.9 mph.

During a practice run, Omar Toft spun in the south turns, but avoided contact and was able to continue around. Two cars, Al Cotey and Dave Lewis, made an attempt but failed to qualify. Cotey was too slow (below the 80 mph minimum) and Lewis suffered engine failure. Both drivers were eligible to try again on Thursday.

A total of 13 cars completed qualifying runs Wednesday, filling the field to 24 cars. The final starting positions, however, for those 13 cars would not be finalized until qualifying was completed on Thursday.

Pos Name Average Speed
(mph)
Notes
12 United States Louis Chevrolet 103.1
13 France Louis Wagner (R) 101.7
14 United States Joe Boyer (R) 100.9
15 United States Ralph Mulford 100.5
16 United States Gaston Chevrolet (R) 100.4
18 United States Arthur Thurman (R) 98.0
20 United States Cliff Durant (R) 96.5
23 United States Wilbur D'Alene 94.2
25 United States Louis LeCocq (R) 92.9
27 United States Denny Hickey (R) 92.5
29 United States Elmer T. Shannon (R) 91.7
31 United States Tommy Milton (R) 89.9
32 France André Boillot (R) 89.5
 —  United States Al Cotey (R) 74.6 Below 80 mph minimum
 —  United States Dave Lewis Incompete Engine failure
  • Note: Car numbers not assigned until race morning.

Sources: The Indianapolis Star,[59] The Indianapolis News[60]

Thursday May 29[edit]

The third and final day of time trials was held Thursday May 29. The day opened with nine spots available in the field.

The 1913 winner Jules Goux was the final car to qualify. During a practice run on Thursday, he suffered a broken piston and broken connecting rod, which blew a hole in the Peugeot's engine block. The Premier team offered him a spare engine, and Goux spent the entire day working to install it. Late in the day, just minutes before sundown, Goux took the car to the track. After one single warm-up lap, he signaled to officials to start the run. His lap of 95 mph bumped James Reynolds, and Goux surprisingly made the field. Not as lucky was Dave Lewis. A day after suffering engine problems, Evans was on his qualifying lap, running over 100 mph. Two-thirds of the way through the lap, the bearings in the engine burned out, and broke the crankcase.

During an exhibition run, Ralph DePalma attempted to set track records in a 950-c.i.d. car, the same car he set records in at Daytona. He failed to break René Thomas's one-lap record from Tuesday, but he did set 5-mile and 10-mile distance speed records.

Pos Name Average Speed
(mph)
Notes
17 United States W. W. Brown (R) 99.8
19 United States Roscoe Sarles (R) 97.75
21 United States Ray Howard (R) 95.0
22 France Jules Goux (W) 95.0
24 Germany Kurt Hitke (R) 93.5
26 United States Ora Haibe 92.8
28 United States Tom Alley 92.2
30 United States Omar Toft (R) 91.5
33 United States J. J. McCoy (R) 86.5
 —  United States James M. Reynolds (R) 83.5 Bumped by Goux
 —  United States Al Cotey (R) 82.9 Too slow
 —  United States Dave Lewis Incomplete Connecting rod
  • Note: Car numbers not assigned until race morning.

Sources: The Indianapolis Star,[61][62] The Indianapolis News[63]

Starting grid[edit]

Row Inside Inside Center Outside Center Outside
1 France René Thomas (W) United States Howdy Wilcox France Albert Guyot Italy Ralph DePalma (W)
2 United States Eddie O'Donnell France Paul Bablot United States Art Klein United States Eddie Hearne
3 United States Earl Cooper Canada Ira Vail (R) United States Charles Kirkpatrick (R) United States Louis Chevrolet
4 France Louis Wagner (R) United States Joe Boyer (R) United States Ralph Mulford United States Gaston Chevrolet (R)
5 United States William Wayne Brown (R) United States Arthur Thurman (R) United States Roscoe Sarles (R) United States Cliff Durant (R)
6 United States Ray Howard (R) France Jules Goux (W) United States Wilbur D'Alene Germany Kurt Hitke (R)
7 United States Louis LeCocq (R) United States Ora Haibe United States Denny Hickey (R) United States Tom Alley
8 United States Elmer T. Shannon (R) United States Omar Toft (R) United States Tommy Milton (R) France André Boillot (R)
9 United States J. J. McCoy (R)      

Alternates[edit]

  • First alternate: James M. Reynolds[64]

Failed to qualify[edit]

  • Al Cotey – Too slow
  • Dave Lewis – Incomplete attempt
  • P.W. Monaghan – Withdrew (engine failure)
  • H.C. Simmons – Withdrew (engine failure)
  • George Buzane – practice crash


Race recap[edit]

The start of the race was scheduled for Saturday May 31 at 11:00 a.m. local time.[65] The facility was closed to the public on Friday, but participants were allowed a brief period of practice time on Friday morning for last-minute preparations. The rest of the day was spent prepping the track by scrubbing the brick surface of oil and debris.[66]

A crowd estimated at 120,000 arrived at the Speedway, on a hot sunny, Saturday morning. At 8 a.m., the Purdue Band entertained fans.[67] Pace car driver Jesse G. Vincent, with passenger Eddie Rickenbacker, took the field around for one unscored warm-up lap. At a speed of about 80 mph, the field was released for the start. André Boillot's car initially failed to pull away, but eventually got started, and sprinted to catch up to the rest of the field.

First half[edit]

The first half of the race belonged to 1915 winner Ralph DePalma. Depalma led the first 65 laps, and raced at a record pace. With an average speed of over 92 mph, DePalma was shattering existing track records. Though the pace was incredible, his lead was not large. His closest contenders stayed within reach. Louis Chevrolet took the lead for lap 66-74, before giving it back to DePalma. Also in the top five were Earl Cooper, Howdy Wilcox, and René Thomas.[68][69]

Two fatal accidents, taking the lives of three competitors, marred the first half of the race. On lap 45, Arthur Thurman lost control at about 90 mph, swerved to the inside wall on the backstretch, then flipped over three times. Thurman was thrown from the car, and landed about twenty-five feet away. He died about ten minutes later as he was being taken to the hospital.[70][71] His riding mechanic Nicholas Molinaro survived a fractured skull, but survived.[72]

On the 96th lap, Louis LeCocq and his riding mechanic Robert Bandini lost control and turned over in the exit of turn two. The fuel tank ruptured and burst into flames. Both LeCocq and Bandini were pinned underneath the car, doused with gasoline, and burned to death at the scene.[70][71] With other cars whizzing by, flaming gasoline was spread in all directions, as crews attempted to extinguish the flames.

Second half[edit]

After dominating most of the first half, Ralph DePalma gave up the lead on lap 103 to make a pit stop. DePalma was experiencing tire trouble, and was forced to make long stop to make repairs. DePalma lost about ten laps in the pits, and fell out of contention.

Howdy Wilcox took the lead on lap 103, and led the rest of the way. After major crashes and high attrition in the first half, the second half of the race settled down into a steady pace. Only three cars dropped out in the second half, leaving 14 cars running to complete 500 miles. Wilcox made a pit stop for tires and fuel at some point after the 400 mile mark. He came out of the pits with a two-lap lead over Eddie Hearne, and cruised the rest of the way.

Late in the race, Louis Chevrolet reportedly came into the pits on three wheels. He made repairs, and finished in 7th place. After losing much time in the pits, Ralph DePalma worked his way back up to finish 6th. DePalma nipped Chevrolet at the scoring line by a fraction of a second in the battle for 6th-7th. DePalma led 93 laps, bringing his career total so far to 425 laps led - by far the most of any driver during that era. (DePalma would lead 613 laps in his career).

Box score[edit]

Finish Start No Name Qual Rank Laps Status
1 2 3 United States Howdy Wilcox 100.010 7 200 Running
2 8 14 United States Eddie Hearne 94.500 19 200 Running
3 22 6 France Jules Goux (W) 95.000 15 200 Running
4 3 32 France Albert Guyot 98.300 9 200 Running
5 28 26 United States Tom Alley 92.200 27 200 Running
6 4 4 Italy Ralph DePalma (W) 98.200 10 200 Running
7 12 7 United States Louis Chevrolet 103.100 2 200 Running
8 10 27 Canada Ira Vail (R) 94.100 22 200 Running
9 27 21 United States Denny Hickey (R) 92.500 26 200 Running
10 16 41 United States Gaston Chevrolet (R) 100.400 6 200 Running
11 1 31 France René Thomas (W) 104.700 1 200 Running
12 9 8 United States Earl Cooper 94.250 20 200 Running
13 29 23 United States Elmer T. Shannon (R) 91.700 28 200 Running
14 26 17 United States Ora Haibe 92.800 25 200 Running
15 32 37 France André Boillot (R) 89.500 32 195 Crash BS
16 21 48 United States Ray Howard (R) 95.000 16 130 Oil pressure
17 23 22 United States Wilbur D'Alene 94.200 21 120 Axle
18 25 15 United States Louis LeCocq (R) 92.900 24 96 Died in crash at T2
19 7 29 United States Art Klein 94.900 18 70 Oil line
20 11 19 United States Charles Kirkpatrick (R) 90.000 30 69 Rod
21 6 33 France Paul Bablot (R) 94.900 17 63 Crash
22 5 10 United States Eddie O'Donnell 97.300 13 60 Piston
23 24 12 Germany Kurt Hitke (R) 93.500 23 56 Rod bearing
24 20 1 United States Cliff Durant (R) 96.500 14 54 Steering
25 31 9 United States Tommy Milton (R) 89.900 31 50 Rod
26 13 34 France Louis Wagner (R) 101.700 3 44 Broken wheel
27 18 18 United States Arthur Thurman (R) 98.000 11 44 Died in crash at T3
28 30 43 United States Omar Toft (R) 91.500 29 44 Rod
29 15 2 United States Ralph Mulford 100.500 5 37 Driveshaft
30 33 36 United States J. J. McCoy (R) 86.500 33 36 Oil line
31 14 39 United States Joe Boyer (R) 100.900 4 30 Rear axle
32 17 5 United States William Wayne Brown (R) 99.800 8 14 Rod
33 19 28 United States Roscoe Sarles (R) 97.700 12 8 Rocker arm
[73]

Statistics[edit]

Race details[edit]

Notes[edit]

See also[edit]

Works cited[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Racing Dates for Local Speedway". The Indianapolis News. December 4, 1918. p. 18. Retrieved May 3, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  3. ^ "Memorial Day (Editorial)". The Indianapolis News. December 9, 1918. p. 6. Retrieved May 3, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
  4. ^ Sturm, William F. (December 16, 1918). "Speedway Race Date is Changed to May 31". The Indianapolis News. p. 17. Retrieved May 4, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  9. ^ "Entries Close For 500-Mile Liberty Event". The Indianapolis Star. May 2, 1919. p. 15. Retrieved May 8, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  21. ^ "Sunbeam and Ballot Cars Real Rivals in Big Classic". The Indianapolis Star. May 10, 1919. p. 12. Retrieved May 8, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
  22. ^ "Famous French Pilots Arrive for Big Race". The Indianapolis News. May 9, 1919. p. 30. Retrieved May 28, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  28. ^ "Resta Tunes Up for Race at Indianapolis Speedway". The Indianapolis Star. May 14, 1919. p. 15. Retrieved May 8, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  35. ^ "Thomas Sets Speedy Clip at Speedway". The Indianapolis Star. May 18, 1919. p. 25. Retrieved May 8, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  38. ^ a b "Three Foreign Pilots Arrive (part 2)". The Indianapolis Star. May 19, 1919. p. 12. Retrieved May 8, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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  40. ^ "First Picture of Speedway From Plan". The Indianapolis Star. May 20, 1919. p. 13. Retrieved May 8, 2015 – via Newspapers.com. open access publication - free to read
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1916 Indianapolis 500
Dario Resta
1919 Indianapolis 500
Howdy Wilcox
1920 Indianapolis 500
Gaston Chevrolet