With all details concerning the 1928 race moving smoothly under Pop's able guidance, one of Rickenbacker's first moves was to retain William H. Diddel of Indianapolis to design and build a public golf course on the Speedway grounds for use in 1929. Nine holes were planned inside the track and nine immediately east of the backstretch.
This development was of little interest, however, to dyed-in-the-wool race fans. Their attention was concentrated on the pre-race performance of the favored veterans and such prominent newcomers as Ray Keech, Lou Moore, and Jimmy Gleason.
Frank Lockhart had lost his life in quest of the world's measured mile record at Daytona Beach. But other daring drivers wasted no time improving on his Indianapolis records.
Cliff Woodbury was the first to break Lockhart's one-lap mark, and Leon Duray surpassed Cliff's best effort with a sensational performance at 124.018 miles an hour.
Another development of considerable interest, due to a strange quirk of fate during the time trials, enabled Lou Meyer to turn the tables on Shaw by getting a leg under him in one of the fastest cars at the track.
With the promise of a sizable sponsorship fee from one of the big accessory companies preparing to place a new automatic fuel pump on the market, Phil (Red) Shafer had entered a new Miller Special and signed Shaw as driver. The company was interested only in proving the dependability of its new product, however, and withdrew the offer when preliminary tests proved it to be unsatisfactory for high-speed performance in its present form.
Shafer had no alternative but to offer the car for sale. Before Wilbur could beg and borrow enough money to swing the deal, Meyer obtained the backing of Alden Sampson. Shaw was without a ride. He did manage to earn a starting position by qualifying with special AAA permission on the morning of the race in a rebuilt car which DePaolo had wrecked during time trials. But mechanical trouble ended his chances after 42 laps.
As predicted by most of the railbirds, Duray zoomed to the front when the starting flag dropped. For 64 laps he set a blistering pace of better than 106 miles an hour before fading to the rear with an overheated engine. Souders, Gleason, Stapp, and Gulotta then waged a terrific four-car battle for the lead. Gulotta was at the head of the pack when a few drops of rain brought out the caution flag at 425 miles.
Race officials considered halting the action immediately for safety reasons, as they had done in 1926, but the drizzle stopped as unexpectedly as it had started. And the standing of the race changed with almost equal suddenness.
Having guarded their engines against excessive strain during the early stages, Meyer and Moore came charging up through the field. They passed Stapp and then Souders. As they closed in on Gleason, his magneto began to develop trouble, and he was powerless to meet their challenge.
At almost the same instant, Gulotta's fuel line became clogged with 18 laps to go. Meyer was in front to stay. Moore finished a close second; Souders was third, with all other contenders trailing by more than 15 minutes.
Showing the same respect for his equipment, and deciding in advance what speed probably would be necessary to win, Meyer almost made it two in a row in 1929. Driving as if he had a stop watch built into his brain, he moved to the front on schedule, shortly after passing the halfway mark. But his engine stalled on his last pit stop, and he sat helplessly at the wheel for seven long minutes before his crew could start it again.
Followed closely by Barney Kloepfer (driving relief for Moore), Ray Keech roared into the lead and won with a car which had been assembled originally by Lockhart. Meyer did salvage second place when Moore had the misfortune to break a connecting rod with only two laps to go.
The heyday of the powerful little 91-1/2-inch engines at Indianapolis was finished.
Prior to the race, in an effort to rekindle the interest of automobile manufacturers in racing—and with no idea of how important the move would be, in view of the entirely unexpected economic depression ahead—Rickenbacker had announced a revolutionary change in specifications for the 1930 event.
For the first time since 1922 all entrants again would be required to carry riding mechanics. Engines of up to 366-cubic-inch displacement would be eligible, with a limit of two valves per cylinder. Superchargers would be barred on all conventional four-cycle engines. A minimum weight of 1,750 pounds or 7-1/2 pounds per cubic inch of piston displacement (whichever figure was larger) would be strictly enforced.
As an added inducement for the entry of cars with semi-stock engines, the number of starting positions would be increased from 33 to 40.
The response amazed even Rickenbacker. During the early 1930s, the number of entries each year ranged from 45 to 72, with many of the cars powered by modified stock engines. Buick, Chrysler, Ford, Hudson, Hupmobile, Oakland, Packard, Reo, and Studebaker were among the prominent companies represented, in addition to the Cummins Engine Company of Columbus, Indiana, which built diesel units. But even the largest and most powerful of these semi-stock creations couldn't match the speed of Harry Miller's special racing equipment with piston displacements of from 151 to 270 cubic inches.
Cliff Bergere, Hollywood stunt man, made the best semi-stock showing, driving a Studebaker-powered entry to third place in 1932, 4 minutes and 10 seconds behind the winner. Russ Snowberger placed fifth twice, in a Studebaker and then in a Hupmobile. "Stubby" Stubblefield earned fifth place on one occasion with a Buick.
After selling his plant to Fred Offenhauser,24 Miller contracted with Edsel Ford to build 10 special front-drive race cars powered with modified Ford V-8 engines in 1935, but only four were completed in time for the race and none of them was running at the finish.
What probably was the outstanding stock accomplishment of this era was turned in by the Cummins Company, whose diesel-powered car was driven the full distance by Dave Evans on 33 gallons of fuel oil without making a single pit stop in 1931. The fact that 12 faster cars finished ahead of it was relatively unimportant, because the primary objective was to prove the diesel's durability, not its speed.
Billy Arnold, who had placed among the first ten finishers on both of his previous "500" appearances, starred in the first "semi-stock formula" race due to an unusual turn of events in the spring of 1930. While convalescing from injuries sustained in a racing accident on the Salem (N.H.) board track, Hartz had designed and built a new front-drive car with a 151-inch Miller engine. When the track was opened for practice early in May, however, he still wasn't ready for high-speed competition. The old touch was missing and his physical condition was such that a relief driver would be necessary even if he did qualify the car himself.
Ralph Hepburn was his first choice for this assignment. But "Hep" suggested a number of minor changes after taking his first ride. Arnold, meanwhile, had been looking in on Hartz almost every day to admire the car's graceful lines. Each time, he would stop at the entrance to the garage and say the same words: "Gee, Mr. Hartz, that certainly is a beautiful car."
Rather than make the changes requested by Hepburn, Hartz finally decided to qualify the car himself on the first day of time trials; but he was far from satisfied with what the watches showed on his final practice laps when he coasted back to his pit. At that moment, Arnold happened to stroll by, still looking for a ride in a Miller-engined car in preference to the two semi-stock creations which had been offered to him earlier.
"You've been admiring this car for several days, Billy," said Hartz. "How would you like to take a ride in it?"
"Sure," said Arnold. Ten minutes later, all smiles, he brought it back.
"How does it feel, Billy?" asked Hartz.
"Perfect. I wouldn't want a single nut or bolt changed."
"Help us push it up to the starting line," said Hartz, "and I'll give you a chance to set it on the pole."
Billy did exactly that, averaging 113.268 miles an hour for the fastest 10 miles ever recorded up to that time by a non-super-charged car at Indianapolis.
When the green flag25 dropped on race day, Meyer managed to lead the first two laps with his 16-cylinder Sampson Special. Then Arnold took command and built up a lead of approximately 10 miles at the halfway mark despite everything Hartz could do in an effort to convince his driver such speed was not necessary to win. There was no reason to strain the engine to that extent with no rival in a challenging position.
When Billy ignored the E-Z and SLOWER signs, Harry devised another, with an arrow pointing to the rear and 10 MILES written below the arrow to show Arnold how much of a lead he had piled up. But Arnold didn't slacken his speed a fraction of a mile an hour—even when Hartz climbed atop the pit wall and shook his fist as the car passed on each lap.
The only consolation for Hartz was that Billy would be forced to stop soon for tires and fuel. When he did, Hartz devoted several extra seconds to telling his young protégé a few basic facts about racing.
"What in the hell are you trying to do out there—run away and hide from everybody?" he asked.
"I'm not running too fast," said Billy. "The car feels real good at the speed I've been going."
"The important thing is to make sure it still will be feeling 'real good' on the last lap," declared Hartz. "You can't win a race unless you go the full distance. At the rate you're traveling, you'll be lucky if you don't hang the car on the wall or have the engine fly apart."
"What do you want me to do—get out and walk?" asked Billy. "The only thing I want you to do is win the race. Don't forget, the prize money for the winner will be exactly the same whether the margin is ten feet or ten miles. Use your head and follow my orders."
During the remainder of the race, Arnold was content to protect his huge lead, winning by approximately 7-1/2 minutes to score the first Indianapolis victory at a speed of better than 100 miles an hour without relief. His winning average was 100.448.
But he wasn't so fortunate a year later. Running wide open again in the 1931 event, he took the lead on the seventh lap and increased his advantage steadily until he was within 39 laps of another victory.
Without warning, his rear axle broke. The car hit the wall with such terrific impact that the right rear wheel tore loose and soared more than 200 feet through the air. In one of racing's most freakish accidents, it cleared the fence on the west edge of the Speedway grounds and took the life of an eleven-year-old boy playing in the front yard of his home across the road from the track.
Tony Gulotta was running in second place at the time, almost 12 miles behind. Bill Cummings, driving relief for Deacon Litz, was third and Lou Schneider a poor fourth.
Before Gulotta could take the lead officially, by actually completing as many laps as Arnold already had covered, he also crashed. The Litz car experienced mechanical difficulty at almost the same moment and Schneider found himself rolling on toward one of the most unexpected victories ever recorded on any track. His winning average was 96.629.
It was in this same race that Shaw experienced the unusual sensation of going completely over the wall in a Duesenberg Special, escaping with minor injuries, and finishing the event as a relief driver in a teammate's car.26
Arnold played one of the leading roles again in 1932, taking first place on the second lap and holding it until he crashed on his 59th trip around the course. The race then became a four-way battle involving Shaw, Frame, Bob Carey, and Howdy Wilcox II.
With only 50 laps to go and his last scheduled pit stop behind him, Shaw appeared headed toward certain victory. But transmission trouble forced him out of the running.
Frame took command and led the field home at a record-breaking average of 104.144, also winning permanent possession of the original Wheeler-Schebler trophy27 for Hartz and vindicating Milton's faith in the basic design of the Detroit Special, which the two-time winner had built for Cliff Durant in 1927.
Although its cost was in excess of $100,000, Durant had lacked the skill and experience to get maximum performance out of the car. Hartz had purchased it in 1931 and combined its entire front-end assembly with a new engine and frame to create the 1932 winner. It also scored a second, third, fourth, and eighth in subsequent years.
The race, however, was far from a financial success. Thousands of seats had remained unsold—the effect of unemployment as the Depression approached its worst stages—and the Speedway's plight was made more acute by Rickenbacker's fulfillment of an earlier promise to increase consolation awards for all participants failing to finish among the first ten. The traditional lap prize fund had been preserved only as the result of a personal $5,000 subscription by Henry Ford, who had made the trip from Detroit to watch his son, Edsel, drive the Lincoln pace car. Rick had good reason to consider abandoning the race temporarily until better days returned. Instead, he elected to continue the venture—cutting the prize money from $70,000 to $40,200—with the hope of breaking even and still giving the racing fraternity a source of some income. Every other major track in the country already had ceased operation and the bank holiday in March of 1933 made conditions even worse. Lap prize fund subscriptions dropped to an all-time low of $3,150.
In an effort to obtain additional revenue from the time trials, Rick increased the distance to 25 miles (10 laps). Drivers and car owners showed increasing signs of irritation, but open rebellion was avoided until the morning of the race. Wilcox (Howdy 11) had qualified for a starting position several days earlier. When he appeared for his medical examination, however, he had been rejected by Dr. Frank Allen because of a diabetic condition. Fellow drivers rallied to his defense immediately. Without exception, they signed a prepared statement:
We, the undersigned, refuse to participate in the 500-mile race scheduled today unless Howard Wilcox is allowed to drive in said race.
Thirty minutes before starting time, it was presented formally to W. D. (Eddie) Edenburn, chief steward of the "500" since 1919. Eddie said, "I'll discuss the matter with the Speedway management immediately and give you its answer at the starting line in fifteen minutes. But I presume you know that every driver who fails to start on schedule is subject to indefinite suspension by the AAA contest board."
"So what?" challenged one of the drivers' spokesmen. "They wouldn't dare suspend all of us. Either we all race, including Wilcox, or they can refund the price of admission to everybody here today."
Rickenbacker needed no spokesman to deliver his answer to the drivers. Grim and determined, he strode to the starting line with the same aggressiveness he had displayed as a combat pilot above the battlefields of Europe.
"I know how all of you feel about Howdy," he said. "I would like to comply with your request because I know it is sincere. But none of us ever would be able to forgive himself if Howdy did start this race and then was responsible for an accident involving other cars and drivers, due to his physical condition.
"The Wilcox car will be moved to the rear of the field immediately. In fairness to the entrant, permission will be granted for some other experienced driver to start it in the race. Every car behind it in the original starting line-up will move up one position. This race is going to start in exactly five minutes if there is only one car ready to run at that time and I have to drive it myself."
It was evident he meant exactly what he said. A few disgruntled leaders of the rebellion did their best to maintain the appearance of a united front. But when Joe Marks of Gary, Indiana, owner of the Wilcox car, made a deal with Mauri Rose28 to drive it, the remaining participants began straggling back to their own cars.
At 10:15 every qualified car was in motion behind the pace car on the parade lap. Cummings, Frame, and Stapp battled for the early lead. But mechanical trouble eventually forced all three out of action.
Meyer, in a contending position from the start, took command at 340 miles with Shaw second and Moore third.
Shaw's ill-handling Mallory Special seemed to be shaking itself to pieces on the rough bricks. The engine sounded as if it might fly apart at any instant. Moore's oil-pressure gauge told him he too would be lucky to finish. Both were content to maintain their relative positions as Meyer increased his lead to win easily by a four-lap margin, joining Milton as the Speedway's only double victors. Chet Gardner, Stubby Stubblefield and Dave Evans finished close behind Shaw and Moore with all of the six leaders averaging better than 100 miles an hour.
Word of mouth repetition of the reasons for disqualifying Wilcox had resulted in distortion of Dr. Allen's actual statement and the driver filed suit against the Speedway the following day for $50,000, charging it had slandered him by branding him as an epileptic, rather than a diabetic. Attorney Paul Davis settled the matter out of court, however, for $3,000.
Three important changes in the rules were made for the 1934 event. Because of the steadily increasing accident rate, the starting line-up again was limited to the 33 fastest qualifiers, and all cars were restricted to not more than 6-1/2 gallons of oil in an effort to eliminate the "leakers" which often made the track hazardous. As a concession to entrants using modified stock engines, each car also was limited to 45 gallons of fuel.
May of 1934 also was the birth date of one of the world's most exclusive organizations: the Champion 100-Mile-An-Hour Club. Sponsored by the Champion Spark Plug Company at the suggestion of Dave Evans, its membership was restricted to drivers who had completed the full 500 miles without relief at a speed of 100 miles an hour or better in competition at Indianapolis. Other charter members were Arnold, Frame, Wilcox, Bergere, Carey, Snowberger, Meyer, Gardner, Shaw, Moore and Stubblefield.
Joe Copps was the Speedway's new publicity chief, after two years of indoctrination as Steve Hannagan's assistant. They had worked together for Fisher at Miami Beach during the winter months since 1924, and Steve had relinquished his Speedway duties following the 1933 race in favor of a broader field of operation.
The Duesenberg Specials already had faded from the racing scene due to Augie's retirement from active competition following Fred's death in a highway accident in 1932. But the Millers completely outclassed their less expensive semi-stock rivals and swept all of the first twelve positions. Frank Brisko's Four Wheel Drive Special ran at the head of the pack during most of the first 280 miles. When Brisko surrendered the lead because of mechanical trouble, Cummings and Rose turned the event into a two-way battle for supremacy, with "Wild Bill" 27 seconds in front at the finish.
A further reduction in fuel allotments, to 42-1/2 gallons, was ordered for 1935. This race developed rapidly into a two-car contest featuring Shaw and Kelly Petillo. Kelly definitely was a dark horse with only an outside chance of going the full distance. He had run out of fuel29 on his first qualifying attempt and tore up an engine on his second trial before finally winning a starting position on his last chance with a patched-up crankcase.
With a commanding lead over the third-place car, Shaw was content to keep the heavy-footed Petillo in sight rather than strain his own car to the limit. If Kelly's mount didn't falter, there still would be time in the closing laps to challenge for the lead.
Wilbur waited in vain, until he couldn't postpone his final bid any longer. With 30 laps to go, he began closing the gap. But seven laps later a sudden shower forced officials to display the yellow light—used for the first time on this occasion—making it mandatory for all contestants to maintain their respective positions on the wet track.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it started, but the track wasn't dry enough for the resumption of racing speed until only nine laps remained—a distance much too short for Shaw to catch Petillo. For the second time in three years, Wilbur had to settle for second place. But his failure to win after being so close to victory only increased his determination to succeed. In 1936 he would start the race at the wheel of a new streamlined car of his own design.
The only important change in the rules was another cut in the fuel allotment to 37-1/2 gallons. Rickenbacker, however, had ordered a thorough study of the causes for the continued high accident rate, and steps were taken immediately in the interest of greater safety. A new concrete retaining wall was built on the outside edge of the turns at right angles to the track in an effort to prevent cars from going over the wall. The original retaining wall, erected perpendicular to the ground, often had served as a ramp and caused cars to become airborne. The inner retaining wall was removed in order to make room for a safety apron so that cars out of control would not bounce back in the groove and endanger other participants.
Because first-year drivers had been at the wheel of cars involved in all but four of the accidents which had claimed the lives of nine drivers and six mechanics in the six-year period30 beginning with the 1930 race, preparations also were made for the first rookie drivers' tests.31 Effective immediately, every newcomer to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be required to prove his ability during a preliminary 100-mile exam before receiving permission to practice and qualify.
Despite an irritating series of mechanical troubles during the practice period, Meyer shared the mantle of favorites with Cummings, Stapp, Shaw, and Rex Mays, a comparative newcomer from California who had succeeded in winning the pole position. Cummings, however, didn't even get away from the starting line because of clutch trouble.
After setting a torrid pace for the first 12 laps, Mays dropped out of contention due to a 6-1/2-minute pit stop to repair his throttle linkage. Shaw passed Stapp on the 31st lap to take command in decisive manner.
At 200 miles Wilbur enjoyed an 80-second lead on Stapp and was two full laps or more in front of all other rivals. Three laps later, as Shaw was passing Hepburn for the third time, Ralph suddenly gestured frantically toward the hood of Wilbur's car. Half of the hood rivets already had pulled loose and it was only a matter of seconds before the paneling would tear itself free. A 17-minute pit stop was necessary to repair the damage.
A faulty clutch sent Stapp to the side lines at almost the same time, and Meyer automatically moved into the No. 1 spot with Ted Horn as his only serious challenger. They finished one-two, Meyer winning the event for the third time and setting a new race record of 109.069 miles an hour, despite the penalties imposed on top speed by the fuel limitation.
For the first time since 1928, the race and the entire practice period had been completed without a single serious accident. Another "first" went into the Speedway record book when Tom Milton presented the beautiful Packard pace car to Meyer as one of his accessory prizes.
In keeping with the Speedway management's policy of recognizing what it considered the outstanding passenger car of the year, Rickenbacker had invited Packard to pace the race. Alvan Macauley, Packard president, discussed the matter with Milton—then one of Packard's chief development engineers—to see whether or not he'd be willing to drive it for the additional publicity of having the first two-time "500" winner at the wheel.
"Nothing would please me more," said Tommy, "if Packard is willing to go first class in every department. But I don't want any part of the program if you're planning to do only what other companies have done when they provided pace cars in recent years."
"What do you mean?" asked Macauley.
"It has been common practice for the pace car to make its appearance at the track a couple of days before the race," explained Tommy. "It's driven around the course at the head of the field for one lap on race day and then it's turned over to a dealer to sell in the usual manner. But the publicity value of being chosen to pace the race is many times greater than the actual cost of the car. If you want me to drive it at Indianapolis, I'd like to have your assurance that it will be given to the winner in recognition of the honor of being invited."
"It's a deal," said Macauley; and the annual presentation of the pace car to the winner was launched on its way to becoming a Speedway tradition.
Shaw's share of the 1936 purse amounted to only $3,650, in comparison with Meyer's winnings of $31,300. But Wilbur's actual running time for the 500 miles (elapsed time minus time lost in the pits) was 4 minutes and 15 seconds better than Lou's performance. Improper installation of the hood rivets by one of his helpers had been an extremely costly mistake. In preparation for the 1937 race, the undaunted Indianapolis favorite resolved to supervise every single detail himself. The task was magnified greatly because the car was badly wrecked in the October 1936 revival of the Vanderbilt Cup race on the road course constructed at Roosevelt Raceway, Long Island, N. Y. He toiled side-by-side with Ford Moyer on the body and chassis work for many weeks and availed himself of Karl Kizer's help and facilities at the Century Tire Company to put the engine in perfect condition.
Among the newcomers at the track was wealthy Joel Thorne, who attempted to buy a position in the starting line-up after failing to display sufficient speed in the time trials to earn one of the 33 berths. The race was scheduled for Monday, May 31, and Thorne's qualification attempt had won nothing better than designation as second alternate starter when the trials ended on May 29.
Phil Shafer's car, with Emil Andres as driver, was the first alternate starter. But mechanical trouble forced Shafer to notify race officials that his car couldn't possibly be ready to fill any vacancy which might develop in the starting line-up. This action made Thorne's car the first alternate, and he moved quickly to create an opening so that he would be eligible to drive in the race.
Among the qualified cars was the Red Lion Special owned by George Lyons and assigned to Cliff Bergere. Lyons had announced his intention to sell the car after the "500," and Thorne made him an immediate offer.
"If you'll make the deal right now," said Thorne, "I'll pay you your asking price and a bonus of $3,000, which is equivalent to the Speedway's prize money for fifth place—and I don't think you have a chance of finishing that well in the race."
When Lyons accepted, Thorne wrote a check for the full amount and informed chief steward Charlie Merz he was withdrawing the car so that he could move his own Thorne Special into the line-up.
"You can't do that," declared Merz.
"Show me anything in the rule book that says I can't," challenged Thorne, "and I'll buy you a new necktie."
"I don't care what the rule book says. No one is going to buy his way into this race. If the thirty-three cars which earned starting positions are in running condition, there will be no opening for an alternate starter even if one of them doesn't take its assigned position on race day."
"Wait and see," was Thorne's parting remark. He went in search of Pop Myers, the Speedway's general manager. Pop listened patiently while Thorne related his conversation with Merz.
"And if Merz wants to be stubborn about it," threatened Joe, "I might buy ten or twelve more cars, and you wouldn't have enough to put on a good race Monday."
"Try that," said Myers, "and the other drivers probably will ride you out of the garage area on a rail. Don't forget, Captain Rickenbacker is chairman of the AAA Contest Board, as well as president of the Speedway. He could have you barred for life for actions detrimental to racing.
"Simmer down, Joel," counseled Pop, in his fatherly manner, "so that you can come back next year and do the job properly. If you don't, you'll be hurting only yourself."
Thorne left the Speedway office mumbling to himself. Thirty minutes later he dictated a telegram notifying Lyons that he was calling off the deal.
Except for the intense heat, which placed an important premium on the physical stamina of the participants, race day provided perfect conditions for a record performance. A blazing sun softened the Kentucky rock asphalt used to resurface the turns, making it possible to negotiate the corners faster than ever before. Although commercial gasoline was the only type of fuel permitted, there no longer was any restriction on the amount of fuel which could be used.
With these factors in mind, Shaw reached the conclusion that an average speed of 113.5 miles an hour would be necessary to win. This meant a steady pace of 115 miles an hour to offset the time lost on his two scheduled pit stops for tires; and he held to that plan despite Jimmy Snyder's 117-mile-an-hour performance in the new six-cylinder supercharged Sparks Special during the early stages of the race.
After 65 miles, however, Snyder went to the side lines because of transmission trouble, and Shaw again experienced the thrill of leading the pack in a car which he felt certain was capable of winning. For lap after lap the race developed almost exactly as he had anticipated. With both pit stops behind him and only 35 laps to go, he was two full minutes ahead of Hepburn in the second-place Hamilton-Harris Special.
But five laps later the needle on Wilbur's oil-pressure gauge began to drop toward the danger mark on each turn. His supply of oil was almost exhausted and the rules prevented him from adding any even though his commanding lead made another pit stop possible without danger of being passed.
Slackening his speed slightly, he exchanged signals with his pit crew and learned he was 114 seconds ahead of "Hep" with 20 laps remaining. Some quick mental arithmetic informed Wilbur he could run almost six seconds slower than his rival on each trip around the course without being overtaken until the final lap of the race.
On the basis of Hepburn's performance in the time trials, his top speed was approximately 120 miles an hour (75 seconds per lap). An average of only a fraction above 111 miles an hour would be necessary to lap the course in 81 seconds, and Shaw slackened his speed accordingly to ease the strain on the engine.
It was several minutes before the huge throng realized Hepburn was closing the gap so steadily that he apparently had an excellent chance of winning. But with four laps to go, Hep came out of the northwest turn and moved onto the long main straightaway as Wilbur was entering the southwest turn. In two more laps he had moved to within 500 yards of the leader and every spectator was on his feet urging the popular Shaw to greater effort. The showdown came almost exactly as Wilbur had planned it—on the northwest turn of the final lap.
Hepburn actually managed to get the nose of his car a few feet in front of Shaw's Gilmore Special as they neared the beginning of the uncovered bricks which marked the end of the curve. But Wilbur, willing to permit this development because he knew his own car was two or three miles an hour faster, opened his throttle wide for the first time in more than 30 minutes and surged ahead again to win by 2.16 seconds.
For the second straight year the race had been free of serious accidents. Magnaflux inspection of all vital parts on every car had been made mandatory for the 1937 event, disclosing dangerous flaws in several steering arms, and the campaign for greater safety definitely was proving effective.
With European manufacturers urging a change in engine specifications in 1938, Rickenbacker announced the Speedway's willingness to endorse a new International Formula calling for maximum piston displacement of 274 cubic inches and no restrictions on the quality or quantity of fuel and oil, except that no oil could be added after the start of the race. He also altered the entry form to make single-seated cars eligible for the "500." The days of the riding mechanic, long regarded as nothing more than excess baggage, were ended.