Welcome to the month of May! For those of you who don’t know me, outside of my passion for the trucking industry, my other passion in life is the Indianapolis 500 and the NTT IndyCar Series. While Memorial Day weekend in Indy is focused on 33 drivers who want to drink the milk in victory lane and become the next driver to have their face immortalized on the Borg-Warner Trophy, it’s also a special time for many of us to get together with friends and family for a BBQ. But most importantly, Memorial Day is about celebrating the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces and paying homage to those who have given their lives to defend and protect our great country.
To the casual observer outside of Central Indiana, many don’t know the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, although famous names like Andretti, Foyt, Unser, Mears, and Penske, along with iconic open wheel race cars, are the first things that come to mind when they think of the Indianapolis 500. As for me, I grew up and resided in the Racing Capital of the World in Indianapolis, where Indy 500 race fever has gripped the city for over 100 years, culminating in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on every Memorial Day weekend. Along with my friend and former Indianapolis resident Duncan Putman, we wanted to feature some of the interesting history involving the race, and how the trucking industry plays a vital role in the event.
At one time, Indianapolis had more automobile manufacturers than Detroit. Due to this fact, the Speedway was the dream of Indianapolis based businessman Carl G. Fisher, who saw the need for a facility for these automakers to be able to test and race their cars in a sustained environment. The Speedway would also provide a proving ground for these auto manufacturers in the U.S. during the early twentieth century.
As America became motorized, the trucking industry grew out of the early auto industry, and from the need to move goods and supplies more efficiently. While engine makers like Chevrolet, Ford, Cosworth, Offenhauser, Ilmor, and Honda, and chassis builders like Watson, Eagle, March, Lola, Reynard and Dallara are commonly known at the Speedway, the names of truck manufacturers like Mack, Kenworth, Peterbilt, Freightliner and others, are not, and have never had entries in the race. However, the first car to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 was a Marmon! Marmon Trucks are a direct descendant of the former Indianapolis based Marmon Motor Car Company, and from the early 1960s until 1997, they made high-quality Class 8 trucks.
Fisher envisioned the Speedway as a place to not only race, but also a place for manufacturers to prove what they made. In 1931, Clessie Cummins, founder of the Cummins Engine Company from nearby Columbus, Indiana, saw the value of racing in the Indy 500, and entered his first car, driven by Dave Evans, to showcase the power and efficiency of the diesel engines he had been developing. The 1931 Model A Duesenberg race car had an 85-hp 361ci four-cylinder diesel engine. While the car did not win the race, it did reach speeds over 100 mph, and ran the entire 500 miles on one tank of fuel. As a side note, Clessie Cummins was a crew member for Marmon in 1911 when Ray Harroun drove the Marmon Wasp into racing history!
Cummins did enter diesel powered race cars in 1934 and 1950, but in 1952 the game changed, and Cummins was ready to take full advantage of the Indy 500 rulebook that year. The new rules in 1952 allowed four-cycle diesel engines that were twice as big as their gasoline counterparts. Taking full advantage of this rule, the 1952 #28 Cummins Diesel Special was powered by an inline 401 ci (6.6 Liter) Model J I-6 turbocharged engine, that reportedly made 430-hp. The car was unlike anything the racing world had ever seen before. With the chassis manufactured by legendary race car builder Kurtis Kraft, combined with the big 6.6 liter Cummins engine, which was installed on its side, the car weighed nearly 3,100 pounds.
On its qualifying run, the 1952 Cummins Diesel Special, driven by Freddie Agabashian, shocked the racing world by setting a new track record and qualifying on the pole position for the 36th Indianapolis 500, with a four-lap average of 138.010 mph. To put that power and speed in perspective, Ferrari’s 12-cylinder gasoline powered entry that year averaged 134.300 mph during its four lap qualifying run.
Gear-driven centrifugal blowers known as “superchargers” had been used since the 1920s to increase the efficiency and power output of engines competing at the Indianapolis 500. But the 1952 Cummins Diesel Special was the first car to compete at the Indianapolis 500 using a turbocharger, making use of the “free” energy contained in the engine exhaust stream, to drive a turbine wheel, that was connected to a centrifugal blower. Also, the 1952 Cummins Diesel Special was the first IndyCar to be tested in a wind-tunnel for aerodynamic design.
While the 1952 #28 Cummins Diesel Special racer did not win the 1952 Indy 500, retiring after just 180 miles due to a piece of debris clogging the turbocharger intake, the famous IndyCar is the only diesel powered entry to ever sit on pole position at the Indianapolis 500. The diesel IndyCar is still owned by Cummins, and it can be seen in the Cummins Museum in Columbus, IN.
While times have changed (along with the Indy 500 rule book) and diesel powered race cars do not compete at the Indianapolis 500 any longer, you can still find plenty of diesel powered vehicles parked on the grounds at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the month of May. While the fast race cars and their daring drivers get most of the glory, the tractor-trailer combinations that move the teams of the NTT IndyCar Series are just as impressive as the cars they haul.
These haulers travel more than 50,000 miles during the course of the racing season. From the season opening Firestone Grand Prix on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, to the finale at Weathertech Raceway in Laguna Seca, California, and everywhere in between, the trucks that move the teams of the NTT IndyCar Series crisscross the North American continent multiple times a year. And these haulers are some of the most impressive and expensive rigs that roll up and down the highways of both the United States and Canada.
IndyCars are some of the most amazing automobiles in the world. As purpose-built race cars, they require extreme care when being transported, and to achieve this without damage, these cars are hauled in some of the fanciest, most high-tech tractor-trailers to ever be seen on the road. No expense is spared in outfitting these specialty trailers used by the race teams. Spotless stainless steel and team/sponsor colors and graphics adorn these big rigs, and hydraulic lifts and well-appointed work areas are the norm for each race team, which must be self-sufficient, to survive the rigors of being on the road while maintaining, altering, and repairing cars for the eight month racing season.
Many of the race car transporters are customized with aerodynamic, as well as cosmetic, alterations, providing a streamlined, modern, and commanding look. In the mid-late 1980s, legendary racer and auto designer Bruce Canepa and his company, Canepa Designs, began modifying Kenworth T600As (and later the T600Bs and Peterbilt 377s), giving these trucks an even more impressive look and stance. Taking Kenworth’s industry changing design, refining it with an even more streamlined look, the Canepa designed trucks provided teams power and custom styled efficiency from an already amazing rig. Now known as Concept Transporters, this Canepa owned company still customizes and builds tractor-trailers for racing teams and multiple racing series.
When it comes to IndyCar racing though, Team Penske is considered to be the gold standard, or the “New York Yankees of Motorsports” as many media outlets have referred to the organization. Team founder and owner Roger “The Captain” Penske sets the bar high for excellence. With 18 Indianapolis 500 wins and 17 open wheel championships in the team’s 50+ years of existence, Penske is synonymous with winning, and is the most successful team in IndyCar history. From the uniforms to the transporters, professionalism is seen everywhere at Team Penske. As Mr. Penske’s team has set standards in the racing world, his IndyCar transporters also reflect his team’s high level of professionalism. Designed by legendary automotive designer Larry Shinoda, the fleet of Team Penske Freightliners back in the day were covered in stainless steel and aerodynamic enhancements, making these unique rigs as iconic and sleek as the IndyCars they were transporting.
While most of the race car haulers featured in this article were photographed throughout the 1990s, these unique rigs have always been cutting edge. Even though more modern and current model trucks are now used to pull the transport trailers of the teams and series around North America, the trucks are just as impressive as the ones that came before them. It is truly an awesome experience to be able to see all these beautiful and immaculate, show quality rigs, together at one time, and in one parking lot. If you’re a race fan and you have time and want to see some of the most impressive tractor-trailers you will ever set your eyes on, gaining access to see these trucks up-close at a racetrack can be just as impressive as seeing the cars they move from race to race!
Special thanks to Joe Skibinski of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway photo archive for providing the photos of the Cummins IndyCars and the Marmon Wasp. All of the other photographs were provided by me and my friend, Duncan Putman. Tune in and watch (or listen) to the 107th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 28 on NBC at 11:00 AM EST or listen on SiriusXM IndyCar Channel 160. I hope you have a relaxing Memorial Day weekend, and that you enjoy this awesome race.
HERE ARE 10 FUN FACTS ABOUT INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY AND THE INDY 500 RACE
1) The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is 2.5 miles in length. The front and back stretch are each 5/8th miles in length and the turns are banked at 9 degrees 12 minutes.
2) Just counting the interior track oval, the massive speedway sits on 253 acres of land. To put that in perspective, you could place the World’s Largest Truckstop, Walcott’s Iowa 80 (220 acres) inside the track, along with Yankee Stadium (24 acres), and still have 8 acres to spare.
3) In 1909 the track was paved using 3.2 million paving bricks, earning the Speedway its “Brickyard” nickname. A 36-inch strip of bricks at the start/finish line, known as the fabled Yard of Bricks, is all that remains exposed of all the paving bricks buried beneath the asphalt.
4) After winning the Indy 500 for the third time in 1936, Louis Meyer asked for a bottle of his favorite beverage, buttermilk, while in Victory Lane to quench his thirst. Thus began the tradition of the Indy 500 winner drinking milk.
5) The Borg-Warner Trophy displays the faces of every Indy 500 winner, along with former IMS owner Tony Hulman (1945-1977), whose face is in gold, not Sterling Silver, and is one of the most valuable trophies in the world. Made of Sterling Silver, the trophy stands just under 5’-4” tall, weighs nearly 153 pounds, and has an estimated value of around 3.5 million dollars.
6) The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the largest sporting venue in the world, and the Indy 500 is the largest single-day sporting event in the world. While race-day attendance is never revealed, the track has more than 250,000 seats, and in a typical year, full venue capacity on race day is about 400,000 people, including workers.
7) Arie Luyendyk holds the four-lap qualifying track record at 236.986 MPH driving a Cosworth XB powered Reynard, set in 1996. While Arie was the fastest qualifier that year, through a series of circumstances, he did not start in the pole position.
8) Only four drivers have won the Indy 500 four times – A.J. Foyt, Al Unser, Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves.
9) Mario Andretti is the only Andretti to win the Indy 500, which he did in 1969. His son, Michael Andretti, holds the record for the most laps led by a non-winning driver at 431. His best finish was 2nd in the 1991 Indy 500.
10) Since the first race in 1911, no driver with the last name of “Smith” has ever qualified or competed in the Indy 500.