HomeCar CultureCommentaryThe gathering before the storm

The gathering before the storm


For the last 20 years, the three days before the Indianapolis 500 have been dedicated to remembering the history, the drivers, the builders and the mechanics who have made the race the event is has become since that first race in1911, the greatest single-day sporting event there is.

The current owner/stewards of these cars come from all over, this year 75 teams in all, to show their cars, to run their cars around the magic oval track, and to catch up with family and friends they haven’t seen since last year.

The event, which is run by the IMS Museum, not the Speedway, features three classes of cars, the early group from 1911 to 1939, the roadster group from 1946-1963, and the late-model rear-engined wing cars, all set up in shady cool tents and organized so that all the cars are mixed up together.  

You might see a sleek old front-drive Miller parked next to one of Dan Gurney’s All American Racers Eagles next to one of Rodger Ward’s roadsters.

This 1938 Miller is one of the regulars at the Indy gathering, and one of the few with a solid-color paint job, a number, and that’s all

If you are into engines, there’s just no better place to be on Memorial Day weekend than Historic Gasoline Alley behind the museum.  You will see beautifully restored Miller, Offenhauser, and Meyer-Drake engines, Chevrolet smallblock and Ford smallblock engines, turbo Offys, Ford-Cosworth DOHC engines, and every kind of intake and exhaust plumbing imaginable stretching across the decades of progress at the Speedway.

Some of these cars are painted with the names of winning drivers, like three-time winner Wilbur Shaw, multiple winners Al and Bobby Unser, NASCAR stars Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough, and Indy perennials like A. J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Lloyd Ruby and Gordon Johncock, just to name a few. 

There are many cars here that are one-of-a-kind, almost all of them unsuccessful but interesting nevertheless.

Each group gets to run 10 laps or so each day, slowly and carefully behind the pace car, and when the runs are over, the beer and brats come out, and the stories start to spin.  

We think this may be the single best sideshow in motorsports.  And, it’s free once you’re inside the Speedway.

Jim McCraw
Jim McCraw
Jim McCraw has been writing about cars, motorcycles, design, technology, car people and racing for 50 years, in such publications as Hot Rod Deluxe, Super Chevy, Muscle Mustangs, Road & Track, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, Popular Science, Penthouse, Winding Road, The Mercedes-Benz Star, AutoWeek, The New York Times, and a number of European publications. He was executive editor of Motor Trend, editor of Hot Rod and Super Stock. He co-holds the record for the drive from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, 96:22, and has run in major events such as the Mille Miglia Storica in Italy, Goodwood, the California Mille, the Colorado Grand, the New England 1000, Forza Mille, and four One Lap Of America competitions He owns a pristine Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan.


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