The late Wilbur Shaw, who won the Indianapolis "500" three times and was president of the Speedway when he died, said: "When the starting flag goes down, you become an integral part of a tornado, and there's nothing you can do but pray."
On Memorial Day this "tornado," the nation's greatest auto race, will attract once again around 150,000 spectators, the largest single crowd to witness any sports event in the country. The race will take about four hours. But behind these roaring hours lie months of preparation, years of tradition and, next week, to place the climactic four hours in clear perspective, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED presents an Indianapolis PREVIEW.
Our PREVIEW will include a review of the development of the race as a front-rank annual sports event; a diagram of the 2½-mile track with its salient features; and a rundown with photographs of the cars and drivers to watch.
As part of our regular racing coverage SI has already brought you: the Can era Pan-Americana, the 12-hour Grand Prix of Endurance at Sebring and the Italian Mille Miglia. Being merely a reasonably conventional driver of a conventional car, I was highly interested in what makes the Indianapolis "500" what it is. I learned that the other races are much more international in character, in terms of the drivers, the makes of cars competing and in the use of road courses rather than a banked oval. And the "500" is the only U.S. race in which drivers can earn points toward their international grand prix standings.
The Meyer-Drake Offenhauser engine powers almost every car which runs at Indianapolis. An entirely U.S. product, it so successfully meets the demands of oval tracks, which do not require constant change of gears, that foreign engines now seldom challenge it at Indianapolis. SI's PREVIEW will include a two-page cross-section of a typical Indianapolis racer, an Offenhauser-powered Kurtis Kraft, with major mechanical elements detailed down to the spark plugs.
But of course there is more to the great race than rpm's, displacements and the facts of the track. No one knew this better than Wilbur Shaw. As an added starter to its PREVIEW, SI publishes next week a chapter from Shaw's forthcoming book, Gentlemen, Start Your Engines, which tells his hectic role in the 1931 race.
Then it's just a short wait until the flag goes down and the 1955 "tornado" starts.