One place where for almost half a century the roar of the crowd has risen above even the mighty roar of the engines is the Indianapolis Speedway. This coming Memorial Day, in the 42nd running of the "500," the engines will roar again—and the crowd, the largest that attends a single sporting event in the country, will roar louder.
Yet there have been times in the history of this event when it looked as if it would never take place again, ending without a roar, a bang or even a whimper.
As part of its PREVIEW next week of the Indianapolis "500," SPORTS ILLUSTRATED presents Robert Shaplen's story of the individual who is responsible, perhaps more than any (and there have been others), for keeping the motor racing classic not only alive but kicking in the absolute top rank of sporting competition.
Many illustrious names have been associated with the "500," like Ray Harroun, Barney Oldfield, Fred Offenhauser, Lou Meyer, Wilbur Shaw and Eddie Rickenbacker.
May 18, 1958
Rickenbacker bought the Speedway in 1927 and ran the "500" superbly until World War II called a halt. At war's end the Speedway had inevitably deteriorated. The late Wilbur Shaw began to look for a way and the means to bring the Brickyard back to glory. Rickenbacker was willing to sell it, but preferably to someone able to do it justice.
Shaw found the means finally—a man whose name, illustrious though it was in Indiana, was comparatively unfamiliar beyond the borders of the Hoosier State. This is odd because he was an exceptional football and track star for Yale, has performed unduplicated feats in deep-sea fishing and, apart from this, owns one of America's great fortunes. He is a man who, until he bought the Speedway, seemed to keep himself almost deliberately in the background.
In 1946 he returned the "500" to its greatness and has kept it there ever since.
His name now has luster far beyond Indiana. And the reasons for this are as clear in Shaplen's story as the meaning on Memorial Day of the time-honored words, "Gentlemen, start your engines."
Shaplen will be telling the story, to date, of Anton Hulman Jr., of Terre Haute, Indiana—an important part of the story, to date, of the race which on May 30 makes Indianapolis the place in the world where the crowd roars loudest.