Since 1911, a chosen car maker earned that glorious distinction of providing a vehicle to pace that “Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, the Indianapolis 500. While guiding racers on parade laps before the green flag, and caution periods, the pace car put one lucky nameplate in the spotlight for race day.
As Saturday practice and qualifying for the 100th running took place on May 21st, race fans enjoyed a “Pace Car Reunion”. This special gathering of vehicles colored the Hall Of Fame Museum’s front lot, spanning the decades. (Note: While 2011 marked 100 years, this year was the 100th running due to races missed during the world wars.)
While nearby racers zipped past turns 1 and 2, these pace, festival and safety vehicles reflected moments in time. All participants brought outstanding rides, and I had my favorites.
2017 Camaro SS
This year’s 100 running of the Indianapolis 500 (presented by PennGrade Motor Oil) was paced by the 2017 Camaro SS 50th anniversary edition in Abalone White, driven by team owner Roger Penske. The 455 hp Chevy makes the 9th appearance for Camaro as an official pace car. This sharp blue version greeted show visitors.
1993 Chevrolet Camaro Z28
The introduction of the fourth generation Camaro in 1993 was indeed a showstopper, and accordingly, well represented at the show field. With a striking color combination and aerodynamic body style, this was a surefire hit among enthusiasts. The 350 V8 was standard issue for the Z28, pushing 275 ponies. Corvette’s automatic 4speed tranny was utilized for the pace car, and driven by GM general manager Jim Perkins. The 2002 model year would be the end to this body style and the Camaro, until the model’s fifth generation happily debuted for 2009.
1989 Pontiac Turbo Trans Am
This edition was a celebration of the Trans Am’s 20th anniversary. Featuring a turbocharged Buick V6, it was the car to beat in 1989. This 4th, and final, appearance for a Pontiac pace car had Indy champ Bobby Unser at the wheel. Approximately 1550 of these ponchos were made, and just over 160 were festival cars. Several great examples came to the show. Owner: Steve Hamilton.
1979 Ford Mustang
Mustang’s third generation ushered in a new era of performance for the great ponycar, although car buyers wouldn’t really see it until the early 1980s. Nevertheless, Ford’s Foxbody with improved aerodynamics was a much needed departure from the unsatisfactory Mustang II. About 10,500 replicas were produced with a 5.0 or troublesome 2.3 L turbo 4 engine. The official Indy 500 pace cars employed a highly modified 5.0 V8 from Roush. I thought the metallic exterior, combined with dark trim, orange lettering and pony graphics, produced a sharp hatchback. The lucky driver was Scottish Formula One great Jackie Stewart.
1978 Chevrolet Corvette
This was the 1st of 13 Corvettes to pace at Indy. The replica was a hit with racing fans, as roughly 6,500 cars were produced. I’ve always been a fan of the third gen Shark Corvette, and that red pinstripe sandwiched by black and silver made a gorgeous exterior. Looks were cool but it wasn’t a powerhouse, as the topnotch L82 350 V8 made only 220 hp. This C3 had a 4speed stick or 3speed automatic. Legendary Indy 500 champ Jim Rathmann drove the official pace car. Owners: Joe & Elizabeth Hall. Jason & Monica Sharkey.
By 1972, the Hurst name was a well established performance product, but never before represented by an Indy pace car…until this vehicle. The company’s wheels, shifters, and “Miss Golden Shifter” Linda Vaughn combined to ignite Hurst excitement throughout the muscle car era. Although performance was on the decline, with it’s 455 V8 pushing just 270 hp, that spectacular Cameo White and Goldstriped exterior with a tremendous shifter in the rear hit all the right chords. A Hurst Dual/Gate, or His and Hers shifter, operated with a TurboHyrdamatic three speed automatic. Racer Jim Rathmann drove a 300 hp version. This particular car was 1 of 54 getting track/parade use at the IMS oval.
1964.5 Ford Mustang
For the ’64 Indianapolis 500, 3 white Mustang droptops were treated to high performance 289s modified by HolmanMoody. One of the Mustangs was driven by Benson Ford to pace the Indy 500. Several festival convertibles were also provided. This was an outstanding replica coupe, of which many were produced for dealership sales contests. Owner: John Jones
1957 Mercury Turnpike Cruiser
The era of glitz, gaudiness & chrome hit full swing by the late 50s, and Mercury was no exception. Driven by Mercury GM Francis C. “Jack” Reith, the Sun Glitter Yellow pace car convertible featured a 368 V8 and Merc-O-Matic transmission. It was awarded to ’57 Indy 500 winner Sam Hanks. I thought the Continental kit on this beautiful example added to it’s wild exterior. Owner: Tom Beeler, Pace Car Reunion organizer.
1938 Hudson 112
Long before Fabulous Hornets dominated Nascar’s Grand National division in the early 1950s, Hudsons were more about economy. The 112’s inline6 served up just over 80 hp and was darn slow (060 mph in about 40 seconds), making it a strange choice for pace car duties even for 1938. One wonders just how Stu Baits, the driver and car’s engineer, made it all work on race day. This was a real head turner at the show. Owner: Dave Kastelic.
This 1914 Special Roadster paced the 1915 Indy 500. Originally a white car owned and driven by IMS president/Indy 500 speedway builder Carl Graham Fischer, it was an extraordinary custom job. It had a 1914 straight6 engine with electric start, shorter 1913 frame and suspension mods for better handling, and aluminum body panels to lighten the car. What a remarkable vehicle, and superb presentation, by owners Allen & Nancy Strong.
1976 Buick Century: Owner: Joseph Brown
1973 Cadillac Eldorado: Owners: Larry & Barbara Alexander
1971 Dodge Challenger: Owner: Tom Beeler
1969 Chevrolet Camaro: Owner: Tim Brenner
1963 Chrysler 300: Owners: Michael Buker & Steven Jones