In RACER magazine and on RACER.com, we're counting down to the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 with a series of fascinating insights on “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
In conjunction with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its incredible collection of photography and race records, we're exploring some of the stories behind the traditions and showcasing the heroes, the groundbreaking machines and the epic races that made the Indianapolis 500 the most important race in history.
This week, we take a look at Indy's other trophy. Every race fan knows the Borg-Warner Trophy, one of the most recognizable and iconic sporting prizes on the planet. But how many people have heard of the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy? Read on…
THE WHEELER-SCHEBLER TROPHY
Standing nearly 7ft. tall without its plinth, the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy (LEFT) was a Tiffany-made monster. Costing a then staggering $10,000, it had been commissioned in 1909 by Indianapolis Motor Speedway co-founding father Frank Wheeler and his partner in the Wheeler-Schebler Carburetor Company, George Schebler, and was to be awarded annually to the winner of the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy Race at the Speedway.
Ray Harroun was the trophy's recipient in May 1910, winning the 200-mile race for Marmon at an average speed of 72.065mph. A year later, after Speedway visionary and co-founding father Carl Fisher had ditched a multi-race season in favor of just one showpiece event for 1911, Harroun drove his Marmon Wasp into the history books with a measured victory in the inaugural Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.
Meanwhile, the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy had been temporarily pushed, heaved and rolled to one side, but reappeared in 1913, to be awarded annually, and somewhat oddly, to the owner of the car leading the “500” at the 400-mile mark.
Over the following years, the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy remained an imposing, but minor subplot to the Indy 500. After all, the big story was the guy leading after 200 laps, not 160…
Then, in 1932, the trophy had a last fleeting moment of fame, thanks to car owner Harry Hartz. The Californian was the Indy 500's winning car owner in 1930 and again in '32, with drivers Billy Arnold (RIGHT) and Fred Frame, respectively.
The Hartz-entered drivers had been leading at the 400-mile mark in each of those events, and Arnold's Miller-Hartz was also heading the field at the 160-lap mark in 1931, until he crashed out just two laps later. In theory, that brought into play a rule from the trophy's Deed of Gift which originally stated that any company winning the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy on three consecutive occasions would be awarded it permanently, but had since been modified to replace “company” with “car owner.”
A special committee mulled it over and reported on June 1, 1932 – two days after the race – that, “after going into all the facts and going over all the details of the Deed of Gift for the Wheeler-Schebler Trophy, find that Harry Hartz as owner and entrant of the Miller-Hartz Special having won this trophy in 1930, 1931 and 1932 on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and as far as this Committee can determine from their knowledge of the construction of these cars and the fact that though the displacement of the engine of the car winning this year was somewhat larger than that of the engine in the car which won this trophy the two previous years, we find to be the same make of car. Therefore it is the unanimous opinion of this Committee that this trophy should be permanently awarded to Mr. Harry Hartz.”
Hartz accepted the trophy (RIGHT, with Hartz in striped tie to the right of the trophy) and kept it until 1956 when, with the establishment of the Indianapolis Hall of Fame Museum, he donated it as a permanent exhibit. It's still there today, towering and intricate, but barely known by the thousands of visitors to the Hall of Fame Museum.
Next week: The story of the Borg-Warner Trophy, the iconic prize that is still awarded annually to the winner of the Indianapolis 500.
• For tickets to the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 on May 29, 2011, CLICK HERE.
For more insight on the history and heritage of the Indianapolis 500, check out legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian Donald Davidson's blog HERE on Indianapolismotorspeedway.com.
To get up close to racing history, visit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Hall of Fame Museum. Find out more HERE
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