Written by Wm. R. LaDow

In 1938, at the age of 15, Ray Nichels, went on the road as a midget car crew chief, racing at tracks across America. From 1938-1948, the drivers of the Ray Nichels prepared midgets (campaigned by his father Rudy Nichels) were Ted Duncan, Tony Bettenhausen, Johnnie Parsons, Paul Russo, Mike O’Halloran, and Ray Richards (All members of the Midget Racing Hall of Fame.)

Rudy Nichels shop at the corner of Cline Avenue and Ridge Road in Highland, Indiana in 1947. Working on the two Nichels owned midgets in the front of the garage is 24-year-old Ray Nichels. In the back on the right in the white tee shirt is Ronney Householder, who at the time was one of the most respected drivers in racing. He went on to manage Chrysler Corporation’s racing operations from 1955 thru 1972 – Nichels Engineering Archives

Hammond, Indiana Speedway 5/8th’s mile track w/two Nichels midgets. The car on the left is the #25 driven by Mike O’Halloran and on the right is Teddy Duncan in the #2. Both drivers eventually were elected to the National Midget Racing Hall of Fame. Kneeling between the Nichels cars are from left: Dale “Tiny’ Worley, Ray Nichels and Rudy Nichels – Nichels Engineering Archives

Following his time midget racing, Nichels moved on to Indy cars and eventually participated in 12 Indianapolis 500 races, as a chief mechanic and crew chief. In those twelve 500’s, Ray Nichels won one Pole (1957 w/Pat O’Connor), garnered 2 top-fives (a 3rd and a 5th w/Paul Goldsmith), and 5 top-tens.

Most notable of his top-ten finishes was the 9th place showing in the 1950 Indianapolis 500 of the Russo-Nichels Special. Paul Russo and Ray Nichels constructed this car in the basement of Russo’s Hammond, Indiana home during the winter of 1949-1950. Qualifying in the 7th row, the Russo-Nichels Special captured the imagination of the American racing public by running with the leaders for much of the day, before the rain-shortened race ended at 345 miles. The Russo-Nichels Special soon became affectionately known as “Basement Bessie” as it campaigned on the AAA Championship Trail during the 1950 season. In December, Nichels with Johnnie Parsons behind the wheel won the first-ever Indy car race at the newly built Darlington Raceway. On the season, Ray Nichels and Paul Russo and their hand-built “basement” creation missed the chance to win the National Championship only after a season-ending injury to Russo in the November AAA Indy car race in Phoenix.

Nichels then toiled as chief mechanic for Johnnie Parsons’ entries in the 1953 and 1954 Indy 500 races. In June of 1954, Ray Nichels joined the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company as its chief mechanic for all race tire testing. In their first test together, he and driver Sam Hanks teamed up to set a new world’s closed-course speed record of 182.554 mph at Chrysler Corporation’s newly built Chelsea, Michigan proving grounds in a Nichels prepared Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. It would be the first of many world speed records that Nichels and his cars would set over the next 20 years.

In 1957, Ray Nichels and Indiana-based Nichels Engineering won the pole (w/Banjo Matthews) and won the race (w/Cotton Owens) at the NASCAR Grand National Beach Race at Daytona. Two months later, Nichels traveled to Monza, Italy on behalf of Firestone, and set a series of world speed records on the world’s highest-banked oval with driver Pat O’Connor behind the wheel of the Chrysler Hemi-powered Kurtis-Kraft roadster. Nichels and O’Connor then returned to the United States where they won the Pole position for the world’s most important race, the Indianapolis 500. It is believed Ray Nichels remains to be the only mechanic to ever win the pole at both Daytona and Indianapolis in the same year.

Nichels Pontiac 1957 Nascar Victory – (from left) Ray Nichels, Semon Knudsen, Harley Earl, Cotton Owens, Bill France, Sr. – Photo Credit: Nichels Engineering Archives

With his 1957 Daytona win, Nichels expanded his stock car racing business becoming the “house” racecar builder for Pontiac from 1956-1963. Working directly for Pontiac Gen. Mgr. Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen, Nichels managed Pontiac’s involvement in stock car racing from his operations in Highland, Indiana. By 1961, under Nichels’ guidance, Pontiac dominated American stock car racing. Nichels Engineering driver, Paul Goldsmith captured the USAC National Championship with 10 wins, 7 poles and 16 top-five finishes in 19 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 14 wins, 10 poles and 38 top-five finishes in 22 races. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 30 wins in 52 races. In 1962, Pontiac’s dominance under Nichels became even further evident as Nichels and Goldsmith won their 2nd consecutive USAC National Championship with 8 wins, 6 poles and 15 top-five finishes in 20 races. Overall Pontiac performance in USAC was 10 wins, 10 poles and 34 top-five finishes in 22 races. Four Nichels Engineering drivers (Goldsmith, A.J. Foyt, Rodger Ward, and Len Sutton) finished in the seasons Top Ten. In NASCAR, overall Pontiac performance was 22 wins in 53 races, with Joe Weatherly winning the National Championship driving a Nichels Engineering built, Bud Moore prepped Pontiac.

In 1961, Nichels Engineering prepared and ran two 1962 Pontiac Catalinas, setting one lap, 500 mile and 24 hour world stock car speed and endurance records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway. The Nichels Engineering driving team consisted of Rodger Ward, Paul Goldsmith, Len Sutton, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly, and Marvin Panch. Nichels mechanics for these historic speed and endurance runs were Ray Nichels, Dale “Tiny” Worley, Bud Moore, Cotton Owens, and Smokey Yunick.

In 1963, Nichels and driver Paul Goldsmith delivered one of the most lopsided victories in Daytona Speed Weeks history, in the Challenge Cup 250, when Goldsmith piloted the Nichels Engineering #50 Super Duty 421 Pontiac LeMans to victory, beating 2nd place finisher A.J. Foyt by over 5 miles.

In 1963, Nichels Engineering became the “house” racecar builder for all of Chrysler Corporation. Nichels role with Chrysler was identical to his with Pontiac. Working for Ronney Householder, Nichels was commissioned to build the fastest and safest stock cars in the business, disseminate racing knowledge and design technology to all Chrysler teams in support of their collective racing efforts. Working with legendary stock car racers Cotton Owens, Ray Fox, Harry Hyde, Norm Nelson, and Petty Enterprises, Nichels Engineering did just that. It is no coincidence that the most prolific period in Chrysler stock car racing history was 1964-1970. Nichels Engineering-built stock cars won national stock car championships in USAC, NASCAR, ARCA and IMCA, several years running, setting speed records at tracks across America.

Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering won three (3) National Stock Car Championships in USAC. Paul Goldsmith and Ray Nichels combined to win titles in 1961 and 1962. Then in 1967, Nichels and all-time winningest USAC Stock car driver Don White teamed-up for the USAC national championship.

In 13 years of NASCAR competition, Nichels Engineering campaigned cars raced 223 times, garnering 89 top-ten finishes, 62 top-five finishes, 12 Poles and 11 victories. Nichels Engineering was a winner at tracks such as Daytona, Bristol, Rockingham, Michigan, and Talladega. Nichels also won NASCAR pole positions at Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte, Rockingham, Darlington, Michigan, and Riverside.

Nichels Engineering was a seven (7) time NASCAR winner at Daytona from 1957-1970. Winning drivers were Cotton Owens, Bobby Isaac, Paul Goldsmith (2), AJ Foyt, Sam McQuagg and Charlie Glotzbach.

The drivers who piloted cars built by and/or campaigned by Ray Nichels and Nichels Engineering are synonymous with American racing excellence …. they are Bobby Isaac, A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Roger Penske, Paul Goldsmith, Rodger Ward, Don White, Tony Bettenhausen, Richard Petty, Dan Gurney, Junior Johnson, Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Gordon Johncock, Pat O’Connor, Paul Russo, Mario Andretti, LeeRoy Yarbrough,Jim Hurtubise, Fred Lorenzen, Charlie Glotzbach, Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Cotton Owens, Banjo Matthews, Sam McQuagg, Joe Leonard, Len Sutton, Darel Dieringer, Troy Ruttman, Dave Marcis, Richard Brickhouse, Ramo Stott, Ernie Derr, Jimmy Pardue, James Hylton, Butch Hartman, Roger McCluskey, Bobby Johns, Ray Elder, Norm Nelson and Lloyd Ruby.

On April 25th, 1996, Ray Nichels was inducted into Mechanics Hall of Fame within the International Motorsports Hall of Fame located in Talladega, Alabama. On the same day, Indiana Governor, Evan Bayh, awarded Ray Nichels the “Sagamore of the Wabash,” the highest distinguished service honor bestowed upon an Indiana citizen by its governor.

Copyright© 2005 — Wm. LaDow / LaDow Publishing

Image  —  Posted: May 4, 2021 in Uncategorized

… from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Image  —  Posted: May 4, 2021 in Uncategorized

INDIANAPOLIS (Monday, May 3, 2021) – Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Unser, one of the most colorful, outspoken and popular drivers in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” died Sunday, May 2 at his New Mexico home. He was 87.

Unser won the Indianapolis 500 in 1968, 1975 and 1981. He is one of just 10 drivers to win the “500” at least three times and is a member of numerous motorsports Halls of Fame, including induction into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame in 1990. Unser and Rick Mears are the only drivers to win the “500” in three different decades.

He was one of six members of the Unser family to race in the Indianapolis 500. Bobby and his brother Al, a four-time winner, are the only brothers to win the race.

Bobby Unser also was renowned and admired for his work in and out of the cockpit before his Indianapolis 500 and INDYCAR driving career started and after it ended. He dominated the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb before he ever turned a lap at Indianapolis, and he was a popular INDYCAR color analyst on national telecasts in the 1980s and 1990s after retiring as a driver.

Unser was born Feb. 20, 1934 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the third of four brothers. When he was 1, his family moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico – the city forever associated with the Unser family racing dynasty.

In 1949, Unser started racing at Roswell (New Mexico) Speedway. In 1950, he raced at Speedway Park in Albuquerque and won his first championship in Southwestern Modified Stock Cars. After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1953-55, Unser and his brothers Jerry and Al decided to pursue racing careers in United States Auto Club (USAC) competition.

Bobby Unser raced successfully in USAC Sprint Car, Midget and Stock Car competition. He earned seven career USAC Sprint Car feature victories and placed third in the standings in 1965 and 1966. He also won six USAC Stock Car races and three USAC Midget features.

Unser’s career in Indy cars started in the end of the 1962 season. He spent three years driving Novi-engined cars for Andy Granatelli, including the No. 6 Hotel Tropicana, Las Vegas Kurtis/Novi roadster in which he qualified 16th and finished 33rd and last as an Indianapolis 500 rookie in 1963. Unser’s day ended after completing just two laps due to an accident.

In fact, Unser’s first two career Indy starts gave no indication of his future success. After completing two laps and finishing last as a rookie in 1963, he completed just one lap in 1964 and was credited with 32nd place in the four-wheel-drive No. 9 Studebaker-STP Ferguson/Novi fielded by Granatelli, getting caught in the multi-car accident that claimed the lives of Dave MacDonald and Eddie Sachs.

Unser earned his first career top-10 finish at Indy by placing eighth after starting 28th in 1966 for Gordon van Liew’s team. In 1967, he moved to Bob Wilke’s Leader Card team for a four-year stint, which resulted in even greater fortune at Indianapolis and on the USAC Championship Trail.

Unser earned his first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1968 in the No. 3 Rislone Eagle/Offy, one of the most iconic and beautiful rear-engine cars in Indianapolis 500 history. His first spot on the Borg-Warner Trophy came after a spirited duel with Joe Leonard in one of Granatelli’s famous STP Lotus cars powered by a Pratt & Whitney helicopter turbine engine. Unser led 118 of the first 191 laps but was running second to Leonard when Leonard’s fuel shaft broke on Lap 192, with Unser powering past for his first “500” victory.

Later that year, Unser won the first of his two USAC National Championships, ending the season with five victories and edging Mario Andretti by a scant 11 points.

In 1972, Unser earned the first of his two Indianapolis 500 poles during his successful five-year partnership with Dan Gurney’s All American Racers. Speeds skyrocketed that year with the legalization of bolt-on wings to chassis, and no one took better advantage than Unser. His four-lap record qualifying average speed of 195.940 mph in the No. 6 Olsonite Eagle was more than 17 mph faster than Peter Revson’s pole speed from the previous year – the largest year-to-year increase in “500” history.

Unser won his second and final USAC National Championship in 1974 after finishing runner-up to Johnny Rutherford in the Indy 500.

In 1975, Unser won the Indianapolis 500 for the second time, driving the No. 48 Jorgensen Eagle fielded by Gurney’s team. Unser led only 11 laps, taking the top spot from Rutherford on Lap 165 and holding it until the race was ended by a downpour on Lap 174 of the 200 schedule laps.

He drove for Fletcher Racing in 1976 and 1977, returning to Gurney’s All American Racers for one season in 1978.

Unser joined Team Penske in 1979 for the start of a three-year stint in which he won 11 races and finished second in the CART standings in 1979 and 1980.

But perhaps his most famous race during his Penske tenure was the 1981 Indianapolis 500, which he won from the pole in one of the most controversial and contentious outcomes in the event’s storied history.

Unser beat Mario Andretti to the finish by 5.18 seconds in the No. 3 Norton Spirit, but USAC officials ruled Unser passed cars illegally while exiting the pit lane during a caution on Lap 149. Unser was penalized one position, with Andretti elevated to the winner.

But after a lengthy protest and appeals process, Unser’s penalty was rescinded, and he was declared the winner of the race Oct. 9, 1981. That victory became the last of Unser’s storied INDYCAR career, as he skipped the 1982 CART season to serve as driver coach for Josele Garza and decided against a planned comeback in 1983 with Patrick Racing.

He finished his career with 35 career INDYCAR victories and two championships among his eight top-three finishes in the season points.

Unser ended his driving career as one of the greatest performers in the history of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

He produced 10 top-10 finishes in 19 career “500” starts. Unser led in 10 races for a total of 440 laps, still 10th on the all-time list.

Unser’s nine front-row starts included poles in 1972 and 1981. His speed in qualifying at the Speedway was exceptional, as he was one of the 12 fastest drivers in 18 of his 19 starts. Fourteen of his 19 starts came from the first three rows.

While those statistics are among the greatest in Indy history, Unser produced even more eye-popping numbers at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, nicknamed “Unser Mountain” due to his family’s success in the longtime race in Colorado Springs. Unser won 13 class titles at Pikes Peak and earned “King of the Mountain” honors 10 times during his career as the fastest driver overall up the famed mountain, tops among the racing Unser family that dominated this event.

Unser also had a keen engineering mind that always searched for a technical advantage over his rivals. He sometimes would call his crew chief well after midnight with an idea for chassis setup or another technical issue, and his prowess as a test driver was highly regarded because he turned every lap at the car’s limit.

Every angle was pursued by Unser when it came to trying to find the edge against his foes. Team owner Jim Hall’s famous Chaparral chassis – the first Indy car with ground-effects aerodynamics underneath the car – got upside-down when Rutherford crashed in 1980 in the CART season finale at Phoenix. Unser learned of a photographer who took pictures of the closely guarded aero channels and tunnels beneath the car, and he obtained the photos, which were used in the development of Team Penske’s 1981 ground-effects chassis.

After his driving career ended, Unser combined his vast racing experience and considerable skills as an outspoken raconteur to become a popular broadcaster on ABC, NBC and ESPN INDYCAR telecasts and on IMS Radio Network race broadcasts. The booth trio of play-by-play announcer Paul Page and the opinionated Unser and the erudite Sam Posey – with Unser and Posey’s styles and comments almost always contrasting and often clashing — was one of the most entertaining and popular in INDYCAR television history.

Two of Unser’s proudest moments in the TV booth came when he called the finish in 1987 with play-by-play announcer Jim Lampley as his younger brother, Al Unser, earned his record-tying fourth “500” victory and again in 1992 when he and Paul Page called the race when his nephew, Al Unser Jr., won Indy for the first time in the closest “500” finish ever.

Unser also was part of the ABC Sports broadcast team that won an Emmy Award for “Outstanding Live Sports Special” for its coverage of the 1989 Indianapolis 500.

After his TV career ended, Unser continued to visit IMS every Month of May. In 1998 and 1999, he served as driver coach and assisted with race strategy on the radio for his son Robby Unser during his two starts in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Robby finished fifth and eighth, respectively, in those two starts with his father’s help.

Fans always flocked to “Uncle Bobby” to get a picture or autograph, to share their memories or to hear one of Unser’s countless colorful stories about his career and fellow racers. He also savored spending time in the Media Center swapping tales with many veteran journalists every May, as Unser was a tireless ambassador for IMS and the Indianapolis 500 until the end of his life.

Unser is survived by his wife, Lisa; sons Bobby Jr. and Robby; and daughters Cindy and Jeri.

By: Stan Kalwasinski

Photography by: Gary Gasper

Northwest Indiana’s Paul Goldsmith raced on the sands of Daytona Beach in 1958, wheeling a 1950 Oldsmobile No. 87.  The vintage stock car was on display Friday at the Griffith-Merrillville Airport in Griffith with Goldsmith, now 95, reminiscing about those racing days. 

Some 63 years ago – February 1958, NASCAR hosted its final stock car races on the 4.1-mile beach/road course at Daytona Beach, Florida.  NASCAR headman Bill France Sr. was busy with the construction of the new Daytona International Speedway, which would be the site of NASCAR’s “Speed Week” in 1959.

Three days of racing, featuring a NASCAR modified-sportsman stock car race, a NASCAR convertible contest and the finale – a 160-mile NASCAR Grand National event on Sunday, February 23, was scheduled. 

Goldsmith, the owner of the Griffith-Merrillville Airport, raced the No. 87 car in the 125-mile modified-sportsman race at Daytona Beach on Friday, February 21, finishing fifth behind winner, Banjo Mathews.  Curtis Turner won the convertible race on Saturday.  Sunday saw Goldsmith, racing out of St. Clair Shores, Mich., at the time, win the last NASCAR stock car race on the famed beach/road course, driving his Smokey Yunick-prepared 1958 Pontiac No. 3 to the win in the NASCAR Grand National event.

“The beach was smooth but the backstretch was rough – a two-lane paved road,” commented Goldsmith years later.  “It was A1A.  If I remember, they called it the ‘jungle road.’    It was so wavy and rough, you had to have some good shock absorbers on your car.  You could feel the wheels spinning.  You could see the tach (tachometer) jumping.”

A native of West Virginia, Goldsmith, a resident of northwest Indiana since the 1960s, was a top motorcycle racer early in his speed career and has the distinction as the only racer to win on the beach at Daytona in both motorcycle and stock car competition.  Goldsmith’s last major American Motorcycle Association (AMA) victory came on the dirt at Illiana Motor Speedway in Schererville, Ind., in 1955.

During his NASCAR racing career, Goldsmith won nine major races – the last coming at Bristol, Tenn., in 1966.

In addition, Goldsmith competed in the Indianapolis 500 six times with his best finish being a third in 1960.

 Paul Goldsmith and the Oldsmobile No. 87 – legends in auto racing.

Image  —  Posted: February 23, 2021 in Uncategorized

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021 – The Indianapolis Motor Speedway and INDYCAR are offering race fans a great, entertaining history lesson through rich digital content and exclusive interviews leading up to the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30.

IMS launched today an immersive, in-depth content series chronicling the most iconic anniversaries and milestones of 2021, reminding fans that the Racing Capital of the World is the place “Where Tradition Never Stops,” a content theme with much more to come that celebrates the Indianapolis 500, GMR Grand Prix and all other Month of May events.

The first story honors one of the most recognizable traditions in Indy 500 history: the Borg-Warner Trophy, which celebrates its 85th anniversary in 2021. Each week leading up to the Month of May, IMS will release a new story surrounding some of the greatest moments, traditions and heroes in sports. Subjects include the trailblazing tales of Willy T. Ribbs and Janet Guthrie, the origins of the Indy 500’s most fabled traditions, the memories of beloved “500” heroes A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears, and more.

Fans are encouraged to visit IMS.com/Tradition to preview the full series and read the first installment, as well as to check back weekly as more content is unlocked and great stories are told. The rich, multimedia experience is optimized for viewing on mobile devices, such as phones and tablets, and browsers.

“The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has one of the richest histories in all of sports, and race fans are in for a memorable 100 days as we relive the moments that have made IMS the place ‘Where Tradition Never Stops,’” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “Digital innovation is a top priority to make sure our fans stay connected to IMS. We are proud to share our heritage and tradition with race fans in Indianapolis and across the globe by offering them more digital content than ever.”

This is just one of several opportunities for race fans to experience never-before-heard stories of the Indy 500 and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, as well as to participate in the celebration.

Welcome Race Fans, IMS’ successful collaboration with the Arts Council of Indianapolis to incorporate Indiana artists and original artwork into the Indy 500, is going digital. Welcome Race Fans 2021 will consist of five artists creating a Welcome Race Fans GIF. These GIFs will be featured on IMS social channels, web properties, and onsite digital locations during the Month of May and around the city of Indianapolis. Interested artists can apply here.

Additionally, IMS will continue its new web series “Behind the Bricks,” hosted by Boles, which provides race fans with insider access through interviews with INDYCAR and IMS drivers, as well as off-track personalities that have helped make the Indy 500 “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Featured guests thus far have included Donald Davidson, Takuma Sato, Bob Jenkins, and others. “Behind the Bricks” can be seen exclusively on the IMS YouTube channel.

IMS also will provide race fans with audio-only storytelling for the first time. Podcasts to come will include “Behind the Bricks Extra,” which will give race fans full, unedited interviews between Boles and his guests. This podcast and more can be found on all major podcasting platforms.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES also will continue to build upon its “Where Are They Now?” series that offers race fans a chance to catch up with their favorite former INDYCAR athletes and personalities. Drivers already featured include Ribbs, George Mack and Jim Logan. These interviews, as well as “Classic Rewinds” and more, can be found on INDYCAR’s YouTube channel.

IMS and INDYCAR will continue to provide fans with even more exclusive content leading up to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opener Sunday, April 18 at Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 30.

Don’t miss two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato unveil his likeness on the Borg-Warner Trophy during a special streaming show: “Borg-Warner Trophy Special” at 1 p.m. (ET) today at IMS.com/100Days.

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Dec. 7, 2020 – Donald Davidson, beloved by race fans worldwide for nearly six decades for his encyclopedic knowledge of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500, is retiring Dec. 31 as IMS historian.

Davidson has amazed, entertained and delighted millions since he first crossed the Atlantic to visit IMS in May 1964, fulfilling a dream and his fascination with “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” since his teenage years growing up in Salisbury, England.

Since then, Davidson has become known and respected around the globe for his preservation and promotion of the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500. His unique blend of passion, knowledge and a genial personality is immediately apparent to all, whether through interaction with fans at the IMS Museum or the track, answering historical queries from fans and car collectors, countless public speaking engagements and his popular television and radio appearances.

Donald Davidson Photo Gallery

During his long association with IMS and auto racing, Davidson has become one of the most well-liked and respected figures in Speedway history.

“I have been blessed with a truly amazing career which has been jam-packed with hundreds upon hundreds of personally rewarding experiences, but the years have flown by at an alarming rate and never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that this magical ride would last as long as it has,” Davidson said. “Over the last three or four years, I have begun contemplating other areas of my life for which I wish I had been able to spend more time, and this has only been further underscored with daily reminders during the challenging last few months of having to work from home.

“I have enjoyed an unbelievable rapport over the decades with the participants and their families, the media, my colleagues and superiors at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the United States Auto Club, the Speedway’s magnificent Museum and the Radio Network, and, especially, that incredibly devoted legion of the most passionate fans in the world.

“I hope that everyone will understand and respect that this basically private individual, who would really prefer to quietly take a little step back into the shadows without fanfare, has decided the time has come to retire from the official day-to-day duties.

“This was not an overnight decision, and we would like to sincerely thank the close-knit dedicated team that has been discretely working for several weeks on its implementation.”

Davidson has served as IMS historian since January 1998 and is believed to be the only person in the world to hold that role full time for a motorsports racetrack. But his involvement with the Speedway started much earlier.

He developed a passionate interest in auto racing as a teenager in England and saved enough money to come to America and make his first appearance at IMS in 1964. During that visit, Davidson dazzled members of the racing community and IMS officials, including track owner Tony Hulman, with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Davidson also was first introduced to international audiences with a brief appearance that year on the IMS Radio Network.

Befriended by legendary IMS Radio Network anchor Sid Collins, Davidson returned to the United States permanently in 1965. He joined the Radio Network and was hired by the United States Auto Club (USAC) as a statistician, a job he fulfilled with great pride and detail for nearly 32 years.

Davidson then briefly joined TelX (now IMS Productions) as a historical archivist in 1997 before moving to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation as historian in January 1998.

“No one has more knowledge or more appreciation of the heritage of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than Donald Davidson,” said Roger Penske. “I have always admired Donald’s passion and dedication to the Speedway and ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.’ His ability to seemingly recall every detail of IMS history is remarkable, and he is one of the greatest storytellers racing has ever seen. I want to thank Donald for all he has done for our sport and for helping to bring the personalities and the legends of IMS to life for more than 50 years. Donald will always have a place at the Speedway, and we wish him all the best in this next chapter of his life.”

Davidson’s vast knowledge, painstaking attention to detail and friendly, polished manner led him into numerous media roles across many platforms.

He has served in many on- and off-air roles for the IMS Radio Network broadcast of the Indianapolis 500 since 1965, and he also was part of the broadcast team for selected Brickyard 400 races and other open-wheel events. From 1971-2020, Davidson was the host of the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on Indianapolis radio station 1070 AM.

Davidson also is a prodigious and skilled writer, with many lyrical turns of phrase and colorful anecdotes bringing IMS and racing history to life. His writing credits include scores of historical articles and columns for various print and digital outlets, Indianapolis 500 Yearbooks in 1974 and 1975, and he co-wrote with Rick Shaffer the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006 and updated in 2013.

He also has made countless appearances on Indianapolis-area TV broadcasts and has been featured on national and international TV segments.

Over the years, Davidson also has cherished participating in speaking tours throughout the Midwest during the late winter and early spring to promote the Indianapolis 500 and share its rich history. He has spoken at venues ranging from large auditoriums to small-town public libraries, just as enthusiastic about presentations to a crowd of 12 as he was to a throng of 1,200.

But Davidson most treasures his relationships with fans, drivers, media members and officials. He has built lasting friendships with legends of the sport, such as A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti, and its lesser lights, giving equal time and his warm personal touch to all. He patiently and humbly answers questions from legions of fans, often posing for a picture or signing an autograph if the request is in person.

“There will never be another Donald Davidson – he is like an encyclopedia on racing,” Foyt said. “I bet he knows more about my career than I do. And I don’t think he should be allowed to retire before me. All joking aside, I wish him the best.”

Said Andretti: “There is something very special about Donald Davidson, and I noticed it from almost the minute I met him. When we first met, we gravitated to each other immediately. I think that was because we were both relatively fresh immigrants from Europe, so we had something in common. But very quickly I realized how remarkable this man was – a walking encyclopedia of everything Indianapolis. He immediately started educating me about the ‘500.’ I was so impressed; the furthest thing I expected from a Brit.

“He and I personally engaged and remained connected over the years. I could ask him where I was on Lap 32 in 1971 or what the track temperature was on Race Day 1984, and he would answer me without the blink of an eye. I thought it was almost miraculous.

“He’s everyone’s go-to guy for information on anything of historical significance, and he can talk about it in the most compelling way, which has earned him tremendous respect.

“And aside from his job at the Museum, he’s a well-liked gentleman who is genuinely kind and so enjoyable to be around. I can honestly say that I looked forward to seeing him every time I returned to Indy. I have so much respect for Donald. I’m very happy that I was able to enjoy and learn from his wisdom. And what I cherish most is that we became friends. I look forward to our paths crossing again.”

In honor of his accomplishments and significant contributions to Indiana culture, Davidson was presented with the state’s highest civilian honor, the Sagamore of the Wabash, in 2016.

Davidson’s remarkable career and personality also have been recognized with induction into the IMS Hall of Fame in 2010, the Indiana Broadcast Pioneers Hall of Fame in 2013 and the USAC Hall of Fame in 2017.

“Donald always has been one of a kind – a true gem,” said Tony George, board chair, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum board of directors. “He has parlayed his love and knowledge of the Indianapolis 500 into a unique style of storytelling, one that captivates audiences and deepens their experience of the sport they love.

“He was invaluable in creating the architecture that became the Indy Racing League and was deeply involved in plans leading up to the inaugural event at Walt Disney World Speedway. We thank him for his many contributions throughout his entire career and wish him well as he spends more time pursuing his passions, including racing and its rich history!”

Fans are encouraged to share their tributes to Davidson on social media with the hashtag #DonaldDavidson.

Race weekend: Friday, Aug. 28 – Sunday, Aug. 30

Track: World Wide Technology Raceway, a 1.25-mile oval in Madison, Illinois

Race distance: 200 laps / 250 miles (each race)

Media links: Race 1 Entry List | Race 2 Entry List 

Firestone tire allotment: Fourteen sets for use throughout the weekend

Twitter: @WWTRaceway, @IndyCar, #Bommarito500, #IndyCar

Event website: http://www.wwtraceway.com/

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2019 race winner: Takuma Sato (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda)

2019 NTT P1 Award winner: Josef Newgarden (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet), 48.2554 seconds, 186.508 mph)

One-lap qualifying record: Will Power, 23.7206 seconds, 189.709 mph, Aug. 25, 2017

NBCSN television broadcasts: Race 1, 3 p.m. ET Saturday, Aug. 29 (live); Race 2, 3 p.m. ET Sunday, Aug. 30 (live); Leigh Diffey is the lead announcer for the NBCSN telecasts this weekend alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.

NBC Sports Gold livestreaming: Friday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session (4:30 pm ET) and Saturday’s qualifying (Noon) will stream live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, NBC Sports’ direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.

Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Jake Query is the turn announcer. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES races are broadcast live on Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network affiliates, Sirius 211, XM 205, IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. Live coverage of NTT INDYCAR SERIES qualifying is available on XM 205, IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

At-track schedule (all times local):

Friday, Aug. 28

4:30-6 p.m. – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice #1, NBC Sports Gold (live)

Saturday, Aug. 29

Noon – Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award (Single car, Two laps (Lap 1/Race 1; Lap 2/Race 2), NBC Sports Gold (Live)

3 p.m. – NBCSN on air

3:40 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines”

3:45 p.m. – Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline · Race 1 (200 laps/250 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Sunday, Aug. 30

3 p.m. – NBCSN on air

3:40 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines”

3:45 p.m. – Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline · Race 2 (200 laps/250 miles), NBCSN (Live)

Race notes:

  • The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline doubleheader will be the 11th and 12th Indy car race at World Wide Technology Raceway. Takuma Sato won the race in 2019. Paul Tracy won the first Indy car race at Gateway in 1997. Sato, Will Power (2018) and Josef Newgarden (2017) are the only former winners entered in this year’s race.
  • The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline will be the first doubleheader event at World Wide Technology Raceway and the 12th INDYCAR oval doubleheader held since 1967. The last doubleheader was in July at Iowa Speedway.
  • The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta & Valvoline will be the fifth and sixth oval races of the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule. The previous oval races were won by Scott Dixon (Texas Motor Speedway), Simon Pagenaud (Iowa Speedway-1), Josef Newgarden (Iowa Speedway-2) and Takuma Sato (Indianapolis Motor Speedway).
  • Three drivers have won at World Wide Technology Raceway from the pole – Juan Pablo Montoya (2000), Gil de Ferran (2002) and Helio Castroneves (2003).
  • Team Penske has won five times at World Wide Technology Raceway. Penske’s winning drivers are Paul Tracy (1997), Gil de Ferran (2002), Helio Castroneves (2003), Josef Newgarden (2017) and Will Power (2018). Chip Ganassi Racing has two wins at Gateway, with Alex Zanardi (1998) and Juan Pablo Montoya (2000).
  • Eighteen drivers entered in the event have competed in past Indy car races at World Wide Technology Park. Tony Kanaan has seven starts, most among the entered drivers. Fourteen entered drivers have led laps at the track (Scott Dixon 223, Josef Newgarden 220, Will Power 99, Santino Ferrucci 97, Takuma Sato 65, Kanaan 21, Simon Pagenaud 13, Colton Herta 10, Marco Andretti 4, Alexander Rossi 4, Marcus Ericsson 2, Zach Veach 2, Conor Daly 1 and Felix Rosenqvist 1).
  • Three rookies – Oliver Askew, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay – are expected to compete. All three rookies, plus Pato O’Ward and Jack Harvey, also will make their first NTT INDYCAR SERIES start at World Wide Technology Raceway.

INDIANAPOLIS (Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020) – Takuma Sato climbed to a higher level of immortality Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and becoming just the 20th driver to capture “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” at least twice.

Sato, from Japan, won the race under caution in the No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing when Spencer Pigot crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 195. Sato also won the race in 2017, with Andretti Autosport.

“This was the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan team,” Sato said on Victory Podium. “HPD and Honda gave us a lot of power, a lot fuel mileage. And my boys … they sacrifice a lot. I can’t thank all of the people (enough).”

Scott Dixon finished second in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda despite leading a race-high 111 laps. It was the third career Indy 500 runner-up finish for Dixon, a five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.

Graham Rahal helped RLLR to take two of the top three spots by finishing third in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda. Santino Ferrucci led a Honda sweep of the top four finishing positions by placing fourth in the No. 18 SealMaster Honda.

Two-time and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five and was the top Chevrolet-powered finisher in the No. 1 Shell V-Power Nitro Team Penske Chevrolet.

Pato O’Ward was the top-placed rookie, finishing sixth in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

Sato and Dixon were locked in a stirring duel when Pigot crashed hard in Turn 4 at the end of Lap 195 as the leaders had started Lap 196, spinning and making contact with the SAFER Barrier on the outside and then slamming into the protective tire barrier at the head of the pit wall with the side of his No. 45 Hy-Vee/Embrace Pittsburgh Honda. Pigot was awake and alert and transported to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis for further evaluation.

The gap between Sato and Dixon rarely exceeded one second and was as close as three-tenths of a second after Sato inherited the lead on Lap 185 when Zach Veach pitted in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, on a different fuel sequence than the top cars.

Sato appeared to be home free on Lap 191, building a lead of .9515 of a second. But he was approaching the almost-lapped cars of A.J. Foyt Racing teammates Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball, which let Dixon close the gap.

On Lap 195, Sato cleared 2013 Indy 500 winner Kanaan while Dixon and Rahal remained behind the Brazilian. That expanded Sato’s gap to 1.173 seconds, but Dixon and Rahal lapped Kanaan just before Turn 1 on Lap 196, moments before Pigot’s race-ending crash.

“Huge congrats to Sato,” Dixon said. “He drove his pants off today.”

Nearly all of the lead cars made their final pit stops between Laps 167 and 170, narrowly close to the maximum laps possible with one tank of fuel under green flag conditions. Sato made his final stop on Lap 168, with Dixon pitting for the final time on Lap 169.

Sato then was able to hold off Dixon in a vigorous race for the virtual lead on the track, as the drivers ahead of them didn’t have enough fuel to finish the race without stopping.

“The fuel strategy was a bit tight,” Sato said. “I saw Scott was coming right through out of Turn 4, and he was screaming coming at me. And I just held him off.”

Still, Dixon thought Sato maybe made his final stop too soon and would be forced to pit late in the race for a splash of fuel, especially because Dixon was able to save fuel by driving in Sato’s slipstream. But that scenario never unfolded due to Pigot’s late accident.

“This is a hard one to swallow,” Dixon said. “On fuel mileage, I really can’t see how they were going to make it. We pitted a lap later, and the numbers they had to get, it was going to be very difficult.”

It was small consolation for Dixon, but he jumped from ninth to third on the all-time Indianapolis 500 lap leaders list with 563 career laps led, behind only Al Unser (644) and Ralph DePalma (612).

Sato continued an impressive run of recent success in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with three top-three finishes in the last four years. Besides his wins today and in 2017, he finished third last year.

Two of the three front-row starters ended up in the top three at the finish, as Sato started third and Dixon second. Pole sitter Marco Andretti finished 13th in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda.

The 105th Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 30, 2021. The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES event is a doubleheader Aug. 29-30, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois.