Starter/Flagman Duane Sweeney is seen on the flagstand in 1983 [Johnson Collection]

Indianapolis 500 Officials

The following is a list of race officials and sanctioning bodies over the years for the Indianapolis 500. Since its inception, the Indianapolis 500 has been contested under three different and distinct sanctioning bodies. From 1911 to 1955, the race was held under the auspices of the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA). After the AAA pulled out of racing, beginning in 1956, the race was held as part of the USAC Championship Trail. Since 1996, the race has been part of the Indy Racing League (IRL). In 2003, the IRL started using the moniker IndyCar Series, then in 2011, the IRL formally re-branded itself as INDYCAR.

Note: The finishing touches are still being worked out on this article. Enjoy this early draft! 

 


Fisher Era – AAA Contest Board

Fred J. Wagner waved the checkered flag for winner Ray Harroun at the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. (Still image from 1911 newsreel, courtesy of Indiana State Library collection).

In 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was incorporated with Carl Graham Fisher named the first president. Arthur C. Newby (first-vice president), Frank H. Wheeler (second vice president), and James A. Allison (secretary-treasurer), were named partners and co-investors. During its tenure, the AAA Contest Board provided a number of key officials to oversee the race, while the track employed additional staff. Fisher himself drove the pace car for the five years of the race

A representative(s) from the Contest Board was normally present at the race, providing general oversight. The position “Director of Contest” was typically the highest ranking official, akin to the Chief Steward (a term not yet in use). A “Referee” was also named, ostensibly second in command to the Director. The starter or flagman was named, usually with one or more assistants. Directors of timing and scoring, director of safety, press director, judges, umpires, superintendent, and a technical committee, were among the many that comprised the race day officiating team.

In addition to the race officials, the Speedway also named an “Honorary Referee”. This position would typically be held by an invited guest, usually a dignitary, celebrity, politician, or other other well-known figure, sometimes from the automotive industry. This position was largely ceremonial, and the duties were usually minimal, and perhaps comparable to the more modern position of “Grand Marshall”. However, in some years, the Honorary Referee took a more active role in the race.

World War I flying ace Captain Eddie Rickenbacker drove in the first “500” in 1911, then in later years participated as an official. He served as Honorary Referee, Honorary Starter, and pace car driver (“Pacemaker”) in various years.

Sanctioning Body — AAA Contest Board
Speedway President — Carl G. Fisher
Year Director of Contest
Official Referee
Starter Honorary Referee
1911 Charles W. Sedwick
A.R. Pardington
(referee)
Fred J. Wagner
E.J. McShane (assistant)
R.P. Hooper
1912 Charles W. Sedwick
A.R. Pardington (referee)
Fred J. Wagner
E.J. McShane (assistant)
Ray Harroun (assistant)
R.P. Hooper
1913 Charles W. Sedwick
A.R. Pardington (referee)
Charles Root Laurens Enos
1914 Charles W. Sedwick
A.R. Pardington (referee)
Thomas J. Hay John A. Wilson
1915 Charles W. Sedwick
A.R. Pardington (referee)
Thomas J. Hay
John Delong (assistant)
1916 Charles W. Sedwick George M. Dickson
Horace Hewlett (assistant)
Howard Marmon
1919 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn
F.H. Rosboro
E.C. Patterson
W.S. Gilbreath (assistant)
Eddie Rickenbacker
1920 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn
W.C. Barnes
William L. Esterly Rep. Clifford Ireland
1921 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn
C.G. Sinsabaugh
Thomas J. Hay
Charles J. Root (assistant)
David Beecroft
1922 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Eddie Rickenbacker
Joe Boyer (assistant)
Richard Kennerdell
1923 Chester S. Ricker (director)
David F. Beecroft (referee)
W.D. Edenburn (rep.)
Eddie Rickenbacker
Seth Kline (assistant)
John Oliver La Gorce
1924 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn W.S. Gilbreath
Seth Klein (assistant)
Henry Ford
1925 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Seth Klein
Joe Dawson (assistant)
Louis Chevrolet (assistant)
Charles M. Schwab
1926 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Seth Klein
Charles Merz (assistant)
Arthur Brisbane
1927 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn George H. Townsend Charles F. Kettering

Rickenbacker Era – AAA Contest Board

Of the four founding owners, Frank Wheeler committed suicide in 1921, and Allison died of pneumonia in 1928. Fisher, Newby, and Allison sold the Speedway in 1927 to a group of investors headed up by Eddie Rickenbacker. The AAA Contest Board continued to be the sanctioning body for Championship Car racing and the Indianapolis 500.

During this period, the role of “starter” was largely an honorary position. A celebrity or well-known figure (again, sometimes from the automotive industry) would be invited to wave the flag from the flagstand to start the race. However, it was often noted that experienced official Seth Klein (among others) who was sometimes given the title of “Assistant Starter”, was actually in charge of the flagging duties. Klein would work alongside the ceremonial starter, and would usually take over the duties once the race had begun. It should be noted that through 1929, the red flag was used to start the race (as well as indicate a clear course suitable for racing). During the 1930s, a system of uniform traffic signals was in the process of being developed and adopted around the country. As such, beginning with the 1930 race, the green flag was used to signify the start of the race (and a clear course), which remains the standard today.

Sanctioning Body — AAA Contest Board
Speedway President — Captain Eddie V. Rickenbacker
Year Director of Contest
AAA Representative
Honorary
Starter
Official
Starter
Honorary Referee
1928 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Lester Maitland Seth Klein
Charles Merz
Lawrence P. Fisher
1929 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Lawrence P. Fisher Seth Klein
Charles Merz
Harvey S. Firestone
1930 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Cliff Durant Seth Klein Vincent Bendix
1931 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Barney Oldfield Seth Klein William S. Knudsen
1932 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Gar Wood Seth Klein Harry S. Firestone
1933 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn
Pierce E. Wright
Charles Merz
Gar Wood Seth Kline Larry Fisher
1934 W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn Roscoe Turner Seth Kline Roy D. Chapin

In 1930, Grantland Rice, a prominent newspaper sportswriter, was scheduled to be the starter, but was unable to make the trip, and was replaced last-minute by former driver Cliff Durant. After the death of longtime director W.D. “Eddie” Edenburn, former driver Charles C. Merz took over as the AAA Representative for 1935, and by that time, the familiar term “Chief Steward” had come into use.

Sanctioning Body — AAA Contest Board
Speedway President — Captain Eddie V. Rickenbacker
Year Chief Steward Honorary
Starter
Official
Starter
Honorary Referee
1935 Charles Merz Charles Francis Coe Seth Kline Amelia Earhart
1936 Charles Merz Albert W. Stevens Seth Klein
Macy O. Stevens (assistant)
Ralph DePalma
1937 Charles Merz Dick Merrill Seth Klein William S. Knudsen
1938 Charlie Merz
Harvey S. Firestone (referee)
Tazio Nuvolari Seth Klein Jacqueline Cochran
1939 Charles Merz Gene Tunney Seth Klein Roscoe Turner
1940 Ted Doescher Robert A. Stranahan Seth Klein Paul G. Hoffman
1941 Ted Doescher none Seth Klein
Ray Johnson (assistant)
Guy W. Vaughn

In 1938, two celebrity referees were appointed for the race. Harvey S. Firestone was named “Official Referee” working directly under chief steward Charlie Merz, while aviation pioneer Jacqueline Cochran was named “Honorary Referee”. Meanwhile, European racing champion Tazio Nuvolari arrived in town a few days before the race, hoping to qualify for the race. The Italian driver was unable to qualify for the race, and instead was invited to serve as Honorary Starter.

For 1941, it appears that an honorary starter was not used. Chief starter and AAA official Seth Klein took over the flagging duties entirely from start to finish. Klein was accompanied by assistants including Ray P. Johnson and A.W. Harrington. Speedway president Eddie Rickenbacker missed the 1941 race while recuperating from injuries suffered in an airplane crash the previous February. He instead listened to the race on the radio from a hospital bed in Atlanta.

Eddie Rickenbacker would own and operate the Speedway until 1945. Following the 1941 race, the United States was thrust into World War II. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Rickenbacker closed the track and announced he was suspending the race for the duration of the war. Soon after, all automobile races under AAA sanctioning were cancelled, and by the summer of 1942, the U.S. government moved to ban auto racing during the war, primarily on account of rationing.

The Speedway gates were locked, and the track was for the most part abandoned. During the war, the facility was neglected and fell into a state of disrepair.


Tony Hulman Era – AAA Contest Board

At the conclusion of World War II, Eddie Rickenbacker was no longer interested in operating the Speedway. Rickenbacker had other commitments, including his involvement with Eastern Airlines. In addition, there had to be some uncertainty as to whether automobile racing as a sport (suspended throughout the duration of the war) would be able to rebound in a timely manner. Rickenbacker looked to sell the dilapidated property, possibly to developers. Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Wilbur Shaw helped consummate a deal for Terre Haute businessman Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. to purchase and reopen the track.

Immediately after Tony Hulman purchased the Speedway in November 1945, he appointed Wilbur Shaw as Speedway President. Hulman and Shaw oversaw a massive cleanup and renovation, which was completed swiftly enough to hold the race on schedule in May 1946. Huge crowds arrived for the first “500” under Hulman ownership. It did not take long for all involved to realize that the Speedway and auto racing was making a heralded return.

For the first “500” under Hulman’s ownership, a new chief steward, John H. (Jack) Mehan, assumed the role. In addition, the tradition of an honorary starter (to wave the green flag) was brought back, but only for two years. The title of “Honorary Starter” came back into fashion, but they began using that term instead for the celebrity pace car driver.

The Honorary Referee was brought back as well, however, in most cases it was at most, a titular position only. The list of honorary referees originally published in the Jack C. Fox book The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500 is generally reflected throughout this article, however, in some years they stand as unconfirmed by contemporary accounts. Local newspapers articles and columns in some years report details, but confirm only that the individual in question merely attended the race. It is not clear if the purported honorary referees actually served in any capacity, or were even formally recognized. These instances are denoted with (*).

Sanctioning Body — AAA Contest Board
Year Speedway
President
Chief Steward Honorary
Starter
Official
Starter
Honorary Referee
1946 Wilbur Shaw Jack Mehan Ralph DePalma Seth Klein Jack Dempsey
1947 Wilbur Shaw Jack Mehan Tommy Milton Seth Klein Governor Ralph F. Gates*

Wilbur Shaw died in a plane crash in October 1954. Afterwards, Tony Hulman himself assumed the role of President of the Speedway, beginning in 1955. Among his many duties both publicly and behind-the-scenes, Hulman’s most visible task probably was to deliver the famous starting command “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

Sanctioning Body — AAA Contest Board
Year Speedway
President
Chief Steward Official
Starter
Honorary Referee
1948 Wilbur Shaw Jack Mehan Seth Klein Mayor Al G. Feeney*
1949 Wilbur Shaw Tommy Milton Seth Klein J. Emmett McManamon*
1950 Wilbur Shaw Tommy Milton Seth Klein Clarence S. Beesemyer
1951 Wilbur Shaw Tommy Milton Seth Klein Clarence S. Beesemyer
1952 Wilbur Shaw Tommy Milton Seth Klein Raymond Firestone*
1953 Wilbur Shaw Harry McQuinn Seth Klein Henry Ford II
1954 Wilbur Shaw Harry McQuinn Bill Vanderwater Ralph DePalma
1955 Tony Hulman Harry McQuinn
Raymond Firestone (honorary)
Bill Vanderwater Robert A. Stranahan Jr.

Tony Hulman Era – USAC

Following a succession of high-profile incidents, namely the fatal crash of Bill Vukovich during the 1955 race, and the 1955 Le Mans disaster, the AAA pulled out of automobile racing. They shifted their business interests to the motoring public. Speedway president Tony Hulman subsequently founded the United States Auto Club (USAC) to sanction the sport of Championship/Indy car racing including the Indianapolis 500. USAC would also be the premier sanctioning body for other open wheel disciplines in the United States, including sprints and midgets, and would even form their own stock car division. The new organization was formally installed in the spring 1956, and at that time was recognized by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

The USAC headquarters, seen here in 2016, is located at the corner of W. 16th St. and Main St. (about a block away from the Speedway). This building was completed in 1963, and reconstructed/remodeled in 2018. [Johnson Collection].
USAC set up their headquarters just down the block from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Officials in the very early years of USAC included a number of carryovers from the AAA era. However, within a few years, several new individuals assumed powerful roles. Chief steward Harry McQuinn, praised by Tony Hulman for his “honesty and fairness“, was nevertheless openly criticized by competitors as being “tactless and undiplomatic“. McQuinn resigned from his duties after the 1957 race, claiming outside business responsibilities. On his way out, McQuinn recommended Harland Fengler to become his successor.

On March 20, 1958, about a month after McQuinn’s resignation, Harland Fengler was named the new chief steward of the Indianapolis 500. Fengler was a former racing driver himself, who finished 16th in the 1923 race (and was the riding mechanic for second place Harry Hartz in 1922). After serving as a referee under McQuinn, he took over the top spot, a position he would hold for sixteen years. Fengler quickly established a reputation as “tough-as-nails” and ruling with a “strong, immovable stance“. While highly respected, he presided over numerous controversies during his tenure.

For a handful of years during the 1950s and 1960s, Speedway President Tony Hulman started naming three honorary officials at the beginning of the month – the familiar Honorary Referee, the Honorary Steward (which had also been used in some years prior to World War II), and the Honorary Starter. During this stretch, all three “honorary” positions were typically executives and/or notable figures from the automotive industry. Oftentimes, they represented companies that sponsored the race and/or had a prominent presence in the sport. Their actual race duties were at-best minimal, if not non-existent. Their appointment appears to have been merely a means of publicity and promotion. During this timeframe, the “honorary starter” was analogous to the celebrity pace car driver. But in 1958, former driver Sam Hanks was named the “Director of Racing” for USAC. Part of his duties was to drive the pace car at the start of the race. From 1958 to 1962 there was no celebrity pace car driver.

Sanctioning Body — United States Auto Club (USAC)
Speedway President — Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr.
Year Chief Steward Starter Honorary Referee
1956 Harry McQuinn Bill Vanderwater Herman Teetor
1957 Harry McQuinn Bill Vanderwater Louis Schwitzer, Jr.
1958 Harlan Fengler Bill Vanderwater Robert A. Stranahan Jr.
1959 Harlan Fengler Bill Vanderwater Vernon A. Bellman
1960 Harlan Fengler Bill Vanderwater Raymond Firestone
1961 Harlan Fengler Bill Vanderwater Raymond Firestone
1962 Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan Robert A. Stranahan Jr.
1963 Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan Baxter F. Ball
1964 Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan Raymond Firestone
1965 Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan Raymond Firestone
1966 Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan Raymond Firestone
1967 Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan Raymond Firestone

One of Harlan Fengler’s first major challenges came during the 1963 race. Late in the race, Parnelli Jones, driving the Offenhauser-powered, Willard Battery Special (known as “Calhoun”) for J.C. Agajanian, was leading with Jim Clark in second. Clark was driving a rear-engine Lotus-Ford for Colin Chapman and the British-based Team Lotus. Officials and participants began to notice that Jones was leaking oil for some time, ostensibly caused by a horizontal crack in the external oil tank. The leaking was said to be more intense in the turns, and officials were growing concerned that it might be making the track slick. Eddie Sachs spun twice late in the race, his second spin blamed on the leaking oil. USAC officials were contemplating displaying the black flag to Jones, and sending him to the pits for consultation. Such a move would almost certainly take away any chance for victory. Agajanian and chief mechanic Johnny Pouelsen confronted Fengler and Henry Banks in a heated discussion on pit lane, and Chapman rushed over to make his case. Agajanian explained that the leak was minor, and would stop once the oil dropped below the level of the crack. Chapman argued that Jones should be disqualified for leaking oil. Ultimately, Fengler elected not to penalize Jones, and Jones went on to win. Fengler drew controversy afterwards, with some suggesting he was showing favoritism to the American participants. Chapman declined to protest, but Eddie Sachs exchanged fists with Jones over the oil leak controversy, and publicly criticized USAC, leading to a probation.

By 1968, the largely ceremonial position of “Honorary Referee” was permanently eliminated. In 1971, USAC reorganized its championship into two divisions. The familiar Indy/Champ Car circuit going forward was now to be known as the “Gold Crown Championship”, with all dirt track races removed. It would consist of paved ovals (including Indianapolis) and some road courses. The second division (originally titled the “National Dirt Car Championship”) eventually became known as the “Silver Crown Series”, featuring dirt ovals. Marlboro came on board as a series sponsor in 1970, and for 1971 increased their involvement. For 1971, the premier touring series as advertised as the “Marlboro Championship Trail”. However, this arrangement lasted for only one season. After a dispute with the series, Marlboro abruptly pulled out of the sport.

Pat Vidan waves the green flag from his platform in the grass strip in 1971. [Photo courtesy of the Mike Thomsen archive]
Chief Steward Harlan Fengler’s last race came in 1973. In that year, he set a mark, serving the position for a record 16th consecutive season. Going into the race, Fengler was already rumored to be contemplating retirement. By the end of his tenure, Fengler had drawn the ire of many in the racing community, racking up a controversial record. Some criticized his not only his abilities, but also his age age, and for being headstrong. Others pointed out that Fengler stewarded only for the 500, and not the other races on the USAC Championship Trail. They believed that his lack of familiarity with the drivers limited his ability to properly govern. In the end, the decision rested firmly with Tony Human.

The 1973 race was tragic, as three participants were killed, and another driver was critically injured. Art Pollard was killed in a crash during practice on the morning of Pole Day. At the start of the race, Salt Walther suffered serious injuries when his car crashed into the catch fencing and erupted in a fiery, upside-down spin down the front stretch. Several spectators were treated for injuries and burns because of the crash. When the race finally got going two days later (due to rain), Swede Savage suffered a terrible crash coming out of turn four. Savage died on July 2. In the aftermath of Savage’s crash, Armando Teran (a crew member for Graham McRae, Savage’s teammate) was struck and killed by a fire truck on pit road. The race ended early due to more rain, with Gordon Johncock declared the winner. Walther would eventually recover from his injuries, and raced again in 1974. But in the aftermath of the race, Fengler came under fire from many participants, media, and observers. Sweeping rule changes were made by USAC, and improvements were made to the track in the interest of safety. Fengler’s days were numbered, and before long, Thomas W. Binford was named the new Chief Steward. Fengler died in 1981.

Sanctioning Body — United States Auto Club (USAC)
Year Speedway President Chief Steward Starter/Flagman
1968 Tony Hulman Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan
1969 Tony Hulman Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan
1970 Tony Hulman Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan
1971 Tony Hulman Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan
1972 Tony Hulman Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan
1973 Tony Hulman Harlan Fengler Pat Vidan
1974 Tony Hulman Tom Binford Pat Vidan
1975 Tony Hulman Tom Binford Pat Vidan
1976 Tony Hulman Tom Binford Pat Vidan
1977 Tony Hulman Tom Binford Pat Vidan

Pat Vidan typically flagged from a small wooden platform that was built inside of the mainstretch, along the grass strip separating the track from the pit lane. Vidan was famous for wearing a white sport coat and employing an elegant and elaborate flagging style. Following the 1973 race, Pat Vidan’s trackside platform was removed, as part of numerous safety improvements. At the request of incoming chief steward Tom Binford, a new flagstand was constructed on the outside of the mainstretch. Atop the stand was a new officials’ control booth. The elevated booth provided an improved view of the track, as well as isolated Binford and his assistants from the often confrontational crews and participants. Vidan was said to be not particularly fond of the new flagstand, as it hampered his elaborate flagging style. Vidan retired after the 1979 race, and died in 1983.


Hulman/George Era

Duane Sweeny is perched atop the flagstand during the 1982 race. This flagstand, erected in 1974, at the time still featured the USAC officials’ booth on the upper level. [Johnson Collection]
Speedway president Tony Hulman died in October 1977. In early 1978, his widow, Mary F. Hulman was named the chairperson of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Their daughter, Mari Hulman George was also on the board of directors, named to the position of Vice President of the Speedway. Joseph R. Cloutier, formerly the treasurer, was named the new president of the Speedway, and he served his first tenure from 1978 to 1979. Mary F. Hulman took over the duty of reciting the famous starting command, and did so from 1978-1980 and 1982-1996.

On April 23, 1978, eight USAC officials, plus the pilot, were killed in a plane crash about 25 miles southeast of Indianapolis. The group was returning from the USAC Indy car race at Trenton, when the plane went down during a thunderstorm.

In 1979, several team owners from the Indy car ranks broke off and founded Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). It was to be a new sanctioning body for the sport of Indy car racing. It was the beginning of the first Indy car “Split”. Immediately, a rocky period followed, the seeds of which had actually been growing in the sport for many years. For 1979, the Indianapolis 500 remained part of the USAC National Championship season, and the 1979 USAC season consisted of a total of seven points-paying races. CART conducted their own separate championship season in 1979, consisting of 14 races. The CART teams entered the Indy 500 that year, and while USAC actually sanctioned the 500, CART awarded points towards their championship for the Indy 500. On March 25, 1979, USAC rejected the entries for six key CART teams (19 cars) into the 1979 Indy 500. Claiming they were “harmful to racing” and not in good standing with USAC”, the list included Penske, Patrick, McLaren, Chapparal, Gurney, and Fletcher – some of the top teams and top drivers in the sport. The “rejected six” filed suit April 26, and on May 5, just before opening day, won an injunction to allow them to compete in the race.

In 1980, USAC and CART briefly formed an alliance called the Championship Racing League (CRL) to co-sanction the sport of Indy car racing. USAC had already crafted their own ten-race schedule, but tossed it out in favor of a joint calendar. In addition, beginning with the 1980 Indianapolis 500, the race became an “Invitational” rather than an “Open”. Formal entries were sent out in the spring to all certified USAC-based and CART-based teams that were judged to have a realistic chance to qualify. The criteria was fairly broad, and few if any teams were excluded. The move was largely to avoid a repeat of the 1979 entry controversy. Not long after the 1980 Indy 500, USAC had become unhappy with the CRL arrangement. In July of that year, after five races had been run, USAC pulled out and the CRL was dissolved. USAC declared their own 1980 champion (Johnny Rutherford) based on the five races that had been run. CART continued on, finishing up a 12-race schedule, and incidentally, Rutherford would win their championship as well.

Eventually the sport settled into a relative harmony such that the season championship would sanctioned by CART, and the Indianapolis 500 would remain sanctioned by USAC singly. The teams and equipment would be the same, with only minor technical differences. By the 1983 season, a further agreement was made where the Indianapolis 500 would pay points towards the CART championship. This overall arrangement remained in place through 1995. It should be made clear, however, that while some individuals from the CART organization occasionally worked in various capacities with USAC/IMS during the month of May, CART itself never sanctioned the Indianapolis 500.

After the 1986 race, the USAC officials booth atop the flagstand (seen here in 1988) was removed [Johnson Colllection]
In October 1979, John R. Cooper, formerly the president of Ontario Motor Speedway, director and secretary of Automobile Competition Committee for the United States (ACCUS), and also once an executive at the Coca-Cola Company, was named the new president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Cooper’s tenure was brief, however, lasting just over two and a half years. Cooper abruptly resigned from the position just before opening day in May 1982 to take a similar position at another company. He would later hold the same position at Daytona International Speedway. As a result, Joe Cloutier was named back to the position of Speedway president.

In the spring of 1988, Mari Hulman George was selected to be the new chairman of the board of directors of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. At the same time, her mother Mary F. Hulman was elevated to chairman emeritus. Mari Hulman George was said to have taken on increased responsibilities in the day-to-day operations at the track, sharing duties with Cloutier, who continued to serve as Speedway president until his death in 1989.

On January 8, 1990, about a month after Cloutier’s death, Anton H. “Tony” George was named the new president of the Speedway. At age 32, Tony was the son of Mari and Elmer George, grandson of Tony Hulman, and previously had served as executive vice president. George had a brief racing career, driving in the Formula Fords, Super Vees, and the American Racing Series (Indy Lights). Tony George’s tenure as Speedway president took the Speedway in new directions. He oversaw the creation of the NASCAR Brickyard 400, the construction of an infield road course to host the Formula One United States Grand Prix, and created the Indy Racing League.

Sanctioning Body — United States Auto Club (USAC)
Year Speedway President Chief Steward Starter/Flagman
1978 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Pat Vidan
1979 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Pat Vidan
1980 John Cooper Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1981 John Cooper Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1982 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1983 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1984 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1985 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1986 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1987 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1988 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1989 Joe Cloutier Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1990 Tony George Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1991 Tony George Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1992 Tony George Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1993 Tony George Tom Binford Duane Sweeney & Nick Fornoro
1994 Tony George Tom Binford Duane Sweeney
1995 Tony George Tom Binford Duane Sweeney

Duane Sweeney took over the position of starter/flagman beginning in 1980 and served through 1996. Sweeney’s tenure happened to coincide largely with what could be unofficially called “CART era” of the Indy 500. From 1979 to 1995, while the race continued to be sanctioned by USAC, the starting field consisted largely of CART-based teams and drivers. In any case, Sweeney brought his own showmanship to the position. He started the custom of waving twin green flags to start the race, as well as twin checkered flags to end the race.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the CART circuit was known as the “PPG Indy Car World Series”

During the 1980s and 1990s, the CART series began marketing itself as the “CART/PPG Indy Car World Series”. The long-used term “Championship car” (or “Champ Car”) was fading from use, while the term “Indy car” (and variations such as “Indycar”, “IndyCar”, and “Indy Car”) was becoming more popular. In late 1991, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway registered the wordmark “INDYCAR”, and later licensed it to CART for use. At which time, the CART championship for a time became known as the “PPG Indy Car World Series”, and CART themselves began doing business under the name “IndyCar”.

CART branded itself as “INDYCAR” from 1992-1996, through a licensing agreement from IMS.

In 1993, longtime CART series flagman (who had just retired after the 1992 season) was invited to wave the green flag. Fornoro shared the duty with regular flagman Duane Sweeney. Both men waved one green flag each to start the race. Fornoro became the first honorary starter at the Indianapolis 500 in several decades.

Tom Binford remained the chief steward throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s. Binford’s tenure was considered stable, but certainly not without controversy. In 1976, rain halted the race on lap 103. The rules require the race to complete one lap beyond the halfway point (i.e., 101 laps) in order to be considered official. After being under the red flag for more than two hours, the field was getting ready to go back to racing. The time was just after 3 p.m., but at that point rain began to fall again. Officials called the race at that point, judging that there was not enough time to get the track dried and the race restarted. Johnny Rutherford was declared the winner, and famously walked to victory lane. Some participants and observers, however, felt the call was premature and felt that Binford and the officials should have at least made an effort to wait out the second shower. Sunset was not until 8:05 p.m., and some spectators in attendance claimed the sun actually came out while they were returning to their cars.

In 1979, two major controversies hovered over the race. In April, as a response to the recent formation of CART, USAC denied the entries of six key teams, some of the top names in the sport. USAC charged them with being “harmful to racing” and “not in good standing”. The “rejected six” filed an injunction and their entries were eventually included.

A second controversy in 1979 erupted during the second weekend of time trials regarding the technical regulations of the turbocharger wastegates. Three cars were disqualified and fined for “[altering] their wastegate exhaust pipes by the addition of restrictions which significantly affect the air flow.” The ruling drew the ire of participants, and USAC was even accused of changing the rules in the middle of qualifying. Ultimately it led to a fifth day of time trials, and two additional cars were added to the field for a 35-car grid. Other relatively small controversies during his tenure included a disjointed Pole Day along with Wally Dallenbach’s so-called “king-sized” turbocharger in 1974, the scrutinizing of side skirts in 1983, the diffusers in 1990, and Scott Goodyear’s passing of the pace car in 1995. But the period is probably most overshadowed by USAC’s mishandling of the 1981 race.

According to DVD audio commentary for the pilot episode, the fictional “Binford Tools” seen on the ABC sitcom Home Improvement was loosely inspired by Tom Binford. Show co-creator David McFadzean revealed that the Indy 500 and auto racing was a key theme to the program. His father-in-law had worked for Tom Binford, during the time Binford was the chief steward for the 500. McFadzean thought that the name “Binford” was a perfect fit for a tool company, and decided to use it on the show through its eight-season run.

 

By 1993, the starter’s stand (originally erected in 1974) had been re-painted white. The black USAC officials’ booth on top of it was removed in 1987. Officials for a time, relocated to a new, larger booth – constructed on top of the paddock Penthouse grandstand roof (as seen here). Around  the same time, ABC-TV moved in to a nearly identical booth, located a little to the south.  [Johnson Collection]

Indy Racing League/IndyCar Series

IRL logo (1996-1997)

In 1996, the Indianapolis 500 became part of the new Indy Racing League (IRL). For approximately its first year and a half of existence, the IRL fell under the overall sanctioning umbrella of USAC. As such, most of the officials involved in the 1996 and 1997 races were familiar figures from the USAC ranks. The IRL organization generally served in a governing and business/marketing capacity, while USAC handled the actual race on-track sanctioning. Leo Mehl was the first executive director of the IRL.

A new flagstand was erected in for 2001. Sometimes refered to as a “crow’s nest” [Johnson Collection]
Chief steward Tom Binford retired following the 1995 race, and USAC veteran Keith Ward was promoted to Chief Steward beginning in 1996. Ward would handle the duties not only for the Indianapolis 500, but the whole IRL season. One year after Binford retired, flagman Duane Sweeeny also retired. Sweeney’s final checkered flag would wave at the 1996 race, and he died in 2004.

Mrs. Mary F. Hulman’s final year in public was 1996, where she gave the starting command for both the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400. Starting in 1997, Mari Hulman George took over the duty of reciting the starting command. Mrs. Hulman died in 1998.

In the midst of the open wheel “Split”, in March 1996 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ordered CART to cease using the trademark “IndyCar” name and its variants. Their reasoning was that CART had violated the existing licensing agreement by scheduling the rival U.S. 500 at Michigan. Furthermore they claimed that CART was essentially misusing the “Indy” moniker as they were now a series that was not part of the namesake Indy 500, and sought to prevent inevitable confusion. CART subsequently sued to keep using the branding in their marketing, recognizing its tremendous value. The Speedway then countersued over a variety of issues, including but not limited to, use of the “IndyCar” name. The litigation dragged out over the summer, and into the fall. On December 17, 1996, the two parties settled out-of-court, and the trademark dispute ended. The Speedway was granted all rights to the trademarks “Indy” and “IndyCar” (and its variants), while CART re-introduced itself as “CART” complete with a new logo and began referring to their machines as “Championship Cars” and/or “Champ Cars”. In general, both sides (as well as outside observers) ultimately agreed that the term Indycar (and its variants) should be reserved for the machines that compete in the Indy 500. As part of the settlement terms, however, the IRL and the Speedway were prohibited from using the term “IndyCar Series” (and similar variants) for a period of six years. For the time being, they would continue to go by the Indy Racing League (IRL) name. Apropos to the agreement, which technically only had jurisdiction within the United States, individual CART series races outside the U.S. (such as the Molson Indy Toronto, the Molson Indy Vancouver and the Indy Carnival in Australia) continued to advertise with “Indy” in their titles.

Sanctioning Body — USAC/Indy Racing League (IRL)
Year Speedway President Race Director Starter/Flagman Honorary Starter
1996 Tony George Keith Ward Duane Sweeney Robert James Eaton
1997 Tony George Keith Ward Bryan Howard Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman

After two controversies during the 1997 month of May, coupled with a scoring snafu two weeks later at the inaugural Longhorn 500k at Texas Motor Speedway, USAC was removed from sanctioning the Indy Racing League. The IRL brought the sanctioning effort in-house, and the new sanctioning team took over in late June 1997, in time for the next race at Pikes Peak International Raceway. While many familiar faces from USAC moved over to the new organization, little by little key positions would be filled by new individuals.

By this time, the title of “Chief Steward” was retired. Brian Barnhart, a former Indy car crew member and superintendent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was hired as Director of Racing Operations for the IRL in March 1997. In June, when the IRL took over as sanctioning body, he was promoted to the position of Race Director. The new position and new title included duties of the chief steward, but also reflected expanded responsibilities.

IRL logo 1998-1999

IRL logo 2000-2001

In 1998 the IRL gained its first title sponsor. Auto parts chain Pep Boys became the title sponsor for the series, which would be known as the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. The deal lasted for two seasons. For 2000-2001, online search engine Northern Light Group took over as title sponsor. The name of the series was known as the Indy Racing Northern Lights Series. Northern Light ceased its sponsorship deal in 2001. For 2002, the league did not utilize a title sponsor. The series reverted to the original Indy Racing League moniker.

Sanctioning Body — Indy Racing League (IRL)
Year Speedway President Race Director Starter/Flagman Honorary Starter
1998 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard Mark Page
1999 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Jim Postl
2000 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Howard Katz
2001 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
2002 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
The IRL began utilizing the moniker “IndyCar Series” in 2003.

After the non-compete provision of the 1996 settlement with CART expired, the IRL was permitted to utilize the “IndyCar Series” name once again. For 2003 and beyond, the top series was rebranded as the IRL IndyCar Series. In February 2008, the open-wheel “Split” came to an end as the Champ Car World Series (formerly the CART series) merged into the IRL. The open wheel Unification effectively merged the two series, bringing the sport of Indy car racing under one sanctioning body for the first time since 1978. In general, Champ Car for the most part was absorbed by the IRL/IndyCar, and going forward, the unified series assumed the name IndyCar, and utilized the IRL’s existing machines (with the lone exception of the 2008 Long Beach Grand Prix). Champ Car’s contributions, however, were not inconsequential, as they provided teams, drivers, venues, equipment, and the unification renewed interest in the sport.

In 2008-2009, a two-year deal was in place for satellite provider DIRECT-TV to serve as presenting sponsor. During that time, the series was advertised as the IndyCar Series in DIRECTV HD. On November 5, 2009, Phillip Van Heusing clothing company signed a multi-million dollar deal to become the title sponsor. From 2010 to 2013, the series was known as the IZOD IndyCar Series.

On January 1, 2011, the names “Indy Racing League” and “IRL” were officially retired. The sanctioning body began doing business under the name INDYCAR LLC, and the premier series was to be permanently known as the “IndyCar Series”.

In 2008, boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. was scheduled to wave the green flag as the honorary starter. However, a few days before the race he withdrew due to a death in the family. He was replaced by figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi, who had just won on “Dancing With The Stars”. Yamaguchi became the first female honorary starter in Indy history.

Sanctioning Body — Indy Racing League (IRL) / IndyCar Series
Year Speedway President Race Director Starter/Flagman Honorary Starter
2003 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
none
2004 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Nick Lachey
2005 Tony George Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Reggie Miller
2006 Joie Chitwood III Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Sugar Ray Leonard
2007 Joie Chitwood III Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Peyton Manning
2008 Joie Chitwood III Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Kristi Yamaguchi
2009 Joie Chitwood III Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Allen Sirkin
2010 Jeff Belskus Brian Barnhart Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Jack Nicholson
2011 Jeff Belskus Brian Barnhart Bryan Howard
Paul Blevins (assistant)
Col. Bruce P. Crandall
2012 Jeff Belskus Beaux Barfield Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Gov. Mitch Daniels
2013 Jeff Belskus Beaux Barfield Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Michael Peña

Starting in 2010, Brian Barnhart’s position of “Race Director” was changed to “President of Competition and Racing Operations”. A season later, however, a succession of controversies and challenges saw him removed from the race director position. Beaux Barfield, who was the race director in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), took over for a three-year stint from 2012 to 2014. Barnhart stayed as president of operations, and was ultimately reinstated to Race Director in 2015. Barnhart’s second stint, however, came under a newly-reorganized system. Derrick Walker was now in the position of president of competition and operations, with Barnhart working as part of a three-steward panel. The Race Director would be accompanied by two assistants – both former drivers – who provide a driver’s perspective, and the three vote on in-race infractions and penalties.

Barfield returned to the IMSA sports car series, and Barnhart’s departed once more in 2017 to work at Harding Racing. Barnhart was replaced by Kyle Novak, who as of 2022, is the current Race Director.

Sanctioning Body — Indy Racing League (IRL) / IndyCar Series
Year Speedway
President
Race Director
Race Stewards
Starter/Flagman Honorary Starter
2014 Doug Boles Beaux Barfield
Brian Barnhart
Johnny Unser
Arie Luyendyk
Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Mark Cuban
2015 Doug Boles Brian Barnhart Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Patrick Dempsey
2016 Doug Boles Brian Barnhart
Dan Davis
Max Papis
Arie Luyendyk
Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Chris Pine
2017 Doug Boles Brian Barnhart
Dan Davis
Max Papis
Arie Luyendyk
Paul Blevin
Tom Hansing (assistant)
Brad Hockaday
Jake Gyllenhaal
Jeff Bauman
2018 Doug Boles Kyle Novak
Max Papis
Arie Luyendyk
Paul Blevin Chris Hemsworth
2019 Doug Boles Kyle Novak
Max Papis
Arie Luyendyk
Paul Blevin Christian Bale
Matt Damon

Changes in the leadership at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and at IndyCar took place in the mid-to-late 2000s. Tony George maintained his role of President/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Speedway, and for 2005, founded Vision Racing. Around that time, in December 2004, Joie Chitwood III was named President and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Speedway. Chitwood had previously served as Senior Vice President of Business Affairs, oversaw the construction of Chicagoland Speedway, and had worked with the IRL since 1995. Chitwood assumed the day-to-day operational role, while George remained on the board of directors, and shifted some of his focus to his new racing team.

Tony George then resigned as President/CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indy Racing League in July of 2009. He was replaced as President/CEO by Jeff Belskus. A few weeks later, Chitwood resigned to take a job at International Speedway Corporation, and eventually became resident of Daytona International Speedway. Belskus was now President and CEO, presiding over the track during the culmination of its Centennial Celebration. The track celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening of the track (1909) in 2009 and the 100th anniversary of the first “500” (1911) in 2011

After the 2013 race, Jeff Belskus transitioned to a different role within Hulman & Company (then the parent company of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway), and eventually retired in 2015. In July 2013, J. Douglas Boles was named the new President and CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Boles had worked for the Speedway in various positions since 2010, and previously was part of Panther Racing. As of 2022, Doug Boles (who is also the step-father of IndyCar driver Conor Daly) is the current Speedway president.

Izod’s title sponsorship was originally expected to run through 2014, but was instead ended at the conclusion of the 2013 season. On March 14, 2014, Verizon Wireless became the new series title sponsor. From 2014 to 2018 the series was known as the Verizon IndyCar Series. After their initial five-year contract expired, Verizon elected not to renew. In January 2019, Nippon Telephone and Telegraph (NTT) took over as title sponsor. Since 2019, the series has been advertised as the NTT IndyCar Series. Subsequently, NTT signed a multiyear contract extension to remain with the series.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway celebrated the milestone 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in 2016. As part of the pre-race ceremonies, the entire Hulman-George Family together gave the famous starting command. Later that summer, Mari Hulman George was elevated to Chairperson of the Board Emeritus, due to her declining health. Tony George, formerly the President and CEO of the Speedway as well at the IRL, was named the new Chairman of the Board. Mari Hulman George died November 3, 2018 at the age of 83.


Penske Era – IndyCar Series

IMS President Doug Boles gives a television interview in 2015
[Johnnson Collection]

On November 3, 2019, a new era at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began. In the fall of 2019, Tony George sought out Roger Penske to gauge his interest in purchasing the Speedway as well as the IndyCar Series. During a roughly six-week period, the details of the sale were worked out, and it was announced that Penske Entertainment Corp., a subsidiary of the Penske Corporation, owned by Roger Penske, had purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the IndyCar Series, and IMS Productions. Penske, owner of Team Penske stepped down as full-time-race strategist and focus on the new ownership roles. The sale was finalized in January 2020.

Shortly after acquiring the property, Penske swiftly began upgrading and beautifying several areas at the track, particularly in the spectator areas. A refurbishment of the restrooms and concession stands, as well as widening and re-paving/paving walkways behind the grandstands along with new fencing was completed in the spring. Thirty new video boards were installed along the mainstretch grandstands, along with a new 104 feet video screen on the back of the Pagoda in the Pagoda Plaza. Other improvements included power washing, painting, improved internet service, general repairs, landscaping, hardscaping, and new lighting at the main gate. The victory lane podium was refurbished to include a new platform hoist to lift the winning car. A few months later, however, the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to activities. The 2020 Indianapolis 500, originally scheduled for May 24, was postponed until August 23, and ultimately held without spectators. One year later, the 2021 Indy 500 was held with a limited fans in attendance, approximately 40% of capacity. Under the new ownership, most of the key positions remained the same, with Doug Boles retained as president of the Speedway, and Kyle Novak race director.

Sanctioning Body — Indy Racing League (IRL) / IndyCar Series
Year Speedway President Race Director
Race Stewards
Starter/Flagman Honorary Starter
2020 Doug Boles Kyle Novak
Max Papis
Arie Luyendyk
Bryan Howard
Tom Hansing
Aaron Likens
Dan Towriss
2021 Doug Boles Kyle Novak
Max Papis
Arie Luyendyk
Aaron Likens Milo Ventimiglia

Selected Hulman/George Era figures

  • Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. (b. 2/11/1901, d. 10/27/1977)
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Owner: 1945-1977
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – President: 1955-1977
  • Mary Fendrich Hulman (b. 3/13/1905, d. 4/10/1998)
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Chairman of the Board: 1978-1987
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Chairman of the Board Emeritus: 1988-1998
  • Mary (“Mari”) Antonia Hulman George (b. 12/26/1934, d. 11/3/2018)
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Vice President: 1978-1987
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Chairman of the Board: 1988-2016
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Chairman of the Board Emeritus: 2016-2018
    • Mari was married to former Indy driver Elmer George (b. 7/15/1928, d. 5/31/1976)
  • Anton Hulman (“Tony”) George (b. 12/30/1959)
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – President: 1989-2009
    • Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Member, Board of Directors: 2009-2010
    • Hulman & Company – Chairman of the Board: 2016-2019
    • Tony George is the stepfather of IndyCar driver Ed Carpenter

Additional References & Works Cited

    • Fox, Jack C. “The Illustrated History of the Indianapolis 500 1911-1994” (4th edition) 1994, Carl Hungness Publishing, page 22, ISBN 0-915088-05-3.
    • The Indianapolis Star via Newspapers.com
    • The Indianapolis News via Newspapers.com
    • The Talk of Gasoline Alley – 1070-AM WFNI, April 29, 2014
    • Dinner With Racers Episode 90: Joie Chitwood III