The Studebaker Corporation was selected to provide the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 on four occasions: 1929, 1940, 1952, and 1962. The concept of the pace car in motorsports originated at the first 500 in 1911. A rolling start was desired instead of the customary standing start, and a pace car was introduced to keep the field in line.
The 1929 race was paced by a 1929 President Roadster driven by Studebaker engineer George Hunt. The actual pace car was finished in special two-tone paint – black hood and fenders with an aluminum colored body. Following the race, Studebaker produced 30 replicas of the President pace car for sale to the general public. None are known to survive today. The 1940 Indianapolis 500 marked one of the few times a closed car was used for pace car duties. A 1940 Champion Club Sedan was selected. In accordance with a practice begun with the 1936 500, the race winner was awarded the pace car. In 1940, Wilbur Shaw took home the maroon Champion for his victorious effort.
In 1952, Studebaker marked its Centennial. Race weekend that year was a celebration of Studebaker’s 100th birthday. Studebaker brought most if its museum to the Speedway and hosted several special events throughout the weekend. The company paraded its museum vehicles around the track prior to the race. All of the operable vehicles were driven, while the horsedrawn vehicles were placed on floats. A Commander Convertible served as the pace car and was driven by Studebaker executive P. O. Petersen. Race winner Troy Ruttman earned the keys to the Commander.
Two different Studebakers served as pace cars for the 1962 contest. Studebaker’s new Avanti served as the “honorary” pace car while a Lark Daytona Convertible handled the actual pace car duties. The Daytona was driven by 500 veteran Sam Hanks. The Avanti, the 34th one produced, was awarded to winner Rodger Ward. As a special tribute, two of the original Studebaker Specials returned to the Speedway – the #22 car and the #34 car then owned by Brooks Stevens.
In addition to the pace cars, Studebaker supplied numerous “festival” cars to the 500 for the 1952 and 1962 races. In 1952, twenty-two Commanders, three Champions, three R5 1/2 tons, and one R10 were supplied for the race, and in 1962, thirty four Lark convertibles were sent for the race weekend, plus four identical Lark Daytona Convertibles equipped for pace car duty. The whereabouts of these cars today is unknown.
About this Exhibition
Check out our series of articles about Studebaker at the Brickyard! This series is based upon a Museum exhibition featured in 2012.