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How the Indy 500 changed the way we drive

From the start, it was envisioned
as part sporting event, part skunkworks: Indianapolis millionaire Carl
Fisher sought to build a proving ground for new cars and ideas, where
automotive reliability, speed and strength would be tested. A century
later, the Indianapolis 500 has been true to Fisher’s dream, and your
everyday ride—from the drivetrain to the road and rubber on which it
rolls—owes much to the race.

“It’s made American cars perform a lot better,” says Indy legend A.J.
Foyt. “We put it way over the line at Indianapolis, so if it works
there, it’ll work on the highway.”

“At Indy, we are the NASA of the production-car world, and that’s
clearly why manufacturers are involved—it’s such a good testbed,” says
Mario Andretti, the 1969 winner.

Famed Indy driver and car builder Dan Gurney offers a different analogy.
“Racing is like warfare,” he says. “It accelerates the evolution of

Here’s a look at some of the advances sparked by the battle in the Brickyard.

Read more: 15 Ways the Indy 500 Changed How You Drive - Indianapolis 500 100th Anniversary - Popular Mechanics

I'm one of those people who believes that if NASA never existed, Tang and Velcro would probably have been invented anyway. I also think the contributions to car design spurred by racing is overrated. Today's Indy cars are pretty much a specified one-design class anyway.

I think World Wars I and II probably spurred more advances in engine technology than racing did.

How many FWD, hybrids and electric cars run in the Indy ? I agree with the contributions made by wars too. Especially considering the winner(s) get(s) to annex the talent and inventions of the looser. Debates and decisions about anti lock brakes and traction control systems “not” being allowed because of its affects make you wonder if at times the contributions run backwards from road to track.

None, yet.
Perhaps one day in the future we might see pure electric cars running the Indy 500

Yea, just like they are all driving turbines after that turbine powered car nearly walked away with the trophy except for some sort of gearbox failure.

It's going to take a whole lot of rule changes before electrics or hybrids compete in Indy.


  • Type: 3.5-liter (213.6 cubic inches) V-8, 32-valve dual-overhead cam (DOHC), Normally aspirated (no turbocharger) Max. bore diameter 93 millimeters Four camshafts, four valves per cylinder.
  • Weight: Minimum dry weight is 280 pounds - no headers, clutch, ECU, spark box or filters.
  • RPM: 10,300 (rpm) maximum (league-supplied rev limiter).
  • Power output: 650 hp (485 kW).
  • Fuel: 100% fuel grade Ethanol.[15]
  • Injector: Electronic.
  • Models: Honda Racing Indy V-8.
  • Manufacturer: American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Source: IZOD IndyCar Series

I agree. The attitudes of those who support the 500 and the motors they use won’t change anymore than those who support motor boat racing would be willing to only support sailboat racing instead. To them, it’s a different prolusion system and will never be a part of the 500.

The Indy 500 started out as a competition between the manufacturers, this is no longer the case. Only one engine and one chassis is allowed.

The one engine and one chassis has made it more of a drivers and mechanics race. The mechanics who best guess the optimum chassis set up for race day gives those drivers a slim advantage. The race is a lot safer for the drivers, it is it making the contributions to street vehicles any more?

I believe that auto racing, all professional classes, has made significant contributions to safety particularly in the area of energy absorption, meaning crush zones and passenger cage technology.

The World Wars also contributed greatly.

NASA also had a huge contribution, particularly in the areas of solid state, thin film, casting technologies, precious-metals plating technology, and other manufacturing technology.

Both Indy and NASCAR have, IMHO, inhibited much development in the name of safety. The turbine mentioned in another post was dominating the race until a part (non-turbine) broke and sidelined the car. Numerous other potential advances have been regulated out of existance. There are over 30 NASCAR templates that the bodies have to meet. And countless other detailed regulations. NASCAR has regulated the cars until they’re all almost exactly the same, and I’d be amazed if there were one single part that comes from mass produced cars. Quite a change from the early days.

I’m not a fan of NASCAR, but I enjoy open wheel racing. My favorite racing is the European closed-course road racing. The races are run on actual roads closed for raceday, and the manufacturers compete. You’ll see Ferrarris racing Porsches racing Lotus racing 'Vettes. And yes, they have to make right turns too.

I forgot to include that after that turbine race the car was regulated out of existance.

"I forgot to include that after that turbine race the car was regulated out of existance."
If I remember correctly, they though it required “too much” air (which it does) and restricted the intake. Anything to keep a motor that would run on “anything” from winning. In reality, it probably had little future in cars. I feel the unification has the intent of keeping the speeds down. W/O that, a sudden increase in performance in any system, would be unsafe. I would assume that one of the arguments against abs was that cars drivers would depend upon them too much and increase their speed in entering corners for example.

Turbines have a very high idle and part throttle fuel consumption compared to piston engines, although the heat recycler helped to minimize the part throttle efficiency fall off. This most likely will keep them out of cars for the forseeable future.

The wars really put research in metallurgy on the front burner as they were looking for exhaust valves that would survive for more than tens of hours in aircraft.

The problem is that Indycar has gotten so fast and so far away from road cars that there’s really nowhere to get much data that’s usable on the street anymore. Back in the early 1900’s, indy cars weren’t all that far away from normal road cars, and so road cars could benefit from discoveries made on the track (hey, tires that are wider than a razor blade provide more grip!).

But now, what are we to learn from Indy cars? Brake materal? Nope, what they use on the track works optimally only when it’s really hot from lots of braking during high speed driving - something no one does regularly on the street. Suspension? Not really. Maybe if your daily driver is an Ariel Atom, but for the rest of us, our suspension is vertical and supports a lot more weight than an Indy car, and is also required to make us reasonably comfortable when we hit bumps. engine? Sure, if your Camry revs to 10,000 RPM, makes 600+hp, and gets rebuilt every time you drive it. Otherwise, not so much.

Some indy/F1 racing knowledge might filter into the supercars - using carbon fiber as structural components, etc - but for normal daily road cars, I don’t think there’s a whole lot to be extracted from racing at that level anymore. Showroom stock and modified real car racing is another story, however, but for some reason Americans aren’t much in to that kind of racing.

Dag, if my memory serves me right you are correct about the turbines. And yes, the goal in regulating them out of the race class was to keep speeds from entering a whole new arena. Had they not done that, all the open wheel cars at Indy would have been turbines the next year and the entire speed curve would have shifted up.

Chrysler experimented with turbine engined road cars back in the '60s. The problems they ran into were that the turbine needs to be kept wound up to have any usable power, the temperatures were too high for the materials available at the time to handle, and the cost to produce the turbines was exhorbant. With modern ceramics and manufacturing materials and processes turbines might be viable again, but the cost would still be prohibitive. And they use too much fuel winding up.

The guy who started the Compaq computer company got into a turbine car project. It used a small turbine with an alternator wrapped around it as a turbine hybrid. Instead of using batteries for storage, he used a flywheel spinning at around 60,000 rpm. it was in a saturn body and got about 100 mpg.

I don’t know what ever happened to the project. I thought he was onto something except for the flywheel part. Imagine the damage that thing could cause if it came uncaged. With todays battery technology, it could work, if the turbine part isn’t too expensive.

I’ve read about a few attempts to use turbines for hybrids, but they all seem to run into the cost issue. Because of the speeds and temperatures that turbines operate at the costs are just too high.

Keith - check out the new Porsche GT3-R. It’s a hybrid drivetrain with a 40,000 rpm flywheel for momentary horsepower boosts in passing, etc.