Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chevrolet and the Indy 500 both turn 100, and the Chevy Camaro is once again the pace car

The Indianapolis 500 is held over Memorial Day weekend, so I figured it was time to do a little Indy 500 pace car trivia. Of course, Indy is the oldest running race in the U.S., and among the most respected in the world. More than any other, Chevrolet has been the car chosen to pace this historic event, including the past ten years consecutively. And even before that, brothers Louis and Arthur Chevrolet, competed in the very first Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1911.

It may seem like the first Chevy Indy pace car was the 1967 Camaro, because that’s the one you seem to hear about the most. But actually, bowties took the helm twice before that. Way back in 1948, a Chevy Stylemaster convertible was used as the Indy pace car. This stately Stovebolt was appropriately decorated with colorful pace car graphics that encased the entire side of the car. Then in 1955, the first year of the popular small-block Chevy V8, a red and white Bel Air convertible led the field.

Chevy took a break from their pace car duties until the introduction of the Camaro in 1967, and that nameplate returned several more times over the years, including 1969, 1982, 1993, 2009, 2010, and again this year, for 2011. Interestingly, although the Indy pace car is generally thought of as a convertible, only the ’67 and ’69 Camaros were so configured, as there were no production Camaro convertibles offered during the other years through 2010. Of course, with the re-introduction of the Camaro convertible, this year’s car will again drop the top. Chevy has done a good job leveraging the Camaro’s involvement at Indy. In addition to the model cars, trinkets, and collectables that have been made available, there have been hundreds of pace car replicas sold to the general public.

The Corvette is another familiar nameplate at Indy. It may come as a surprise that the first Corvette Indy pace car didn’t come on the scene until 1978. The fiberglass two-seater has made up for lost time, however, returning in 1986, ’95, ’98, ’99, ’02, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, and ’08. The 2008 version was somewhat curious, in that there was a black and silver version meant to commemorate the first Corvette pace car in 1978, and there was also a wild green pace car meant to promote GM’s use of Ethanol fuel.

Not all Chevy Indy pace cars have been Camaros or Corvettes, however. We already mentioned the 1947 Stylemaster and the 1955 Bel Air. In 1990, Chevrolet chose the Beretta, this an odd convertible conversion that still retained the B-pillar-mounted door handles in a top hoop. In 1999, Jay Leno paced the field in a new-for-2000 Monte Carlo SS. And in 2003, the pickup truck/sports car/hardtop convertible SSR led the way.

The 2011 Camaro pace car will be painted Summit white with orange stripes, ala the 1969 edition. 500 of them will be available for sale to the public later this spring.

The latest Indy pace car was actually introduced to the public last January at the Barrett-Jackson classic car auction in Arizona. The first 50 copies were then auctioned off as a charity fundraiser for the David Foster Foundation, which supports kids who need organ transplants.

It had been announced that Donald Trump and his massive ego were to drive the pace car this year, but most people didn’t seem too thrilled about that choice. He later ended up backing out, claiming that it took away from his political ambitions. Insiders believe it was because once he saw that the car was a convertible, his hair refused to participate.

So, the honor will go to four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt. Racing fans slept much easier after the change.

The 2011 Indianapolis 500 is a milestone for both Chevrolet and the event itself. This is the 100th-anniversary for both, so it is certainly fitting that they are once again paired together. Furthermore, Chevrolet is returning to the track next year, as the company announced that they will be developing E85 ethanol-powered 2.4-liter V6’s in 2012 to compete against the Honda power plants that currently have a stranglehold on the series.

In honor of Chevrolet’s continued involvement in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the first slideshow below has pictures of all the Chevrolet Indy 500 pace cars over the years, and it states the drivers of those cars for that year’s race.

The second slideshow has pictures that I’ve taken of random pace cars, mostly around the Kansas City area. You’ll notice that ’69 Camaros seem to dominate that album.

The last slideshow is a repost of pace car dealer promotional models. I know you’ve seen it before, but I think it’s a neat slideshow, and it took me a long time to Photoshop all those pictures together like that.  Enjoy!

General Motors photos from every year of Chevrolet pace cars:

Random pace car photos from all over Kansas City:

Pace car promotional model cars:

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