Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Corvette ZR1 is the most powerful production car ever to pace the Indy 500. A look back at Chevy Indy pace car history

The Indianapolis 500 is this weekend, and since a Corvette ZR1 was chosen as the official pace car this year, we're taking a look back at Chevrolet Indy pace car history. 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 eleven 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 2011. Interestingly, although the Indy pace car is generally thought of as a convertible, for a long time, 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, the Camaro used in 2011 was a drop top. Chevy has done a good job leveraging the Camaro’s involvement at Indy. In addition to the model cars, trinkets, and collectibles 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.  The Corvette returns to Indy this weekend, as the white 2013 ZR1 that will be used to pace this year's race is the most powerful production car ever to do so.  It is also interesting to note that there will be no factory replicas of this car offered for sale.  Celebrity chef and known Chevy aficionado Guy Fieri will take the wheel.

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 Indianapolis 500 is more about tradition than any other racing event in the world.  And much of that tradition centers around Chevrolet leading the field around for the green flag.  That takes on even more meaning this year, because Chevrolet-powered race cars return to the Indycar Brickyard field for the first time since 2005.  So who knows--Chevrolet could pace the race, and win the race.

The slideshow below features a General Motors publicity photo of every Chevrolet ever to pace the Indy 500, starting with 1948.  I think they're pretty interesting pictures, and if you click on the little balloon in the bottom left corner, it'll tell you who actually drove the pace car that year, and also who won the race.  Take a look!

General Motors photos from every year of Chevrolet pace cars:


  1. Hello there, I am so excited I found your site, I really found you by error, while I was researching on google for something else, Anyhow I am here now and would just like to say kudos for a fantastic post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to go through it all at the moment but I have saved it and also included your RSS feeds#comments

  2. I realize that comment is spam, but flattering nonetheless.

  3. craig, the slideshow displays sideways in my browser. i recall you posted about that some time ago. anyway, it doesn't always do it, but can you remind us how to fix it? thanks! mike t.

  4. Sorry about that, mike. It's an issue with Picasa. The pictures should start working correctly if you refresh your page, or hit the "F5" key at the top of your keyboard. Thanks for checking in!

  5. The Corvette ZR!1 is the car having the most powerful engine. It is a very well running car