You may not give two honks about the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 , but if you’ve ever driven a car, the race has made you safer, faster, and more efficient. Motorsports have always played a crucial role in advancing automotive engineering, and as one of the world’s most important and longest-running races, the Indy 500 has done more than most. Over a century’s-worth of racing, the famed oval has seen the debut of some crazy ideas that have become so standard that you’ll have a hard time picturing your car without them, from the rearview mirror to the turbocharger.
Back in the day, racecar drivers had a ride-along mechanic, who doubled as a spotter for other cars. But at the inaugural Indy 500, a driver named Ray Harroun decided to fly solo. When his competitors kicked up a fuss that he’d be driving blind, he slapped on a mirror, did the spotting for himself, and went on to win the race.
Four-Wheel Hydraulic Brakes
In the early days of automobiles, even race cars depended on two-wheel, mechanical brakes that were really only a few steps ahead of what you’d get on a bicycle. Knowing cars were getting too fast for this to be even remotely safe, Duesenberg Motor Co. developed a car (seen here at Le Mans in 1921) with all-wheel hydraulic brakes, which use brake fluid amplify the pressure in the system—rather than relying on racer’s calf muscles.
Legend has it, driver Barney Oldfield (the first guy to drive at 60 mph) recruited a parachute manufacturer, Leslie Leroy Irvin (credited with completing the first-ever free-fall parachute jump) to design a restraining harness for his Indy 500 car. This picture shows Oldfield in the Indy pace car in 1922. At the time, conventional wisdom said it was better to be flung from a car at high speeds that risk being trapped inside, so seat belts didn’t really catch on until after they returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1956. That year, Ray Crawford opted for a car with seat belts, and proved a point by walking away from a head-on collision unscathed.
Article Credits: Emma Grey Ellis, Wired