Wilbur Shaw

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Wilbur Shaw (1902-1954), winner of the Indianapolis 500 race in 1937, 1939 and 1940; president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 1945-1954

Warren Wilbur Shaw (October 31, 1902 - October 30, 1954) was a noted American automobile racer and president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1945 until his death.


Born in Shelbyville, Indiana, Wilbur Shaw won the Indianapolis 500 race three times, in 1937, 1939 and 1940. In the 1941 race, Shaw was injured when his car crashed; it was later discovered that a defective wheel had been placed on his car.

During World War II, Shaw was hired by the tire manufacturer Firestone to test a synthetic rubber automobile tire at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had been closed due to the war. He was dismayed at the dilapidated condition of the already-historic racetrack. Then-owner Eddie Rickenbacker, the famed World War I flying ace and president of Eastern Air Lines, was not exactly sentimental about the track, of course. When the United States entered World War II, ending racing at Indianapolis and elsewhere for the duration, Rickenbacker essentially padlocked the gates and let the great race course slowly begin to disintegrate.

During a meeting soon after the tire test, Rickenbacker informed Shaw that what was left of the track would be demolished and the land turned into a housing subdivision ... unless Shaw could find someone else who might have other ideas. Little did Rickenbacker know that he had presented a challenge to a man who relished challenges.

Shaw immediately began looking for a "savior" for his beloved Speedway, and in short order was introduced to a man who lived not too far from Indianapolis; a man who had the resources to do virtually anything. In Terre Haute, Indiana, Tony Hulman had inherited his family's business, Hulman & Company, a wholesale grocer and producer of coffee and baking powder, and he made a fortune by raising the country's level of consciousness about the company's mainstay baking powder -- Clabber Girl.

Shaking hands with Wilbur Shaw (undated), courtesy of the Florida Photographic Collection

A lifelong fan of automobile racing in general and the "500" in particular, Hulman listened with great interest to what Shaw had to say. Despite what Hulman saw amongst the weeds and deterioration when Shaw took him to Indianapolis, he purchased the Speedway from Rickenbacker in November 1945 for the sum of $750,000.

As a reward for his efforts to revive the Speedway, Shaw was anointed as its president, where he would have complete day-to-day control over the track. To this job, Shaw brought his extensive knowledge of the business of auto racing, something Hulman would admit that he himself didn't have, and Shaw's hard work only cemented the reputation of the "500" as the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing."

It seemed as though Shaw and Hulman had a "Midas touch" at the Speedway. Hulman poured money into improvements, and Shaw delivered the world's greatest automobile race to enthusiastic crowds, which grew in number by the year. The Indianapolis "500" of the late Forties and early Fifties was a very special event through the work of Hulman and Shaw, although Hulman was always sure to point out that it was Wilbur putting it all together.


Sadly, at the height of his power in the racing world, Shaw was killed in an airplane crash near Decatur, Indiana on October 30, 1954, one day before his fifty-second birthday. The pilot, Ray Grimes, and artist Ernest Roose were also killed.


Indy 500 results

Year Chassis Engine Start Finish
1927 Miller Miller 19th 4th
1928 Miller Miller 29th 25th
1930 Smith Miller 25th 22nd
1931 Duesenberg Duesenberg Failed to Qualify
1932 Miller Miller 22nd 17th
1933 Stevens Miller 23rd 2nd
1934 Stevens Miller 2nd 28th
1935 Shaw Offy 20th 2nd
1936 Shaw Offy 9th 7th
1937 Shaw Offy 2nd 1st
1938 Shaw Offy 7th 2nd
1939 Maserati Maserati 3rd 1st
1940 Maserati Maserati 2nd 1st
1941 Maserati Maserati 3rd 18th


The first Champ Car event was held at the Milwaukee Mile on July 17, 1933. The show was rained out. Wilbur Shaw and the other drivers convinced the track promoters to run the race the following day and the term "Rain Date" was born.


Indianapolis 500 Winners
Four-time winners

A. J. FoytAl Unser, Sr.Rick Mears

Three-time winners

MeyerShawRoseRutherfordB. Unser

Two-time winners

MiltonVukovichWardJohncockFittipaldiLuyendykUnser, Jr.Castroneves

One win

HarrounDawsonGouxThomasDePalmaRestaWilcoxChevroletMurphyCorumBoyerDePaoloLockhartSoudersKeechArnoldSchneiderFrameCummingsPetilloRobertsDavisRobsonHollandParsonsWallardRuttmanSweikertFlahertyHanksBryanRathmannJonesClarkHillAndrettiDonohueSnevaSullivanRahalVilleneuveLazierCheeverBrackMontoyade FerranRiceWheldonHornish