Exploring the rich tradition of pace cars

(WISH Photo)

SPEEDWAY, Ind. (WISH) — It’s the first thing you see on turn four at the start of the Indy 500 and for car manufacturers, the advertising is worth every penny.

According to Donald Davidson, pace cars are one of the oldest traditions of the Indianapolis 500.

“I suppose you would consider that a tradition and that began here because they had forty cars and Shaw thought it was too many for a standing start. And so he remembered back to his bicycle days where they had rolling starts and he said would it be safer if we had a rolling start,” said Davidson. “So it is believed that the first time that a pace car was used to start a major automobile race was the Indianapolis 500 1911, so that’s been every year.”

Pace cars are a staple of the race, some have been memorable and others are forgettable. Donnie Gardner has been working on classic cars since he was a boy.

“My parents were in service station and gas station business,” said Gardner. He now works on cars At Ray Skillman’s Classic Car Lot.

When it comes to pace cars in the garage Donnie says every single one is special.

“They get a lot of attention through the month of May plus they only make 1000 of them at a time so no matter what you do, a pace car is always a collectible piece,” said Gardner.

One of the more memorable pace cars is the 1985 Oldsmobile Calais, remembered not for its power but lack there-of.

“Well this car here they had to do a lot of work on this one just to get it to perform where they needed to perform they only made three of these,” said Gardner. “It’s got special reinforcing down the doors or down the front of the car in case it would crash. It’s got seat belts that are four points harnessing in it.”

Actor and former race car driver James Garner eventually did drive it around the track that year.

This year’s pace car is recalling the glory days of past. The new and improved Chevy Camaro will be leading the pack of racers this year. Donnie says it’s fitting, especially when you look back at the ’69 Camaro.

“It’s just a classic look with the 728 stripes and they trimmed it with white and orange … they just did this car right.”

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