WWII: The near-death experience for Indy 500

The spread of COVID-19 across the globe has resulted in mass cancellation of motorsport across the various series. The last time something this warranted this level of cancellation in motorsport was during the Second World War. Let’s take a journey back 79 years…

The date is 29th December 1941. World War II has been raging on for two years, and only a few weeks ago Pearl Harbour happened, leading to America’s involvement in the conflict.

The place is New York. Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Eddie Rickenbacker has just announced the cancellation of the 1942 Indianapolis 500. 1943 isn’t looking so positive either. Hitler’s European rampage is seemingly unstoppable and everyone is unsure how long this could last.

Tradition and priorities demand that we again voluntarily abandon the race in the interests of a full-out victory effort,” said a statement.

It was only voluntary for the next two months.

The date is February 1942. The government has officially banned all motor racing.

Unfortunately for Rickenbacker, this experience was all too familiar. Only a few decades earlier did World War I lead to a suspension in the Indy 500 for the war effort.

However, cancellation of the 1942 Indy 500 was the right thing to do. Rubber that would have been used for tyres was used for life rafts and gas masks. Instead of race cars, fuel was given to army trucks and machinery, even aircraft.

The date is 8th May 1945. With Hitler declared dead, the Allies are victorious. War is over. The lights at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway begin to flicker back on.

The year is 1946. George Robson wins the Indy 500 with a top speed of 114 miles per hour.

Although war ravaged Europe and her Allies, everything went back to normal, it was all temporary.

Although motorsport is currently facing dark times and an uncertain future, again it is just temporary. The situation that led to the cancellation of the Indy 500 during World War II is albeit different from the one the world is currently facing, but it will not last forever.

For now, we must stay inside and wait. The lights in the world of motorsport may be off, but soon they will flicker back on. They will shine dimly at first, but they will get brighter.



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