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Hoosier History Live is an independently produced new media project about Indiana history, integrating podcasts, website www.HoosierHistoryLive.org, weekly enewsletter, and social media. Its original content comes initially from a live with call in weekly talk radio show hosted by author and historian Nelson Price. You can hear the show live Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 fm or stream the show live at the WICR HD1 app on your phone, or at our website.

May 25, 2024

Alas, due to pre-emption by UIndy's WICR, there will be no live Hoosier History Live show on WICR this Sat. May 25. Look for "Birds of prey" with guest Mark Booth to air on June 1 at noon on WICR.

Do remember that our most valuable asset is our online product. The Hoosier History Live ARCHIVES is essentially our collection of previously aired shows that have been turned into podcasts, as well as their accompanying newsletters. And yes, we do control our online product! And yes, we do want you to share our enewsletters and podcasts!

And speaking of our ARCHIVES, here is a great show to listen to. Online, the modern way!

Speedway and medical care: the first 50 years

500 Medical Banner

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Photo of early ambulance at IMSDoctors, nurses and ambulances have been part of the scene at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since the first auto race in 1909, a disastrous, five-mile competition that resulted in the deaths of drivers, mechanics and spectators. (The inaugural Indianapolis 500 was not held until two years later, in 1911.) Medical, sports and social history began unfolding lickety-split at the world-famous racetrack. Hoosier History Live will explore the eras involving the Speedway's first three chief medical officers, a 50-year span ending in 1959. 

Helmets for Indy 500 drivers did not become mandatory until the mid-1930s. The first chief medical officer was overruled in 1914 when he disqualified a driver who had visual challenges. And the second chief medical officer resigned in 1951 when a beer tent was erected at the racetrack, saying he did not want to have to treat "drunks".

Those episodes and others will be explored during our show with Nelson's guest, medical historian Norma Erickson, the education manager at the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis. A long-time Indy 500 enthusiast, Norma has undertaken extensive research for "Speedway and Medicine" presentations at the museum in recent years.

Norma Erickson"It is worth mentioning that the types of (drivers') injuries were often dictated by the design of the cars," Norma says. "Up until the early 1950s, the driver sat high in the car. Seat belts were not mandatory, and occupants were often pitched from the car . . . If the fuel tank was damaged, there was greater risk of fire, with the driver unable to quickly get out of the car."

The Speedway's first chief medical officer, Dr. Horace Russell Allen (who served from 1909 to 1937), was, as might be expected, an orthopedic surgeon. But his two successors, Dr. Rogers Smith and Dr. C.B. Bohner, were, respectively, a neuropsychiatrist and an allergist. Although both assumed the top post after experience on the medical staff during races, qualifications and practices in May.

In 1958, Dr. Bohner oversaw about 250 medical workers, eight First Aid stations, 12 ambulances and an infield hospital with 25 physicians, 36 nurses and a dentist, according to Norma's research. Although Dr. Bohner's stint as chief medical officer from 1952-1959 involved several horrific accidents, Norma notes that substantial safety improvements also occurred. Flame-proof clothing, often dipped in boric acid, became standard, "or at least more accepted" for drivers and crew members at the racetrack.

Dr. Rogers SMith with Dr. Horace Russell AllenBy the 1930s, Dr. Allen had lobbied for drivers to wear abdominal protectors. Before that, Indy 500 race driver and World War I flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker (who later owned the Speedway) recalled that, for protection, drivers had often wrapped themselves in cloths, almost like mummies, underneath their uniforms.

The chief medical officer's advice and decisions didn't always prevail, according to Norma's research. In 1914, Dr. Allen rejected driver Ray Gilhooly because his vision was weak, but the physician was overruled.

Dr. Allen prevailed in 1933, though, when he disqualified popular driver Howdy Wilcox II because of his diabetes, then a disorder that could not easily be controlled. In 2011, driver Charlie Kimball became the first driver to compete in the Indy 500 with Type 1 diabetes; Speedway officials explained the criteria had not changed, but that Kimball was appropriately managing his diabetes.

The casualties at the 1909 sprint race were the result of the track's surface, initially a mix of crushed rock and tar. The surface broke apart, causing the deaths of two drivers, two mechanics and two spectators. After that, the surface was replaced with paving bricks.   

From the beginning, the intense heat has posed challenges for drivers and spectators. According to Norma's research, three-time Indy 500 winner Wilbur Shaw noted that, before donning his helmet, he often stuck it in a refrigerator. He used the same refrigerator that cooled the bottle of milk given to the winning driver.


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From the Hoosier History Live ARCHIVES . . .

Hoosiers who competed in early Indy 500s

This Hoosier History Live show was originally recorded on Apr. 30, 2016

Click here to listen to the podcast.

Driver Johnny Aitken poses with the Speedway Helmet, an early Indianapolis Motor Speedway trophy. 1910 image courtesy Mark Dill.After 22-year-old native Hoosier Joe Dawson won the Indianapolis 500 in 1912, he hurried from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to his family's home at 2828 N. Illinois St. to hug his mom.

Charlie Merz, the son of an Indianapolis police officer, survived horrific accidents early in his racing career to complete the final lap of the Indy 500 in 1913 - with his car on fire. He died in 1952 and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery.

In 1919, the Indy 500 was won by popular Howdy Wilcox, a pioneer race driver born in Crawfordsville. His son Howard S. Wilcox, also known as Howdy, founded the Little 500 bicycle race at Indiana University in the early 1950s.

As the countdown continues to the 100th running of the Indy 500, Hoosier History Live will explore the colorful lives and careers of these and other early race drivers who had deep connections to Indiana.

Our guest was Indy native and lifelong racing enthusiast Mark Dill, the creator of firstsuperspeedway.com https://www.firstsuperspeedway.com, an extensive website about auto racing, including the sport's pre-1920 history.

Mark, who is based in Cary, N.C., has worked in marketing and public relations for various high-tech companies; he also previously worked for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and, when he was an Indiana University student, as news director of Indianapolis Raceway Park. Mark and his wife, Esther, own Mark Dill Enterprises Inc., which helps market the rapidly growing sport of vintage auto racing.

Mark Dill.Speaking of vintage: Many Hoosiers know a bit about Ray Harroun, a Pennsylvania native who won the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911 with a Marmon car made in Indianapolis. That race has been the focus of Hoosier History Live shows, including some with Speedway historian extraordinaire Donald Davidson. Donald was Nelson's studio guest on April 4, 2015 for a program that explored the impact of track announcer Tom Carnegie and popular driver Jimmy Clark, the "Flying Scot" who won the Indy 500 in 1965.

For this show, we will explore some Hoosiers whose legacies are not as well remembered by the general public today - as well as others such as Wilcox and Barney Oldfield, an Ohio native who, as our guest Mark Dill puts it, was "embraced by Indiana like a native son." A confidant of Speedway founder Carl Fisher, Oldfield (1878-1946) was a racing pioneer and showman who even starred in silent movies.

Although Harroun won the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911, the first lap was led by driver Johnny Aitken, an Indianapolis native whose life and racing achievements Mark also discussed during our show. (According to Donald Davidson's Official History of the Indianapolis 500 with co-author Rick Shaffer, Aitken stayed in front for the first four laps of the 1911 race.)

Mark also shared insights about Joe Dawson, the winner of the second Indy 500 who went home to hug his fretful mother, an anecdote celebrated in local newspapers in 1912. Described as a "simple, modest man", Dawson (at age 22 years and 10 months) remained the youngest Indy 500 winner for several decades.

According to Mark's research, Dawson lived with his parents in a house with "the 1912 version of a man cave" that featured college football and baseball pennants.

Driver Harry Endicott and mechanic Jim McNamara are shown in their Number-24 car at a road race in Elgin, Ill. 1912 image courtesy Mark Dill.Other early Indy 500s drivers we will explore include "Farmer" Bill Endicott, whose nickname, Mark says, derived from his ownership of a farm near Crawfordsville.

In addition to his firstsuperspeedway.com website, Mark oversees a Facebook page on the same subjects.

Earlier in his career, Mark was vice president of Nortel and, in that capacity, worked with former Indy 500 driver Scott Goodyear on sponsorships. Mark also is a regular guest and commentator about racing for radio and TV and has been active in the SportsCar Vintage Racing Association.

Before the inaugural Indy 500 in 1911, there were several other auto races at the Speedway after the track opened in 1909.

Some of these races were won by a talented young driver, Tommy Kincaid, who had been born in Indianapolis; he drove for the Indianapolis-based National Motor Vehicle Company race team owned by Arthur Newby. Our guest Mark Dill will share insights about Kincaid, even though he never raced in the Indy 500; that's because he was killed at age 23 at the Speedway in 1910 while testing his car. (If Tommy Kincaid had been alive in 1912, Mark suspects that he - rather than Joe Dawson, who hugged him mom after the victory - might have driven the winning car, which also was owned by National.)

Driver Joe Dawson of Odon, Ind., won the 1912 Indy 500 at age 22. Image courtesy Wikipedia.Barney Oldfield, who even starred in a Broadway musical, generally is considered to have been the first American auto racing celebrity. According to the website of the Henry Ford Archive of Innovation, Oldfield "helped to democratize not only racing entertainment, but also the automobile in general, as the vehicles moved out of the carriage houses and into backyard sheds."

The website also notes that Oldfield "flouted the conventions of his time, both on and off the track. He was notorious for his post-race celebrations, womanizing and bar fights."

Charlie Merz, who finished the 1913 race with his car on fire, later became a successful businessman, engineer and chief steward of the Indy 500. According to a description of the 1913 Indy 500 on Mark's website, Merz's car burst into flames just before the final lap. Instead of stopping, he "forged ahead for the final lap ... with the riding mechanic swatting the flames with his jacket."

Learn more:

  • Vanderbilt Cup Races - Author Howard Kroplick's website with information, images and events concerning the Vanderbilt Cup Races held on Long Island from 1904 to 1910.

  • The Old Motor - A vintage-automobile "Internet magazine."

  • Motor Sport Retro - A website that celebrates "classic motorsport, racing cars, motorcycles and gear.



Trivia prizes sought

Our "History Mystery" on air contest continues to be very popular!  If you are an organization or business that would like to contribute tickets or admissions, please contact our host Nelson at nelson@hoosierhistorylive.org.

Prizes must fit in a standard business envelope. Hoosier History Live prefers to "snail mail" prizes to our trivia winners. And If prizes are time sensitive, they need to be offered well in advance of the event so that we can get them out in time.


We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make the Hoosier History Live media project possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit Support the Show on our website.

  • Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
  • Anonymous
  • Marion Wolen, honoring Richard Sullivan
  • Margaret Smith
  • Charlotte Ottinger
  • Bruce and Julie Buchanan  
  • Sandra Hurt
  • Chuck and Karen Bragg
  • Ken and Luan Marshall
  • Tom Swenson
  • Mike Freeland and Sharon Butsch Freeland
  • Dr. William McNiece

Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Nelson Price, host and historian
Corene Nickel, web designer and tech manager

Richard Sullivan and Ryan DeRome, tech consultants
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support!

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page. Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Caden Colford, Jace Hodge, Jake Helton, Austin Cook, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution, either online at our yellow button on our newsletter or website, or by U.S. mail. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in our podcasts and in our show, please contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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