Part 1: 1978-1998
Beginning on May 28, 1978, and nine times since, Corvettes have paced the Indianapolis 500. But the car's involvement in the famed Memorial Day weekend race goes back much further, all the way to 1955. That year, three-time 500 winner Mauri Rose (then employed as a Chevrolet engineer) drove a '55 Polo White Vette on the Brickyard track several times, though not as a competition entry.
So why wasn't the Corvette selected to serve as an Official Pace Car-a decision that required both Chevy's and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's (IMS) approval-for its first 24 years? To answer that question, we consulted Ron McQueeney, IMS Director of Photography, who has made the Brickyard his workplace for 39 years.
"Then and now, manufacturers submit what they would like to offer as an Indianapolis 500 Pace Car to the IMS," McQueeney explained. "Indy's marketing department, executive department, and the IMS Board select the car from the ones offered. The manufacturer and IMS work together to select the color and the graphics on the car. The minor details can change, even up to the month of May."
If a Corvette is submitted and approved, Chevrolet modifies three or more pilot- or production-line cars with light bars and additional safety equipment (if requested by IMS), and supplies them to the track. (Though the Indy 500 has specific requirements regarding pace-car horsepower and track-worthiness, all Official Pace Car Corvettes starting with the 1986 edition have passed these requirements in stock condition.) In addition, "Chevrolet provides additional Corvettes on a case-by-case, race-by-race basis, including promotional cars," Chevrolet Corvette Communications Manager Dave Caldwell says.
The Corvette Pace Car Registry (www.corvettepacecarregistry.com) groups the Indianapolis 500 Corvettes into the following four categories:
1.Pace Cars: These are the actual Corvettes used to pace the race. The number varies from year to year, but Chevy typically supplies three or more Corvettes when the car is selected to pace the race.
2.Track Cars: Chevy sends these Corvettes to the Speedway to be used by IMS officials and city VIPs (including the mayor, the police chief, media representatives, and others) during the month of May and at the race.
3.Festival Cars: The city of Indianapolis holds an Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade during May; each of the 33 festival-committee members is assigned a Corvette, which he or she drives during the parade and at other festival committee functions.
4.In addition, Chevrolet has often created limited-edition Indy 500 Pace Car replicas for sale to the public. These replica Corvettes are neither pace cars, track cars, nor festival cars, and they have no direct involvement in the race.
Now that you have a better understanding of Corvette's role at the Indianapolis 500, join us as we take a photographic look at the Vettes that actually paced the races. This month we'll feature the first half of them, from 1978-1998, and we'll conclude our two-part series next month with the cars that appeared from 2002-2008.