1954- The Year Before the Storm

The program was buried in a stack of old programs in a box at the IMS memorabilia show  the day before the 500 this past May.  I  was thinking of collecting Indy 500 programs for all the races beginning the year I was born. Hard for some of you to believe, but cars were invented before I was born.

My plan was to begin with the programs from 1953 to 1956, the programs covering the Bill Vukovich era.  The programs on top were pre World War II, and the prices were quite high. I dug through the stack and found this 1954 edition in a sheet protector. There was no price label attached. I asked the vendor how much it was. She looked it over and said, ” $20″, at least one third the price of the others I saw.  I paid quickly and walked away before she could change her mind.

1954 is  the appropriate year to begin my collection quest for several reasons. It was the first year I was fully aware of the race. 1953 was the first year I heard any of the race on the radio. I was six at the time. I wanted to learn more about it. Bill Vukovich won the race and became my first racing hero. The program recapped the 1953 race and previewed the upcoming event.

To put the 1954 race in perspective:

It was  the third year of the IMS Radio Network.

This would be the ninth race under Tony Hulman’s ownership.

The 1954 500 was the eighth race Tom Carnegie handled the PA full time.

AAA was the sanctioning body. USAC would not exist for two more years.


There was a nice bonus inside when I first opened the program. The starting lineup sheet for the race fell out. The original owner wrote some notes on it during the race.  Pole sitter Jack McGrath led the first lap with a speed of 132.004 mph.  The average speed of the race at 200 miles was 134.225.


The pre-race schedule was shorter and simpler in 1954. The race started at 10.  The schedule lists just the National Anthem, a salute to soldiers who died in battle, and “Back Home Again in Indiana” sung by James Melton. This all completed by 9:35. Then the cars are gridded. Following a series of aerial bombs, the Dodge pace car leads the field on the ONE pace lap before the start.  The command to start engines was not listed as part of the schedule.

Guaranteed first place money was $20,000. Drivers also received money from the equipment companies for using their products. Lap leaders got $150 for each lap lead. n 1953, Vukovich collected more than $89,000 for winning.  Guaranteed money for 10th place? $1,750. I can’t imagine what last place got.

The ads in the program feature many companies and products that no longer exist such as Eastern Airlines, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Belond Exhaust Systems, Pure gasoline, and RCA.

Bill Vukovich won the race for the second straight year. Jimmy Bryan was second, Jack McGrath came home third, and Duane Carter finished fourth. Vukovich started 19th; the others in the top 4 started in the top 8, McGrath and Bryan on the front row. The winner led 90 laps, the fewest he had led in the  last three races.

The following year was the year auto racing nearly ended.  In practice for the 500, popular driver Manny Ayulo was killed. In the race, Vukovich died in accident while leading after a great duel with McGrath early in the race. McGrath would die in a sprint car wreck at the end of the year.  These deaths, coupled with the 83 spectator deaths at LeMans in June, nearly led to a worldwide ban on the sport.

AAA decided they were done sanctioning racing after 1955. Tony Hulman formed the Untied States Auto Club to sanction races and keep the sport going.

I wish both my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the news that broke last Friday and other Silly Season ramblings.





2 thoughts on “1954- The Year Before the Storm

    1. Thanks Patti. I found a price sticker inside the front cover that said $80. If I’d Sen that I would’ve run from there. Thanks for the kind words. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family


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