Garage N 15 sits at the back of Gasoline Alley, a small separate structure from supplier row which includes Firestone and Impact. Despite its solitary location, the company is one of the key suppliers to racing teams and has been since 1915. CEO Wally Brant is the third generation to head the family business, which has roots going back to the dawn of the Indianapolis 500. He has a great passion for the race, a trait passed down from his father and grandfather. Indiana Oxygen incorporated in 1915, but his grandfather had a stake in the inaugural race.
Wally’s grandfather and uncle had a Lozier dealership, and the car company entered the race.
“The Speedway was to showcase Indianapolis made automobiles. And so they had invited everybody to enter, and Lozier sent two cars down from Detroit,” Brant said. “They didn’t have any garages here (at the Speedway). So they kept the cars in my grandfather’s agency, which was at the corner of Fremont and Capitol downtown. Yeah, the northeast corner and they would actually drive the cars out Indiana Avenue to 16th Street, practice and then drive them back. In the first 500 in 1911 Ralph Mulford, one of Lozier’s drivers. finished second. My grandfather swore to the day he died that we won the first race.
“The way he explains it is the trip wires and everything had kept breaking, but they also some backup. One person was assigned to each car and there was a
long bench at the end on a stand at the end of the pits. Each person was assigned a car and all he had to do is when that car went by was pick up a marble out of this tray and drop it in a calibrated tube to keep track of the laps. It’s even on film. An accident in the pits destroyed part of the scoring stand. Before that Mulford had a half a lap lead. Afterwards he was half a lap behind but nobody passed him.” Lozier went out of business in 1914.
“My grandfather got back to electrical engineering. A process had been invented in Sweden that came over here, where you bombard water molecules with electrons and separates them into oxygen and hydrogen. And those were the two gases.”
Indiana Oxygen incorporated April 28, 1915.
“A couple of days later the Speedway opened up for practice And so the speedway was one of our very first customers. What we did was brought out compressed air with a regulator. Up to that point they have these great big pumps. That was a big deal. So we started providing the first compressed air. “
From compressed air for tires, the Brant brothers began experimenting with nitrogen. They found that nitrogen, because of its larger molecules, didn’t leak from tires like oxygen did. and it also helped with gas mileage.
The Brants tested their nitrogen theory with the help of the Prest-O -Lite team. at the Speedway. One car’s tires had nitrogen, and the other car’s tires were filled with oxygen. The tires with nitrogen had more air left in them.
Indian oxygen was the sole provider of compressed air for teams at IMS for the first 50 years of racing. In 1937 the company began helping teams improve pit stop time. Indiana Oxygen worked with Wilbur Shaw to have fuel delivered to the car during a pit stop via a compressed nitrogen pump. Shaw beat Ralph Hepburn by 2.16 seconds, and he credited his faster stops for the win.
“All the race teams after 1937 had this system until after the ’64 race,: Brant said. “The Sachs/-McDonald accident changed the way things were done.”
In 1958, the company worke3d with mechanic A. J. watson to improve pit time even more..
“In 1958 providing nitrogen he (Watson) comes up with this idea like how can we make pitstops faster? The idea of having the air on board the car. They couldn’t figure out how to safely operate it. If they run it off the engine it would stall. We couldn’t use electricity. So my dad and Watson knew each other. And so they should just use high pressure nitrogen So these are the air jacks. W also provide air for the pneumatic tools.”
Welding became part of the business in 1965 when the company that provide that service closed and aske Indiana Oxygen to take over.
“We shared the garage with them because we sold them the hydrogen out of that garage. So they said you guys want to take this over?” These days welding is mostly for team accessories rather than the cars.
Brant explained, “You’re walking around race car, mostly it’s carbon fiber or the story and even a nose cone. When they crunch one they put a new one, not fix the old one. They autograph it and put it in an auction. But no on frames, right? But we’ll also be welded sunglasses, stools, umbrella stands, things for their scoring box and everything.”
There was one welding job they refused to do.
“So the only the only job that we refused to do I believe the year was 1979 when they had the pop off valve. Jerry Sneva could not get up to speed and he asked us if we would weld the popoff valve shut. We couldn’t do that. “
Each year different welding jobs come up. One year a weight was added to the floor of a car that didn’t meet the minimum weight. Another year radiators needed many repairs. The first IRL spec cars required reinforcement of the the suspension arms.
There is one thing that would make Brant happy. He wishes that a driver would thank Indiana Oxygen in their speech at the Victory Banquet.
“Johnny Rutherford was the last driver to mention us at the banquet in the 1980’s,” Brant said. Rutherford is a frequent guest in their garage during May.
A fourth generation is on the rise, as Brant’s son and daughter are part of Indiana Oxygen. Race teams will have their tire and pit tool needs covered as long as the Speedway exists. Indiana Oxygen isn’t going anywhere.