The Chevrolet winning tradition started at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway a century ago. A driver named Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race 100 years ago.
Gaston Chevrolet, with his driving mechanic Johnny Bresnahan (above), crossed the finish line first in the eighth running of the 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on May 30, 1920. Although Gaston didn’t pilot a car carrying the Chevrolet nameplate, the Chevrolet legacy at the world-famous speedway began.
Gaston Chevrolet, born on Oct. 4, 1892, near Beaune, France, where his Swiss parents had emigrated to a few years earlier, was the younger brother of engineers Louis and Arthur Chevrolet, the namesake of Chevrolet automobiles.
In his second Indy 500 start, Gaston Chevrolet qualified sixth with a four-lap average speed of 91.55 mph in the No. 4 car owned by William Small. Ralph DePalma earned the pole with an average speed of 99.15 mph in the first year utilizing the four-lap qualifying format that remains in place today.
Chevrolet took the lead from DePalma on Lap 187 and led the rest of the way to win by 6 minutes, 16.60 seconds over Rene Thomas in the race free of caution. Chevrolet came into the pits twice for fuel, but he completed the race with the original set of Firestone tires. It was a first for the Indy 500, and the feat wasn’t recorded again until 1964 by A.J. Foyt.
Chevrolet, who entered 15 races sanctioned by the American Automobile Association (AAA) over four years, recorded his first AAA Champ Car Series victory on July 14, 1919, at Sheepshead Bay, New York. He added wins at Uniontown, New York, and Sheepshead Bay in September that year.
The Indy 500 was his lone victory of 1920, though he added three other top-10 finishes. On Nov. 25, 1920, Chevrolet died in a racing accident at the wooden board track in Beverly Hills, California. His total of 1,030 points was 100 more than Tommy Milton, and he was posthumously honored as the 1920 AAA National Champion. He is interred next to his brother Louis in the Holy Cross and Saint Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis.
Chevrolet started 16th and finished 10th in his other Indianapolis 500 start in 1919. His winnings totaled $23,200.
As an Indy car racing engine supplier, the Chevrolet brand of General Motors earned the first of its 11 Indianapolis 500 victories in 1988 with Rick Mears behind the wheel of a Penske/Chevrolet. The Bowtie brand has 11 victories in the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” including the past two years.
Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race
Chevrolet has a storied history with Indianapolis Motor Speedway as an engine manufacturer, provider of the pace car, entrant and even drivers.
Chevrolet was co-founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet, the year of the inaugural 500-Mile Race. He competed in the ‘500’ four times, with a best finish of seventh in 1919. His brother, Arthur, competed in the 1911 and 1916 races and his other brother, Gaston, won in 1920 and finished 10th in 1919.
Louis Chevrolet was also the owner of the 1921-winning car driven by Tommy Milton.
The Louis Chevrolet Memorial is located just west of the entrance to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. Inscribed on the pedestal that holds a bust of Louis Chevrolet is his motto “Never Give Up.”
1988 Rick Mears
1989 Emerson Fittipaldi
1990 Arie Luyendyk
1991 Rick Mears
1992 Al Unser, Jr.
1993 Emerson Fittipaldi
2002 Helio Castroneves
2013 Tony Kanaan
2015 Juan Pablo Montoya
2018 Will Power
2019 Simon Pagenaud
Wins by other General Motors brands (5 – Oldsmobile)
1997 Arie Luyendyk
1998 Eddie Cheever
1999 Kenny Brack
2000 Juan Pablo Montoya
2001 Helio Castroneves
Indianapolis 500 winners with a Chevrolet entry this year
Helio Castroneves (2000, ’01, 09) – No. 3 Team Penske
Will Power (2018) – No. 12 Team Penske
Tony Kanaan (2013) – No. 14 Foyt Racing
Simon Pagenaud (2019) – No. 22 Team Penske
Winning team owners with Chevrolet entries this year
Roger Penske (18 – first in 1972, last in 2019)
A.J. Foyt (3 – driver-owner in 1967, ’77; owner in 1999)
Front-row starters since 2012 with Chevrolet entry
2019: First – Simon Pagenaud. Second – Ed Carpenter. Third – Spencer Pigot
2018: First – Ed Carpenter. Second – Simon Pagenaud. Third – Will Power
2017: Second – Ed Carpenter
2016: Second – Josef Newgarden
2015: First – Scott Dixon. Second – Will Power. Third – Simon Pagenaud
2014: First — Ed Carpenter. Third – Will Power
2013: First – Ed Carpenter. Second – Carlos Munoz. Third – Marco Andretti
2012: First – Ryan Briscoe. Second – James Hinchcliffe. Third – Ryan Hunter-Reay
2020 rookie carrying the Bowtie Banner with second row start
Rinus VeeKay, No, 21 Sonax Ed Carpenter Racing, will roll off fourth on Sunday, August 23