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Motoring and Indiana



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It is May in Indiana, and for a moment, the world turns its attention to Indianapolis and the spectacle of open-wheeled racing. The Indy 500 is to auto racing what the Kentucky Derby is to horse racing: a worldwide event that is bigger than the sport itself. On Memorial Day weekend, even people who know nothing about racing will turn their attention to the track, the cars, the drivers and the events leading up to the race.

The Speedway symbolizes Indiana’s history and love affair with the automobile. The track itself was built to provide a testing ground for the emerging automobile industry. The 500-mile race was a test of the endurance and reliability of the cars and the drivers. Indianapolis boasted more carmakers than Detroit. More than 50 Indiana communities have produced more than 200 makes of cars and trucks. Some of the most storied manufacturers were based in the state: Auburn, Cord and Duisenberg built luxury cars for the glamorous and well-to-do. The Stutz Bearcat was the most successful sports car of its era. When Ian Fleming wrote about an American spy in the James Bond novels, that spy drove a Studebaker. Indiana manufacturers introduced a variety of innovations to the industry, including hubcaps, car bumpers, billboards, the gas pump and the first gasoline-electric hybrid (in 1898!)

Cars racing at the Speedway have always been fast, colorful and loud. The Marmon Wasp that won the first Indy 500 was bright yellow. Al Unser’s Indy Eagle that won the race in 1970 was powered by a turbocharged Offenhauser four-cylinder engine. The cars’ lightweight aluminum bodies and aerodynamic designs pushed qualifying speeds past 170 miles per hour. Today’s Indy car, manufactured by Dallara, is built out of Kevlar, carbon fiber and other materials. The turbocharged V6 engines provided by Chevrolet and Honda produce up to 700 horsepower and propel the 1600-pound cars at speeds in excess of 220 miles per hour. Drivers complete the 500-mile race in about three hours, compared to the eight hours it took to make the run in 1911. 

Auto racing is an exciting sport, and the auto industry is important to the state’s economy. Having a car provides mobility and access for Hoosiers. But if you don’t own a car, or can’t drive one, Central Indiana can be difficult to navigate. In the 2017 Community Assessment Survey of Older Adults (CASOA), 26 percent of respondents reported having difficulty finding safe and affordable transportation. Nearly one in five reported they are no longer able to drive. And while three-quarters of those surveyed thought Central Indiana was easy to navigate by car, only 25 percent felt that public transit was available to meet their needs. 

CICOA and its community partners are committed to helping meet the transportation needs of older adults and people with disabilities who are unable to drive or access public transportation. CICOA administers federal Older Americans Act funding and Social Services Block Grants that support paratransit services across our eight-county service area. These funds help provide trips for shopping, medical appointments, employment and other transit needs so that folks who cannot drive remain connected to their communities. We rely on transportation grants through INDOT, IndyGo and CIRTA to help purchase equipment and support programs like My Freedom, that extend transit options to people living with disabilities.  And we rely on philanthropy from United Way and donors like you to extend the reach of these programs. This year, CICOA will invest more than 1.5 million dollars in specialty transportation programs to provide more than 70,000 trips.

While the vans and buses in CICOA’s Way2Go fleet are not as fast or exciting as Indy cars, they also have some pretty impressive statistics. For example, the Elkhart 12/2 WC minibus can hold up to 12 passengers and two wheelchairs. It can also lift a wheelchair from the curb, if the passenger is unable to walk. The 5.4 liter Ford V8 produces 350 horsepower. That’s not enough to get the 12,500 van anywhere near 200 miles per hour, but it is enough to complete 6,216 trips to medical appointments or the shopping center. Need something a little sportier? The Dodge Caravan with the Braun conversion holds five passengers and one wheelchair.  Its 3.6 liter V6 can transport a dialysis patient to treatment three days per week. The driver isn’t certified to race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but she is certified in passenger assistance and can meet her next rider at the client’s front door. There are no spoilers or racing stripes on these vehicles and their color is probably best described as “refrigerator white.” But, we still like to think of them as high-performance. Most of them were built right here in Indiana, just like those Dallara race cars. Well, maybe little slower. 

Thank you for your support of CICOA. Enjoy the race.

Indy 500 trivia:

https://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com/events/indy500/history/indy-500-traditions-faqs/faqs

Auto manufacturing in Indiana:

http://cardinalscholar.bsu.edu/bitstream/handle/123456789/198614/Indiana%20Automobile%20History%20Map.pdf;sequence=1

The Stutz Bearcat:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stutz_Bearcat