This year’s Indy 500, which will take place on Sunday, is being fêted as the 100th edition of the famed American auto race. But the race started in 1911, which was 105 years ago. How does that work out?
The reason the math works is war. On account of World War I and World War II, no Indy 500 race was held in 1917, 1918, 1942, 1943, 1944 and 1945. The World War I pause allowed the speedway to serve as an aviation repair depot, but wasn’t government-mandated. “Racing means taking away from the Government the services of skilled mechanics, who can be used by the Government to better advantage in time of war than by a speedway corporation as a means of entertainment,” announced James A. Allison, Secretary-Treasurer of the speedway.
During World War II, however, the Indy 500’s organizers didn’t have time to make a similar decision: the U.S. banned automobile racing.
As TIME explained in the July 6, 1942 issue, gas was getting increasingly difficult for Americans to find: “The U.S. motorist, onetime King of the Highway, looked more like a funny-cartoon pedestrian each week. A great many Eastern gas tanks were dry, and hell had seen no furies like the motorists who did not have enough gas left to drive around to a service station for gas that was not there.” (As a result, one shoe store in Georgia reported “an all-time high in low-heeled shoe sales,” the magazine added.) In response, the U.S. extended gas rationing to a larger area. Most citizens were limited to 16 gallons a month, with few exemptions. That same month, the Office of Defense Transportation issued an order banning automobile racing in the U.S. The ban was also meant to conserve rubber.
After the war’s end, the race returned for 1946—and it has taken place every year since.
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