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Indy 500 1939: First rear-engine car qualifies

Posted at 5:20 PM, Mar 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-16 17:20:39-04

Like much of the rest of the world in 1939, Indianapolis was still reeling from the worst economic crisis in history – the Great Depression.

Many local businesses collapsed, putting hardworking Hoosiers out of work and pushing unemployment past 25 percent statewide.

But the economy didn't slow improvements at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The famous brick track was disappearing, covered little by little by safer asphalt. The only brick remaining in 1939: about 700 yards on the front straight.

MORE ON THE ROAD TO 100 | Special Section: Road to 100 | Enter to win tickets to the Indy 500 | Start your engines: 100 stories in 100 days

Qualifying for the 27th running of the Indianapolis 500 was reduced from 10 laps back to four.

Also in 1939: The first rear-engine car made the field, driven by George Bailey. The car was a Gulf-Miller.

But Bailey's accomplishment would be overshadowed by the death of defending champion Floyd Roberts. He was killed in a fiery three-car crash on lap 109 – a wreck that injured two spectators as well.

Roberts' car went through a wooden fence and into a tree at 100 miles an hour. The race continued as the traffic crash was cleaned up.

Shelbyville's Wilbur Shaw made his second trip to victory lane that year, winning more than $27,000.

MORE ON THE ROAD TO 100

1938 | 1937 | 1936 1935 | 1934 | 1933 | 1932 | 1931 1930 1929 1928 1927  | 1926  | 1925   | 1924   | 1923   | 1922   | 1921   | 1920   | 1919  | 1916   | 1915   | 1914   | 1913   | 1912   | 1911   | Special Section: Road to 100   | Enter to win tickets to the Indy 500   | Start your engines: 100 stories in 100 days

Tune in to RTV6 News at 6 p.m. every night for our Road to 100, where we take a look back at each of the races leading up to the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. 

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