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1931 Indy 500: Diesel entry, tragedy and records

Posted at 5:17 PM, Mar 08, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- In the midst of the Great Depression, about 400,000 people called the city of Indianapolis home in 1931.

Miraculously, the financial challenges of the time didn't slow progress in the city.

In the spring, crews broke ground on the Indianapolis VA Hospital on Cold Spring Road to serve veterans of the First World War.

Construction also neared completion on the new Indianapolis Municipal Airport, seven miles southwest of downtown.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway also marked a huge step forward: On the track for the first time ever was a diesel-powered car, entered by Indiana's own Cummins Engine.

Another first for the race, the driver of that diesel machine, Dave Evans, completed the race without a pit stop.

Although a remarkable accomplishment, Evans didn't win.

It was defending champion Billy Arnold who dominated the race, leading for 155 laps after grabbing the front position on Lap 7. But on Lap 163, Arnold crashed and tragedy ensued: A tire flew off of Arnold's car, bounced across Georgetown Road and struck an 11-year-old boy playing in his yard, killing him.

Louis Schneider took the lead in Arnold's place and held on for the checkered flag with an average speed of 96.629 miles per hour.

Schneider's 43.19-second margin of victory over Fred Frame made it the closest race in history, breaking Louis Meyer's previous mark (43.89) from 1928. The 15 cars that finished on the lead lap also set a record.

The winner took home a prize of just under $30,000, which was about $20,000 less than the winner's share the year before - a mark the Great Depression did leave on the race.


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