CHEVROLETS AT INDY
LAT archive LAT archive
WHAT A GREAT NAME AND A WINNING BRAND, BUT...
The winning heritage of Chevrolet at the Indianapolis
500 can be traced back nearly a century, although the
names and affiliations have followed a complicated path.
Chevrolet won the
1920 Indy 500
with his brother
Louis’ car, but...
2 ...it wasn’t a
Chevrolet. It was
a Frontenac, as
was this car Louis
drove to seventh
in the 1919 race.
3 Chevy became
a “500” winner for
the first time
in 1988, courtesy
of Rick Mears and
hevrolet engines are key to the story
of the modern-era Indianapolis 500, but
the company’s heritage at Indy goes a lot
farther back. In fact, its founder starred
at the Speedway in its very early days,
both as a driver and car builder – but not,
strangely enough, by racing Chevrolets!
Louis Chevrolet emigrated to America
from his native Switzerland in 1902,
bringing his three brothers, Alfred,
Arthur, and Gaston. Applying mechanical
knowledge learned by racing bicycles, the
brothers soon gained fame as racers, while
Louis also co-founded the Chevrolet Motor
Car Company with the founder of General
Motors, William C. Durant, in 1911.
However, the two soon fell out over
philosophy: Durant’s desire to offer a
lower-priced model went against the
grain for perfectionist Louis, who sold his
Chevrolet shares in 1915. Within two
years, the company was so profitable that
Durant was able to buy back a controlling
interest in GM, and Louis’ name brand
became a division of the General.
Louis returned to building racecars
and, in 1915, made his race debut at
Indianapolis in a car of his own design.
Legally prohibited from using his own
name on his cars, Louis called his first
Indy car a Cornelian. After that, he
returned to the name he previously used
on his racing bicycles, the Frontenac.
Louis scored a career best finish of
seventh at Indy in 1919, but the following
year Gaston broke the dominance of
European cars at the Speedway when he
took the win in a Monroe-Frontenac, while
becoming the first driver to go the whole
500 miles without making a tire change.
Yet that success was soon undercut by
tragedy, when Gaston was killed in a crash
at the Beverly Hills Speedway board track
in Los Angeles later that year. Shattered
by his brother’s death, Louis retired from
racing, although his Frontenac design won
the “500” again in 1921 with Tommy
Milton. It would be the company he left
behind that would write the next chapters
in the Chevrolet story at Indianapolis.
After its success
with Chevy’s turbo
V8s at Indy in the
1980s and ’90s,
GM was back in Indy
car racing with a
V8 in 1997. When
for 2002, Helio
secured a seventh
Indy triumph for
the bowtie brand.
THE NEXT LINKS
IN THE CHAIN