Wilbur Shaw

Wilbur Shaw

31/10/1902 - 30/10/1954

Warren Wilbur Shaw was a noted American automobile racer and three time winner of the Indy 500. He was also president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 1945 until his death.

Born in Shelbyville, Indiana, Wilbur used to go to wath the racing at Indianapolis as a young man. He quit school to go to work at a storage battery company in Detroit where he was so adept at the job he was soon making $100 a week, a huge salary in 1919.

Wilbur started racing in 1921 with a car he built himself using second hand components and parts from wrecked vehicles. He turned up at the Hoosier Speedway but was not permitted to start as scrutineers felt that the car was too dangerous. Shaw returned in 1922 with a rebuild racer and won races all over the Midwestern United States.

In 1927 he made his first appearance at Indianapolis in a Miller, finishing fourth. He returned the following year again in a Miller, but could only manage 25th and in 1930 he finished 22nd driving a Smith. In 1931 he drove a Duesenberg over the third turn wall, wiping out the car. Suffering only bruises, Shaw later relieved the driver of an identical team car. Competitors were stunned when Shaw's "ghost" passed them again.

In 1936 he decided that he stod a better chance of winning the annual classic if he owned the cars he drove. It made a huge difference, after finishing seventh in that year's "500", he returned to win in 1937.

In 1939, impressed with the European cars which were running in the Vanderbilt Cup at the Roosevelt Raceway, he persuaded Mike Boyle, A Chicago industrialist, to sponsor a Maserati, which was modified with everything offset to the left. Shaw won the 1939 and 1940 races in the car and was leading by 5 laps in 1941 when a wheel hub broke. He hit the wall, fracturing three vertebrae. It was later discovered that a defective wheel had been placed on his car.

During World War II, Shaw was tire testing for Firestone at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had been closed since the start of the war. He was shocked by the condition of the track. Eddie Rickenbacker, the owner and famed World War I flying ace, informed Shaw that he intended to demolish the track and develop the land unless Shaw could find someone to buy it.

Shaw was introduced to Tony Hulman who lived not far from Indianapolis. He had the resources to do virtually anything. In Terre Haute, Indiana, Hulman had inherited his family's business, Hulman & Company, a wholesale grocer and producer of coffee and a baking powder called Clabber Girl.

A huge fan of automobile racing, Hulman was persuaded by Shaw and purchased the Speedway from Rickenbacker in November 1945 for the sum of $750,000. Shaw was anointed president, with complete day-to-day control over the track.

Shaw and Hulman had the "Midas touch", Hulman invested the money and Shaw delivered the spectacle and the huge crowds, which grew every every year.

Sadly Shaw was killed in an plane crash near Decatur, Indiana on October 30, 1954, one day before his fifty-second birthday. The pilot, Ray Grimes, and artist Ernest Roose were also killed.

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