When the green flag drops on the Indy 500 this weekend, the eyes of the racing world will be set on Indianapolis, and some say Terre Haute should share some of the spotlight for its role in saving the famed oval. Not only did Terre Haute businessman Tony Hulman purchase the weed infested track in 1945, but it was workers from Terre Haute who helped rebuild it into what is now one of the world’s most iconic sports venues.
In an interview with Around INdiana reporter Mary-Rachel Redman, a former IMS executive said a lot of credit goes to Terre Haute and the Hulmans.
“It was in miserable condition. Tall weeds all around the track and the wooden stands were all falling apart,” described Fred Nation, a former senior vice president for IMS. “The first thing he did was bring his crews from Hulman and Company to clear the weeds. And the S.H. Pauley Lumber Co. here and provide a lot of the lumber.”
Nation says a lot of the crews came from Terre Haute and set the tone for many years of the Speedway’s operation. He says it was on the most expensive renovations in the track’s history.
Beyond the track, Hulman would bring Indy racers to downtown Terre Haute to give residents an opportunity to the drivers in person. It also attracted 1940s movie star, Clark Gable, to town.
“I have a warm spot for Terre Haute, for sure,” said three-time Indy 500 champion Johnny Rutherford. The IMS legend shared his thoughts on the last legacy of Tony Hulman.
“He was a wonderful man. He felt so strongly about this Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Ruthrford. “Every year, if you knew where to go and look for him, you could hear him practicing, ‘Gentlemen, start your engines.’”
The Hulman family sold the track and the affiliated IMS businesses to Roger Penske in January 2020, but Nation says the Hulman legacy remains.