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1931 Indy 500 - why not 41 starters?

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  • 1931 Indy 500 - why not 41 starters?

    The question in the title is really just a short handed way of posing the question I really want to ask, namely "did the diesel dispensation allowed to the Cummins car actually prevent somebody else from starting the race?"

    In Harry Blanchard's race preview in Motor it explicitly states that the fastest 40 cars would be allowed to start the race, but that if the Cummins diesel did not crack the top 40 then it would be allowed to start regardless (I know that this isn't quite correct as it did have to achieve an 80mph average, but it did this quite comfortably). However, its qualifying speed of just under 97mph was not fast enough to be amongst the top 40, hence on the face of it should there not have been 41 starters in total instead of 40?

    I wondered if the withdrawal of the Coleman car might have been the reason for only 40 eventual starters, but in such circumstances wouldn't the withdrawal allow another car into the field in its place?

    There is a kind of injustice anyhow that the diesel could start the race whilst other faster cars missed out, but if those faster cars would have missed the show anyway then it's not quite as bad a situation as if the concession for the diesel actually denied someone else a start.

    So - why not 41 starters?





  • #2
    WEll 33 is just a number. HElls BElles run them all. ACourse there would be no more bumping so theres that

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    • #3
      The Indianapolis Star, May 29, p12:

      The first alternate is the Miller S. L. Special which was qualified by Ted Chamberlain (...), slightly under the average of the Butcher Borthers Special, which gained the last place in the official starting lineup limited to forty. (...) The withdrawal of the Coleman Special (...) is the only reason that the Butcher Brothers Special gained entrance.

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      • #4
        Thanks. I am still left with the impression that the diesel did cost someone else a place though. It seems as if there were to be 40 starters irrespective of whether the Cummins car qualified on merit - and as it did not, someone faster missed out, contrary to the Blanchard article. The Coleman withdrawal simply meant that it wasn't the Butcher car that missed out but the Chamberlain Miller instead.

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        • #5
          The last time I saw an Indy entry form, it said that the management reserved the right to fill positions not filled by normal qualifying or add cars to the field for any reason. So technically there probably could always have been another car in the field.

          This isn't the only case that there was time to fill a vacated starting spot but it wasn't.
          Racing ain't much, but workin's nothing. Richard Tharp

          Lying was a no-brainer for me. Robin Miller

          "I thought they booed [Danica] because she was being a complete jerk, but then they applauded for A.J. Foyt. Now I'm just confused."

          The real world sucks. Ed McCullough

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Norman J Crump View Post
            Thanks. I am still left with the impression that the diesel did cost someone else a place though. It seems as if there were to be 40 starters irrespective of whether the Cummins car qualified on merit - and as it did not, someone faster missed out, contrary to the Blanchard article. The Coleman withdrawal simply meant that it wasn't the Butcher car that missed out but the Chamberlain Miller instead.
            Sorry if my post wasn't clear enough, but yes, someone was always going to miss out because of the Diesel. It would've been Butcher who was 40th fast, but got in because of the Kreis withdrawal, so in the end it was Chamberlain who bit the dust.

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            • #7
              Perfect. Thanks again, Michael.

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              • #8
                Ted Chamberlain did at least get to drive relief one year, then had a one-off race in the late thirties, before returning in the nascent NASCAR in the early fifties. Weird career chronology, he was still a young man in the early thirties so got out of Indy racing quite soon.
                "An emphasis was placed on drivers with road racing backgrounds which meant drivers from open wheel, oval track racing were at a disadvantage. That led Tony George to create the IRL." -Indy Review 1996

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                • #9
                  Yep, Chamberlain's name came up on another thing I was recently looking into, namely how many drivers drove relief without ever starting the 500. Many websites and box scores have effectively erased their Indy careers from existence.

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                  • #10
                    From 1931 to 1941, there were only about 40 AAA Championship events, and the frequency trended down over the period. Unless you had the inside track on a potential Indy winner, you probably wouldn't build your year around the championship. The US business was in midgets and "big cars" (sprints) in the 30s. After WWII, midgets faded as major attractions in the US and tentpole events featuring 'the cars and stars of the Indy 500!' became more common.
                    Racing ain't much, but workin's nothing. Richard Tharp

                    Lying was a no-brainer for me. Robin Miller

                    "I thought they booed [Danica] because she was being a complete jerk, but then they applauded for A.J. Foyt. Now I'm just confused."

                    The real world sucks. Ed McCullough

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                    • #11
                      ^^ What he said. Those days, drivers didn't get "in" or "out of Indy racing"; a professional driver drove Big cars or Midgets, maybe both, but "Indy cars" were never part of a career path. You just happened to line up a ride, or you didn't, depending on many variables. Chamberlain was one of those to profit from the "junk car formula", in that drivers with few credentials were able to land a ride with a team and car that top drivers wouldn't even consider. Other than that, he raced Big cars (i.e. Sprint cars) for about a decade, mostly in his native New York state, and in Florida where he usually spent the winter months. I have him winning an independent race in 1928, and he likely won a few more, but his career in AAA wasn't very productive: a third at Middletown/NY in 1929 (behind Bill Albertson and Larry Beals), and a fifth at Hamburg/NY three years later were his best individual results, and in 1933 he was 50th in Midwestern points thanks to one eighth place finish at Cincinanti-Hamilton Speedway - in a field of nine cars! Ironically, for a short track dirt oval driver, his biggest days in the sun came in two freak events on road racing circuits: he was 11th (and last finisher) in the "stock car" portion of the 1933 Elgin National, and 29th (second to last finisher) at the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race on Long Island. The latter earned him 280 dollars, his biggest payday in racing.

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                      • #12
                        Not to derail this but has anyone ever seen a picture of the Chamberlain car that didn’t qualify in 1931???

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                        • #13
                          The car is a bit of a mystery. According to the published technical specifications, it had a bored out Miller 122 engine, and was entered by one Paul C. (junior) Searles, a name that does not appear elsewhere in my records. However, I believe that the car's official name, Miller SL Special, refered to Searles and Carl Lieber - the latter was a prominent car owner from Eastern Ohio, who ran a very fast Fronty-Ford for local hotshoe Whiz Sloan in the mid twenties. In 1928, Lieber purchased an 8-cylinder Miller with the help of driver Harold Phelps - I figure this became the basis for Chamberlain's Indy ride. I have a low quality picture of a car which appears to be the Miller SL Special at a dirt track race, but for copyright reasons cannot post it here. Overall, it looked pretty similar to the Milt Jones/Millers that were also built in Eastern Ohio, so I'm guessing there was a connection.

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                          • #14
                            Thank you for your input and knowledge.

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