04 May 2011

The Greatest 33: No. 27 - Ray Harroun

With 25 days remaining until the 100th Anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500, Drive Hard, Turn Left and SB Nation Indiana is starting its countdown of the Greatest 33, the ultimate Indianapolis 500 field. Fans can build their own field by clicking here. Today, we look at the first driver to take the checkered flags at the 500, Ray Harroun.
With 100 years of history, comparing eras of drivers is fairly tricky.  Still, Ray Harroun deserves a place among the greatest 33 drivers in Indianapolis 500 history not only for his historic win on May 30, 1911, but for his work leading up to the 'Most Important Race in History.'
After the founding of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1909, Harroun was among the early stars at IMS, taking seven victories prior to the first running of the 500.  Among Harroun's wins for auto manufacturer Marmon were the 200 mile Wheeler-Schebler Trophy Race and the 50 mile Remy Grand Brassard, both in 1910 as the Speedway held a series of races around Memorial Day and the 4th of July.  When AAA retroactively awarded points for the 1910 racing season, it was Harroun who was declared the champion of 1910.
Thus, Harroun was a fitting winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500 race.  However, before the race, Harroun was a controversial participant in the 500; with the majority of drivers utilizing a riding mechanic to monitor car conditions and the locations of competitors, Harroun eschewed tradition, installing instead a prototype of today's rearview mirror.
While others fretted over Harroun's ability to keep himself and the field safe, Harroun instead became part of a long line of drivers, mechanics and owners to lend racing innovations to the American automobile industry.  For years, one of the traditions of Indianapolis was that the parts and technology used in the 500 could then be found in the average car in the coming years, whether it came from newer, safer tires, more efficient engines, or something as simple as the rearview mirror.
Having captured the first 500, Harroun would never race again at IMS, as he retired to work with Marmon, with whom he won in the Marmon 'Wasp.'
The Greatest 33:
27. Ray Harroun
28. Mark Donohue
29. Jacques Villeneuve
30. Danny Sullivan
31. Tony Kanaan
32. Michael Andretti
33. Eddie Sachs

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