Track Stars: Speedway Fashion Then and Now

Driver style statements throughout the eras.

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Our May feature, “Checkered Past,” discusses how fans struggle to make personal style statements at the Speedway. But as these photos show, drivers never have.

Shoes

Then: For years, drivers wore everyday shoes—even loafers—on race day. But in the 1950s, many, like Ray Crawford, chose boxing shoes because their soles were thin and flexible—not unlike today’s driving footwear.

Now: James Hinchcliffe was goofing around as a poor, starving Indy Lights driver in 2009 when he Sharpied “Stop” and “Go” on the duct-taped toes of his driving shoes. It stuck, and now his shoe sponsor, Sparco, stitches the words onto his IndyCar footwear. “It’s tradition more than superstition,” Hinchcliffe says.

Lucky Charms

Then: In 2000, Linda Vaughn began handing out pewter coins made by an L.A. jeweler to all 33 drivers on the grid at Indy. The former racing queen (a role that included posing with the winning driver) and so-called First Lady of Racing says the “Pocket Angels” are not tokens of fortune or protection, but purely a “memento of love.” Still, drivers such as Dario Franchitti have had them in their pockets when they won a big race.

Now: Just because IndyCars are one-seaters doesn’t mean the drivers go it alone. Three-time champ Helio Castroneves always wears a rosary bracelet designed by his sister. “It gets me in touch with my spiritual side,” he says. It also rode along when the Brazilian won his third 500, in 2009.

 

Firesuits

Then: Prior to 1959, flame-retardant uniforms were not required for drivers in the 500. Most American racers wore slacks and T-shirts or button-downs. But often Europeans, like Harry Schell, photographed here in 1946, would wear coveralls similar to their pit crew’s—not at all flame-resistant—when they competed abroad.

Now: As a female driver, Pippa Mann always had trouble finding a nicely fitting firesuit because most of them are mass-produced for men. These days, Indy’s own Hinchman Racewear tailors the lightweight material to her needs. And despite a career trying to prove herself among the boys, Pippa has no problem wearing pink. “I am so much more involved with Susan G. Komen than I have ever been with any other sponsor,” she says. “This isn’t a product on a shelf, or something I’m trying to sell to people. This is about trying to use the platform I have in the Indianapolis 500 to make a difference.”

 

Helmets

Then: Though some early drivers wore leather aviator helmets, protective headgear wasn’t mandatory at the Speedway until 1935. Even then, the helmets, like those held by former IMS president Wilbur Shaw, were made of crushed paper, useful for little more than deflecting rocks. Full-face models with catchy designs, like this 1980 Billy Engelhart helmet, didn’t appear until the late 1960s.

Now: Drivers these days sprinkle personal messages among sponsor logos. On Josef Newgarden’s Kevlar-reinforced carbon-fiber helmet, a crown symbol represents Brett King, who designed the headgear; the star above the visor stands for Rising Star Racing, which supports young open-wheel drivers; and the names on top are the driver’s mechanics. “I love having them on board with me every time I get in the car,” Newgarden says.

 

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