Indy 500 pilot sacrificed his fame to save a life

May 31, in history:

  • In 1790, the United States enacted the Copyright Act of 1790.
  • In 1819, Walt Whitman, American poet, father of Free Verse and author of “Leaves of Grass”, was born.
  • In 1859, the Philadelphia As organized to play “city ball,” which became baseball 20 years later.
  • In 1870, EJ DeSemdt patented the asphalt pavement.
  • In 1879, William Henry Vanderbilt renamed Gilmore’s Garden in New York City to Madison Square Garden and opened it to the public. He named it after fourth president James Madison.
  • In 1884, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg patented “flake cereals”.

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  • In 1911, the RMS Titanic was launched in Belfast.
  • In 1927, after the creation of 15,007,003 Model T cars, the Ford company ceased production. The Ford Model T Museum in Richmond at 309 N. Eighth features a first and last Model T, and others.
  • In 1950, due to rain, the Indianapolis 500 race was shortened to 345 miles.
  • In 1955, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered school integration “at full speed deliberately.”
  • In 1956, Buddy Holly wrote “This will be the day” after seeing John Wayne’s film “The Searchers”.
  • In 1961, Jimi Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army for three years as a member of the Screaming Eagles Combat Team. A year later, he broke his ankle in a parachute jump and was honorably discharged.

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  • In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono recorded the iconic “Give Peace a Chance”.
  • In 1976, The Who set the record for the loudest concert of all time, 120 decibels at 50 meters at Valley Sports Stadium in Charlton, London, England.
  • In 1991, Minnie Munro at 102 married Dudley Reid, 83, in Australia. She became the oldest bride on record.
  • In 2016, Alicia Keys announced that she would stop wearing makeup.
  • In 2018, Kim Kardashian West met with US President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss prison reform.

Meanwhile, the week of May 31, 1911 was an exciting time in Indiana.

A brave man behind the wheel of a car made in Richmond captured the hearts of over 80,000 fans and stole the headlines from the winner of the inaugural Indianapolis 500.

The Indy 500 is held annually over Memorial Day weekend and is the largest one-day sporting event in the world.

The first 500 mile race was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday, May 30, 1911. To qualify, entries had to maintain an excess of 75 mph over more than a quarter mile.

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Previously, the races were smaller races of shorter duration, but management scheduled a large-scale event to attract a large turnout from American and European racing teams.

It worked.

This first race was an enchanting one that has never been repeated and a testament to the human courage and sacrifice which is the heart and soul of sport.

Ray Harroun, driving a Marmon “Wasp”, outfitted his car with his new invention – a rear view mirror – and raced to victory, but it was a man behind the wheel of a car made in Richmond who conquered the race. heart of more than 80,000 spectators. a dollar each to attend the very first competition.


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The unthinkable happened 196 laps in what has become the world’s most famous race.

Young Harry Knight, new to the race, was born August 6, 1889 in Jonesboro, Indiana. Her family was poor and life was tough. At 13, Knight worked as a bellboy at the Columbia Club in Indianapolis, then as a garage mechanic. He impressed one of the club’s regulars, Russell B. Harrison, the son of former US President Benjamin Harrison. After the introductions, Benjamin Harrison hired the young Knight, only 14, as a driver. Working for the former president helped Harry Knight learn a lot about driving when he started sports racing years later.

In his second year of racing, the prestigious new 500 mile event rolled out and Harry Knight became the driver of the Westcott car made in Richmond. He also won the hand of a beautiful Hungarian dancer named Jennie Dollie, in Indianapolis. The announcement of their potential marriage was contingent on Knight making a lot of money on the run, according to the May 30, 1911 Indianapolis Star.

Knight’s Hungarian honey wired it before the race: “I wish you good luck. God will be with you. – I love Jennie ‘

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Knight received the wire at the race pits while tuning his car.

The Indy Star reported: “When asked if he expected to win a bride as well as fame, Knight smiled and said, ‘Wait and see.'”

Young Knight, who started competing in 1910, was known as a fast and wild rider, which he quickly proved in the first Indy 500.

The signal to start has been given. The cars were moving.

One hundred and ninety-six laps later, Knight was in third place and winning, when another car that had left the pits with a broken steering knuckle malfunctioned. The bulky machine skidded out of control and tipped over a cement wall – and wobbled in the middle of the crowded track.

According to the Richmond Palladium, “half a dozen thunderous machines hit him.”

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To avoid a smash-up, mechanic CL Anderson jumped over to the car to push the paralyzed machine against the wall before it was hit. As he jumped onto the track, a rear wheel slid over his foot and he was thrown flat on his back halfway in front of the cars.

“If ever a man was a hair’s breadth away from eternity without crossing, CL Anderson had that distinction … Lying there in the middle of 40 machines passing the place two seconds apart at over 70 miles an hour, he seemed like the hour for CL had come.

“At the prospect of seeing a mutilated man alive and crushed to death, the crowd rose and waited in howls of horror …

“Starter Fred Wagner ran the course and tried in vain to stop the race. The riders couldn’t stop, but two miraculously swerved without hitting Anderson or the stuck car… It happened so fast it was over before anyone realized what had happened. Harry Knight was next. The Richmond Westcott was going at nearly eighty miles an hour with Knight and mechanic John Glover inside. Knight saw Anderson on his way for a fraction of a second before hitting him… Thundering at full speed, Knight had two courses of action as he saw the man prostrate on the ground: he could hold the car upright and crush Anderson – or he could turn to the pits to his right, with just a slight chance of escaping death or injury, and crashing on purpose.

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“As the spectators stood in the grandstand breathlessly, watching the horrified scene, in the blink of an eye an instant decision had to be made or a grim catastrophe would surely result… Harry Knight, 22 years old , made his decision and turned his car towards the pits, at the same time locking his emergency brake to stop.

“By instantly applying the emergency brakes at this speed, risking his life, Knight made the machine perform one of the strangest spins in automotive history. The tight turn caused his car to slide down the oily track. The burning rubber created a smoky sight as it skidded and turned entirely in the opposite direction … The pent-up speed, the terrifying momentum controlled by the skid and vortex, pulled it off the curb and the car pulled away. took off as if it were being shot from a cannon, and cutting the stalled car in the back as it rushed over it… The flying Westcott grabbed some of the debris from the broken car and knocked it over, knocking it towards the pit, from where four men rushed to save their lives …

“The impact of the two race cars made Westcott mechanic John Glover throw about 20 feet. He landed beyond the pits in a muddy pool with a torn back and bruises.

“Knight latched onto the steering wheel until the car crashed into the field … then was hurled like a rag doll sideways.”

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The Westcott crashed into a post, completely destroyed.

“I didn’t hit him, I didn’t hit him!” were the first words Knight wept.

Many witnesses thought that without the crash, the young driver of the Richmond car might have won.

The Palladium wrote: “By his choice to risk his life rather than that of a prostrate comrade, Harry Knight lost his chance to win the race, or at least to place his Richmond car at the finish. He was in third place when the accident happened, and he worked well with the leaders.

Young Harry Knight captured the hearts of racing fans everywhere in the first Indianapolis 500 mile race when he risked his life to save a mechanic lying in the middle of the track.

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The 22-year-old driver gained more adulation than the race winner.

His heroism was described in great detail by the national media. Reports of his condition while recovering from a severe concussion and bruising were issued by the Indianapolis Methodist Hospital.

He was then recommended for the Hero’s Medal presented by the Carnegie Heroes Commission because “he sacrificed fame and glory” as a race leader and destroyed his car to avoid killing another man.

He had driven a car made in Richmond and captured the hearts of over 80,000 racing fans in the first Indianapolis 500 on May 31, 1911.

The sacrifice cost him the race.

And more. Knight did not marry the Hungarian dancer to whom he was engaged. No trace of their marriage can be found.

Sadly, the young man nicknamed the “Hero of Indianapolis” after his quick thought to save the life of an unfortunate mechanic in the first Indianapolis 500, tragically lost his life two years later, at the age of 24, in a Columbus, Ohio 200- mile dirt track race.

Contact columnist Steve Martin at [email protected]

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