The unmistakable cigar-shaped lines of the pre- and post-war Indy racers hearkens back to a simpler time when many of the speed techniques that we take for granted were working their way slowly through the furnace of experience. Tried and true components such as the Offenhauser engine, which made its racing debut in the 30s, were fitted to various chassis designs in the search for that winning edge.
For the 1947 Indianapolis 500 race, Emil Diedt built a front-engine chassis around a 270 cubic-inch Offy engine for two cars owned by Lou Moore call the Blue Crown Spark Plug Specials. One car was to be driven by a rookie driver, Bill Holland, while the other was piloted by Indianapolis veteran Mauri Rose.
Rose won his first Indy 500 in 1941, just before the United States entered WWII. After the war, he competed but was taken out of the race by a steering malfunction. Rose would win the following two years and would retire from racing after a rollover accident in 1951. The two post-war years that Mauri Rose won the Indy 500 were in the Crown Spark Plug Special for owner Lou Moore.
Keen-eyed readers will note there is one outlier year between Rose’s two consecutive wins and his retirement. That’s because the Crown Spark Plug Specials were so good, that the bulk of their competition came from each other. They were so good, even rookie racer Bill Holland, who started in the eighth position for the 1947 race, moved his Blue Crown Spark Plug Special up to the lead by lap 24. He would go on to dominate the race, leading 143 of 200 laps.
Many races can be won or lost by the dictates of team owners and personal character. While the recent Ford vs. Ferarri movie helps drive that fact home, in 1947, rookie-racer Bill Holland would come to learn that fact first-hand. He was leading by what he assumed to be a lap ahead of the next fastest race car, the other competitor, Rose in his own Crown Special.
Team owner Moore instructed the Blue Crown pit crew to display a written message of “EZ” on a chalkboard to the drivers. The idea was to conserve the car to ensure its survival to the end. Holland responded in kind, slowing his pace. Veteran racer Rose, who found himself in the unenviable position of following a rookie racecar driver to the finish line, didn’t heed the slow-down suggestion and pressed on.
Perhaps chalk it up to inexperience, Bill Holland simply waved his teammate by as he passed him at speed with only eight laps to go, thinking he was still a lap ahead of Rose. Much to his surprise, when the checkered flag dropped, it was Rose who was escorted into the Victory Lane, not Holland. The very next year, both Crown Spark Plug Specials were equally competitive and again, found themselves finishing the race. Rose again won that race, but not with any help from Holland.
For 1949, both Rose and Holland were taking on the world’s fastest in their Crown Specials. Holland leads the final 146 laps of the race, and just like two years prior, team owner Moore ordered both drivers to ease up on their speeds since they both had a significant lead over the competition. But they were indeed still competing with each other!
Mauri had his eyes set on yet another Indy 500 win, but magneto problems forced him out of the race, allowing Holland to finally taste victory at Indy. The following year, Bill Holland and his Blue Crown Spark Plug Special would again, enjoy a Second-Place finish at Indy. Coupling its First-Place win and three Second-Place finishes during that four-year span places Bill Holland and this particular car as a significant high-point in their career, as well as in the history of the Indianapolis 500 race.
The car is going to be offered during the Mecum Indy Auction scheduled for July 10-18, 2020 as the main attraction on Saturday, July 11th. More than simply a museum-cruiser, this Crown Spark Plug Special is still designed to run. It has recently exercised during the Millers At Milwaukee and you can check out the YouTube video to hear this, and many other vintage racers come to life and make their way around the track, just as they were intended to do.
Back before we had over 100 interest-specific channels to choose from, races such as the Indy 500 and Daytona captivated gear-heads and afforded them a level of speed on a broad scale. The personality and charm of these early racers still live on in the hallowed halls of the Brickyard and the accompanying Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum still serves up the history and charisma of this bygone era. But, there’s something special about watching these special-built machines doing exactly what they were designed to do. We can only imagine what it must be like to own or drive one!