Southsider Voice correspondent
I remember the 1952 Indianapolis 500 well. I didn’t attend the race, but I went to the track a couple of times during the month. The track was busy, and there were a lot of cars; unlike now when sometimes it is difficult to fill the field of 33. In 1952 there were 39 cars that were not fast enough to qualify.
Freddie Agabashian won the pole position in his No. 28 Cummins Diesel Special. He ripped the tread off of his right front wheel during his qualification run but still set one- and four-lap records of 139.104 and 138.010 mph, respectively. The car was retired about halfway through the race when the turbocharger inlet became clogged with rubber debris from the track.
Cummins has been involved in the Indianapolis 500 for more than 100 years. In 1911 a young man named Clessie Cummins was on the pit crew of the Marmon Wasp driven by Ray Harroun, who won that first race.
In 1931 the Great Depression was felt everywhere, and the Speedway was having trouble finding enough cars to fill the field, but letting a diesel-powered car into the race was unheard of. It was listed as a special engineering entry because the car was too heavy and the engine too large to qualify under the existing rules.
Cummins didn’t expect to win the race, but he and his crew had a different achievement in mind. The No. 8 Cummins Special qualified at 97 mph. The car with its diesel engine and Dave Evans driving became the first entry ever to run the entire race nonstop, finishing 13th on just $1.40 worth of “furnace oil.”
The 1952 race was won by Troy Ruttman. His car was powered by an Offenhauser engine, as were 28 others. There were also two Novi engines, one Farrari and one Cummins diesel.
Cummins has tested new types of engines at the Indy 500 over the years,
It’s difficult to imagine traveling 500 miles without refueling and that the fuel cost only $1.40.