• Indianapolis 500 1951

Wallard smashes the four-hour barrier

Martin Williamson May 30, 1951
Lee Wallard grins as he holds a dime that belonged to Tod Horns who was killed in a 1949 race. Willard, who set a new record in the Indy 500, carried the coin as a good-luck token © Associated Press
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Once again the Indianapolis 500 formed part of the FIA World Championship, but the ploy, aimed at luring the top US drivers to Europe and visa versa, failed dismally as the field contained an exclusively all-American line-up.

The Wednesday race itself was dominated by 40-year-old Lee Wallard who almost destroyed his Kurtis-Offy over the 200-lap 500-mile course, setting a new record speed of 126.244mph. His time - three hours 57 minutes and 38.05 seconds - was also the first time the event had been completed in under four hours. Only eight of the starting field of 33 cars were able to finish.

"I just tried to keep moving and stay out of trouble,." Wallard, who led for 159 of the 200 laps, said. He used a special fuel (40% alcohol, 40% gasoline, 20% benzol) that gave him more than six miles a gallon.

Four days after his win he was badly burned in an accident in a sprint car in Reading, Pennsylvania and was forced to retire from racing. He tried to test at Indianapolis in 1952 and 1954 but found he was no longer capable of competitive driving.

Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA

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Martin Williamson is managing editor of digital media ESPN EMEA Martin Williamson, who grew up in the era of James Hunt, Niki Lauda and sideburns, became managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group in 2007 after spells with Sky Sports, Sportal and Cricinfo