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Nash car led the way at Indy 500

That’s racing fan Clark Gable behind the wheel of the canary-yellow pace car at the 1947 Indianapolis 500 race. Standing next to the car is George Mason, Nash-Kelvinator CEO who drove the initial pace lap in the race.

This is the Ambassador Slipstream as it appeared in 1947 dealership promotional material. The model was chosen to be the 1947 Indy 500 pace car.

 

In what year did a Nash automobile serve as the pace car at the Indianapolis 500?

The year was 1947, and the car was a canary yellow Ambassador Slipstream model.

It was the first and only time a Nash was honored, and the first time that a four-door vehicle was chosen. It was also one of the few pace cars that wasn’t a convertible.

The Ambassador featured a 3.8-liter, overhead-valve, six-cylinder engine that could produce 112 horsepower, almost as much as some contemporary eight-cylinder engines, according to Forward magazine, a DaimlerChrysler historical perspective magazine.

It had “suicide” doors: The back doors had the hinge closer to the rear of the vehicle.

At that time, the pace car led the field around the track for one warm-up lap, and then the race began. It was a custom that began with the first Indy 500 in 1911 as a safe “rolling start.”

Driven by Mason

The Nash pace car had its day in the sun on Memorial Day, Friday, May 30, 1947. (It wasn’t until 1968 that Memorial Day was moved from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.)

The Nash pace car was driven that day by George W. Mason, president of Nash-Kelvinator. Not many people knew that Mason, who was 56 years old in 1947, had raced motorcycles as a teen on flat dirt tracks in his home state of North Dakota.

The pace car wasn’t the only representative of Kenosha at the race.

Sitting in the stands were a number of Nash men from Kenosha, including Floyd Kishline, chief engineer; Ross Phelps, assistant chief engineer; and Earl Monson, experimental department head.

Kenoshan in the race

Kenosha hometown boy Paul Russo qualified for the classic race, turning the 10 laps at an average speed of 123.967 mph.

It was a comeback for Russo, who had been injured in an Indy wreck the year before. He was revving up the engine on the track behind Mason in the Shaw-Gilmore special that carried Willy Shaw to an Indy victory 10 years before.

Russo’s anxiety was not unfounded: He was forced out after only 25 laps after a collision with another car. Neither of the two drivers were hurt in the mishap.

Another driver, William “Shorty” Cantlon, wasn’t as lucky. On his 48th lap, the veteran of 11 races at the Indianapolis Speedway lost control of his car, spun around twice and crashed into a wall on the southwest turn. He died a few minutes later in the track hospital.