Madison County Historical Society


Racing Legend - Ray Harroun


FIRST Indy 500 Winner - 1911

Ray Harroun averaged 74.59 mph in the race

Spent his retirement years in Anderson



Ray Harroun got into auto racing in the early 1900s and amazed everyone by finishing second to Louis Chevrolet in a race at Lowell, Massachusetts in 1906.  By 1910, he was the American Automobile Association racing champion.  He immediately announced his retirement so that he could concentrate on engine work.  However, that was short-lived.  Oddly enough, racing was secondary to him.  He was more interested in engines and automotive equipment than anything else.  He invented numerous automotive devices and held more than 100 patents.

Following the racing championship, the Marmon Automobile Company of Indianapolis hired him as its chief designer.  In 1911, Howard Marmon insisted Harroun drive the six-cylinder Marmon Wasp he have help design.  It was the only single-seater in the Indianapolis field that year.  In those days, racing solo was unheard of and mechanics always went along to occasionally relieve the driver.  The mechanic was also keeping the driver informed  of other cars' positions going into the curves.  Instead, Ray had put a rear view mirror on the car to take the place of the mechanic.  Harroun with stood fierce criticism from race officials and drivers, however, he finally prevailed and got approval from the control board for the mirror.

As if his mirror hadn't cause enough consternation to officials and drivers, Harroun made another "first" to upset everyone.  Ray had taken light aluminum and covered the wheels.  Race car wheels of the day had either wooden or wire wheel spokes.  Ray felt these were too much of a drag on speed, thus, the covers.  His idea was the subject of much scorn and ridicule.  But, the Wasp's performance that historic day on the now famous straight-a ways vindicated his idea and thinking.

On May 30, 1911, at 10 a.m. in the morning, a flashy Stoddard-Dayton roadster let a field of 40 racing machines, eight rows of five each, on the pace lap of the first-ever Indianapolis 500-Mile Race.  Forty-six cars had entered, but six failed to start.  As the early leaders fall behind, the yellow number 32 Marmon Wasp advanced through the field from his 28th starting position.  By the 200 mile mark, Ray Harroun was in front of the pack.  Mulford, driving number 33 Lozier, took the lead away from him twice, but couldn't hold it because of so many tire failures(14).

Harroun finished one minute and 43 seconds ahead of Mulford to claim the title.  He covered the 500 miles in six hours, 42 minutes, and eight seconds, averaging 74.59 miles per hour. 

Immediately following the race, Mulford filed an official protest claiming he had run 201 laps and should be declared the winner.  His claim was denied and Harroun was the victor.  Although, Ray Harroun had compiled an enviable racing record, at the age of 32, he decided to retire for good.  Ray continued to work for the Marmon Racing and later for the Maxwell racing team.

In 1917, Harroun started his own automobile company and continued working in the industry until his retirement at the age of 79 in 1958.  Earlier, in 1953, Ray had married Mary Alice Devore of Alexandria, his fifth wife.  They moved to Anderson where he would spend time designing cars and parts.  They would occasionally visit the Indianapolis Speedway to look over the new equipment.

Ray W. Harroun died January 19, 1968, at the age of 89.  He rests today in Anderson Memorial Park Cemetery.

  For more information, visit the Madison County History Center from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Memorial Dedicated

On May 1, 2016, the Harroun family and the Indiana Racing Memorial Association had a Memorial Marker Dedication for Ray at the Anderson Memorial Park Cemetery.  The marker can be seen any time at the cemetery.


Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|