Edward V. Rickenbacker
EDWARD “EDDIE” V. RICKENBACKER, America’s World War I flying ace, was an Indianapolis 500 driver before he ever learned how to fly a plane. He started his auto racing career in 1910, participating as a relief driver in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Rickenbacker attracted national attention in 1914 with a series of dirt track victories, followed by additional triumphs on the new wooden board speedways. He started from the front row for the 1916 Indianapolis race and led the first nine laps before dropping out with mechanical trouble. This was the first year in which points were officially offered for certain American Automobile Association Championship races, and Rickenbacker won three races and placed third in the final standings. After returning from World War I, he started the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which in spite of building excellent automobiles, failed in 1926. In the summer of 1927, he led a group of investors who purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and elected him its president. Rickenbacker guided the Indianapolis 500 through the economic difficulties of the 1930s and also served as chairman of the American Automobile Association Contest Board for several years before selling the track to Anton Hulman, Jr. in November 1945. He made many improvements during those difficult times, adding a golf course in 1929, removing the dangerous outer banking in the turns in 1935, and beginning the process of paving over the bricks. The head of Eastern Airlines for many years, Rickenbacker was the only Indianapolis 500 driver who has been awarded the United States Congressional Medal of Honor.