Oldsmobile will be front and center at the Indianapolis 500 for the 10th time Sunday, the 84th running of the race.
For the second time in three years, an Oldsmobile will be the official pace car, leading 33 drivers around the famous 2 and 1/2-mile oval.
The pace car honors started for Oldsmobile in 1949, when former race-car driver Wilbur Shaw drove the celebrated Rocket V-8 convertible at the Memorial Day classic. That was America’s first look at the high-compression, high-performance overhead-valve V-8 combining the lightweight Olds “76” chassis with the powerful new 303-cubic-inch, 135-horsepower engine.
The Rocket “88” soon became known as the affordable and potent performance car that established the Oldsmobile division as a leader in powertrain technology. This technology leadership has followed Oldsmobile through the years with the 394-cubic-inch, 315-horsepower V-8 found in the 1960 “98” five-passenger convertible that paced the 1960 race, driven by Sam Hanks of Indy racing fame.
The even more powerful 455-cubic-inch, 365-horsepower 1970 Oldsmobile 442 V-8 pace car followed a decade later with Indy favorite Roger Ward piloting the car.
In 1972, the Hurst/Oldsmobile Cutlass, driven by former race-car driver Jim Rathmann, had a 455-cubic-inch, 300-horsepower power plant requiring unleaded gas, resulting in a lower compression ratio. A total of 130 replica H/O convertibles and 499 coupes were produced for collectors and sold through select Oldsmobile dealerships.
Oldsmobile in 1974 continued the Hurst/Oldsmobile Cutlass official pace car tradition with the W-30 designation. Mr. Rathmann again lead the pack as the pace-car driver.
The Delta 88 with 403-cubic-inch displacement was used as the 1977 pace car, with the driving chores going to actor and car racer James Garner.
Engine technology was evident in the 1985 pace car when the Oldsmobile Calais, again driven by Mr. Garner, featured the 2.7-liter, 215-horsepower Quad 4. This was the first Oldsmobile pace car with four cylinders and front-wheel drive. This modified version of the dual-overhead-cam Quad 4 engine required upgrades to the engine mounts and drivetrain to accommodate the increased power. The car also was modified to create an open-top model by removing the roof from a coupe.
The 1988 Cutlass Supreme, driven by U.S. Air Force Gen. Chuck Yeager, had a 2.3-liter, 250-horsepower, Quad 4 with a turbocharger. This was the first time a special head-up display was seen, projecting data on the windshield.
The ninth time an Oldsmobile was welcomed as the Indy pace car was in 1997 when race-car driver Johnny Rutherford drove the Aurora. The 4-liter, 250-horsepower V-8 was a stock production vehicle with the USAC-required safety equipment as the only modifications. The IRL Aurora V-8 racing engine that won the Indianapolis 500 in its first appearance was based on the design of the production Aurora V-8 used in this pace car.
The Oldsmobile technology transfer continues with the newest pace car, the 2001 Aurora. This year’s car is powered by a modified 4-liter, DOHC V-8. The production and racing versions of the Aurora V-8 engine share similar “architecture” and technology, including lightweight aluminum construction, four-valve combustion-chamber design, dual chain-driven overhead camshafts and electronic engine management.
A new 3.5-liter version of the methanol-burning IRL Aurora V-8 racing engine, to be introduced next season, is expected to produce 650 horsepower and rev to 11,000 rpm.
The Aurora pace car features a unique graphics and paint treatment with a checkered-flag motif. The color blends from solid orange paint at the front into orange-and-white checkers at the rear, with an Oldsmobile logo on the hood, Aurora emblems on the fenders and Indianapolis 500 logos on the doors.
This year the pace-car driver was chosen from the popular television show “ER.” Anthony Edwards, who portrays Dr. Mark Greene on the show, also has appeared in more than 20 feature films and has received four Emmy nominations for his work. Mr. Edwards said he has always been a huge fan of auto racing and that he is ready to set the pace in the new Aurora, in what auto enthusiasts would say is his most important performance to date.