REVISED AND EXPANDED — This excellent five-minute newsreel footage of the 1946 Indianapolis 500, won by George Robson, includes a very special narrator: the legendary sports announcer Red Barber.
We got lucky, folks. This little film-to-video of the 1946 Indy 500 is actually three period newsreels spliced together end-to-end, so we’re treated to excellent event coverage from RKO-Pathe News, Movietone News, and Castle Films. As an added bonus, the RKO-Pathe segment is called by Red Barber, the famed Reds, Dodgers, and Yankees announcer. What a pleasure it is to hear him at work. Barber’s voice sounds remarkably like that of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famed historian, Donald Davidson—it’s almost uncanny.
There very nearly was no Indianapolis 500 in 1946. The Speedway was virtually abandoned all through the World War II years, left to rot. But three-time winner Wilbur Shaw persuaded a young Indiana grocery tycoon, Tony Hulman, to purchase and refurbish the facility. Hulman and Shaw, who became the track’s president, had the track in rough but ready condition in time for the May classic, which featured a ragtag assortment of mainly pre-war race cars.
Only seven cars held together long enough finish the race, but a crowd of 170,000, said at the time to be the largest crowd for a sporting event in American history, watched California driver George Robson arrive first at the checkered flag driving the Sparks-Thorne Little Six. An Indiana sporting tradition was reborn that, despite all its ups and downs, thrives to this day.
Tragically, winner Robson was killed in a racing crash at Atlanta later that year. Early death was an all-too-common fate among race drivers in those days, unfortunately. Viewing the video, you’ll wonder how many of the drivers managed to survive this race, including Mauri Rose, who would win the Indy 500 the following year. These were brave men. Watch and be amazed.