May 30, 1911, marked the largest racing purse to ever be offered to that date, $27,550 and drew 46 entries from the United States and Europe, of which 40 qualified by sustaining 75 miles per hour for a quarter-mile distance. Weight was limited to 2300 lbs and a maximum engine displacement of 600 cubic-inches (9.83-liters).
Ray Harroun won the First Indianapolis 500 race driving this 6-cylinder Marmon Wasp. Ray started in the 28th position and ran the car at an average speed of 74.602 miles per hour. Ray's Success was attributed to the car being the first single passenger race car and also the first vehicle of any type fitted with a rear view mirror.
Harroun drove the Marmon Wasp again 50 years later at the age of 79 for the 50th anniversary of the Indianapolis circuit in 1961.
Harroun drove the Marmon, which was built in Indianapolis, without the assistance of a riding mechanic, and he was the only driver to do so in the race. When some of his rivals objected, claiming he would be a hazard on the course because he might not be aware of cars overtaking him, he built and installed what many authorities believed to be the first rear-view mirror ever used on an automobile.
The Marmon Motor Company, formerly the Nordyke and Marmon Company, produced approximately 250,000 vehicles between the years of 1903 and 1933. It is estimated that around 350 examples exist in modern times. Perhaps the most famous Marmon still in existence, and arguably of all time, was the Marmon Wasp.
The Marmon Wasp was entered in the Inaugural Indianapolis 500 Race in 1911. It was driven by Ray Harroun and qualified in 289th position. The car was uniquely different from the other competitors; it had seating for one. The other cars had seating for two, one for the driver and the other for the mechanic. With seating for just one, the Marmon was streamlined and weighed less weight. When others complained of the dangers of a single-seater vehicle, Harroun fitted the car with rear-view mirrors. This was the first time a rear view mirror was ever used on a race (or passenger) car.
To this day, Harroun still holds an Indy 500 record; no one has ever come from the 28th (or worse) starting position to win the race. The car averaged 74.602 miles per hour. The total time was 6:42:08 for the 500-mile race. In winning the race, Harroun was awarded with $14,250.
Harroun was only 29 years old when he achieved the historic victory. He was an engineer for the Marmon Motor Car Company and the designer of the six-cylinder Marmon Wasp. The car was named 'Wasp' due to its sharp-pointed, wasp-like tail and its yellow-and-black paint scheme. The long pointed tail reduced air drag. In 1961, he drove the Wasp in a 50th Anniversary lap at the Indy 500.
By Daniel Vaughan | Jun 2008