Howard “Howdy” Samuel Wilcox, 1919 Indy 500 Winner

Howard “Howdy” Samuel Wilcox, 1919 Indy 500 Winner
(June 24, 1889 – September 4, 1923)

“Howdy” Wilcox was born in Crawfordsville, IN on June 24, 1889, and lived most of his short life in Indianapolis. He was the only driver to race in each of the first 11 Indianapolis 500s, starting in 1911, and was the first to qualify at 100 mph. Wilcox finished four times in the top 10 and won the race in 1919 after starting in the second position and leading the last 98 laps of the 200-lap race.

Photo credit:; Howdy Wilcox, 1919

He also won a 100-mile event held at the Speedway on Labor Day 1910. Before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opened in 1909, Wilcox raced for Arthur Newby’s National Motor Vehicle Team. (Newby was one of the four Indianapolis Motor Speedway founders; all are buried in Crown Hill.)

Photo credit: findagrave; Howdy Wilcox, Indianapolis 500 winner in 1919

Wilcox’s 1919 victory came after a difficult race that left three dead and another critically injured. Wilcox had been unflappable. He drove a French Peugeot racecar, sponsored by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway itself and owned by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Founders Carl Fisher and James Allison. His car was so dependable he needed only three pit stops. The biggest problem for him that day, he said, was a bump in Turn 1: “Hit it [just right] and you could land in downtown Indianapolis.” It was also a popular victory. As the first American to win the race since 1912— when another local driver, Joe Dawson, had won — Wilcox’s triumph inspired someone in the band to strike up the song, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” and a tradition was born.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons; Howdy Wilcox, 1920

Wilcox also entered the history books with an interesting footnote in 1923 while driving on a team sponsored by Harry Stutz. He started the race after a terrible qualifying speed of only 81 mph, the slowest of all the drivers. Fortunately, his car found speed on race day, and by lap 50, Wilcox was in the lead, and he was still leading 10 laps later when his engine gave out, knocking him out of the race. When driver Tommy Milton burnt his hands, Wilcox came in as his relief driver. He drove Milton’s car, which had started with a record-breaking qualifying speed of 108.17, then led for 41 of his 48 laps. Wilcox drove it until Milton was able to return, hands bandaged. Though Wilcox did not finish the race, he was the second highest lap leader and earned the distinction of being the only driver to drive both the slowest and fastest qualifying cars in the same Indy 500 race and to lead the race in two different cars. He was inducted into the IMS Hall of Fame in 1963.

Howdy Wilcox is #57 on the Racing Legends Tour

Wilcox died on September 4, 1923, following a racing accident on the steeply banked wooden track at Altoona, Pennsylvania. He was buried on the family lot on Section 56 with his infant son, Howard Jr., who died in 1918, and his 30-year-old wife who died the year before in 1922 after a lengthy illness. Wilcox was survived by another very young son and daughter, Howard S. “Howdy” Wilcox (1920-2002), and Marian Wilcox Dalton (1921-2010). Both were raised by their paternal grandmother. His son “Howdy” made a name for himself in Indiana by founding the “Little 500” bicycle race at Indiana University and was a major player in the founding of the 500 Festival activities, as well as of his own public relations firm. He was entombed in the Community Mausoleum (F-16-2A) in October 2002, and Marian was buried with her parents in 2010.

Wilcox’s Indy 500 finishes: 14th in 1911; 9th in 1912; 6th in 1913; 22nd in 1914; 7th in 1915 (he started at the pole with a qualifying average of 98.9 mph in a Stutz); 7th in 1916; 1st in 1919; 19th in 1920; 23rd in 1921; 27th in 1922, and 17th in 1923.

Buried within Section 56, Lot 240, GPS (39.8215030,-86.1781680)

Learn more about Howdy Wilcox on our Racing Legends Tour on our Tour App. You can listen to an audio file about Wilcox recorded by IMS Historian Donald Davidson.