Louis Schneider, 1931 Indy 500 Winner

Louis Schneider, 1931 Indy 500 Winner
(December 19, 1901 – September 22, 1942)

Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway; Louis Schneider, winner of the 1931 Indianapolis 500 with riding mechanic Jigger Johnson in his #23 Bowes Seal Fast Special

One of only two Indianapolis 500 winners born in Indianapolis, Louis Schneider attended Shortridge High School and Culver Military Academy before becoming a motorcycle policeman. By the mid-1920s, he was racing motorcycles, and in 1926, he was racing in AAA-sanctioned auto races.

Photo credit: nwitimes; Louis Schneider, 1931

In his six races at the Indianapolis 500, Schneider finished at the very top in 1931 and at the very bottom in 1933. The latter race comprised the largest field ever to race in the Indianapolis 500 — 42 cars in all. By finishing last that year, when his car stalled out on lap one, he earned a footnote for having the worst place finish in the history of the Indianapolis 500. Despite this dismal finish, Schneider was fortunate — two drivers and a mechanic died during the race and several others were injured in various crashes.

In 1930, he fielded his own car, a Miller, and finished third. Called the “Bowes Seal Fast Special,” it was one of the first examples of a car sponsorship funded by a product company rather than an auto manufacturer. His first-place finish in 1931 netted him $29,250, a purse deflated from the previous year by the Great Depression. He went on to win the AAA National Championship that year as well. His mechanic, Clay Ballinger, remembered Schneider as “an adventurous and emotional driver,” recalling a period during the 1932 Indianapolis 500 race when he and Wilbur Shaw spent several laps exchanging the lead, each becoming angrier every time they were passed by the other, Shaw taking his hand off the wheel for a moment to shake his fist at Schneider, who would then shake his own in return when he was passed. The two had off track battles as well. During the post-race celebration of Shaw’s 1937 victory, Schneider yelled something at Shaw, who later said “his smart crack touched me off like a skyrocket. I went over the fence like a monkey, landed on the other side, and hit Louis right on the nose faster than I can tell about it.”

Photo credit: Findagrave; Before his racing career, Louis Schneider was a motorcycle police officer
Louis Schneider is #19 on the Racing Legends Tour

Schneider did not always get along with the track officials either, and after racing in South America during the winter break, his 1934 entry into the Indianapolis 500 was refused. He never returned to the Indianapolis 500 but continued racing in what was called “Outlaw Racing” and in Midget Car Racing. In April 1938, Schneider was seriously injured in a midget race in San Diego. He hit a concrete wall and the car burst into flames. He was pulled to safety by a spectator, but his left arm was badly crushed, and his racing career ended. He died four years later from tuberculosis. Schneider was survived by his wife and teenage daughter, both now buried in Holy Cross in St. Joseph Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Schneider’s Indy 500 finishes: 16th in 1927; 11th in 1928; 3rd in 1930; 1st in 1931; 23rd in 1932, and 42nd in 1933.

Buried with his parents in Section 42, Lot 124, GPS (39.8212702,-86.1656900)

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