Thomas “Tom” Binford

Thomas “Tom” Binford

Tom Binford was introduced to the Indianapolis 500 in 1935 when he attended the race with his family. It left a definite impression; he noted in his biography that a person behind him kept dropping fried chicken down his back. By 1955, his company, D-A Lubricant, was sponsoring racecars and he was serving on the newly formed USAC Board of Directors, becoming its president in 1957, a post he held for 13 years. He followed that by serving for 23-years, from 1973 to 1995, as Indy 500 Chief Steward, a post he left after the conclusion of the 1995 race to become the first commissioner of the Indy Racing League.

Binford described his job as Chief Steward as being like the role of a Chief Executive Officer in a corporation, a role he knew very well, “literally personally responsible for the conduct of all racing activities, the application of regulations, and the determining of finishing positions.” His most controversial decision led to a one-lap penalty to Bobby Unser for illegally passing cars as he exited the pits during a yellow. The penalty wasn’t given until hours after the conclusion of the 1981 race and took the victory away from Unser and gave it to Mario Andretti. His penalty was overruled by a USAC appeals board five months later.

In addition to his involvement in racing, Binford was one of Indianapolis’ most influential men as a pioneer, visionary and civil rights leader. He rose from leading a couple of family businesses, including D-A Lubricant, to serving on the board of directors of Indianapolis Power & Light, Indianapolis Water, Rose-Hulman University, and other corporations, in addition to his racing connections. He also served on the Crown Hill Cemetery Board of Corporators. He was chairman and CEO of Indiana National Corporation, the holding company for the largest bank in the state of Indiana, from 1976 to 1981, and the acting president of DePauw University from 1975 to 1976. Binford was widely recognized locally for his efforts to share the power that so easily came his way with those who met obstacles because of their race or sex. He was a founder of the Urban League here in Indianapolis. “Binford Boulevard” on the northeast side of Indianapolis is named in his honor.

Tom Binford is #59 on our self-guided Racing Legends Tour and is included in our Racing Legends Tour App to be released on June 26.

Location: Section 61, Lot 26; GPS (39.8196247, -86.1771826)