1939 Indianapolis 500 Winner

Wilber Shaw in the Maserati 8CTF - Winner of the 1939 Indianapolis 500

In 1938, Ernesto Maserati developed the Maserati 8CTF to compete with the likes of Mercedes and Auto Union on the European GP circuit. Although not particularly successful on the continent, the car gained fame stateside with victory in the Indianapolis 500. 

Michael Joseph Boyle (1881-1958) had been campaigning cars at Indy for over a decade. "Umbrella Mike" was the powerful business manager of local 134 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Chicago, and is said to have gotten his nickname due to receiving payoffs dropped into his open umbrella. When not brokering pardons for Governor Len Small, Boyle was building a well funded race team. By 1938, that team included the respected mechanic Cotton Henning and driver Wilber Shaw. It is said that Shaw and Boyle attended the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup revival at Roosevelt race track and were impressed with the foreign cars. Henning contacted Maserati who was very open to establishing a foothold in America. Boyle paid the considerable sum of $15,000 in 1938 and Maserati shipped a new eight-cylinder, 3.0 liter, twin super-charged 8CTF. Apparently   during the Atlantic crossing, the water in the cooling system froze and cracked the block which Henning repaired. 

"Umbrella" Mike Boyle circa 1917 - photo credit: The Chicago Tribune

The Maserati was not the most powerful or fastest car entered in 1939 - it qualified third. However, it had an advantage over the American built specials, in the form of superior handling and braking. Wilber Shaw, who had won his first Indy 500 in 1937 (and came 2nd in 1938), would use this advantage to brake later and accelerate out of the turn ahead of the pack. The Maserati would deliver both Shaw and Boyle their 2nd Indy 500 victory. The same car delivered victory to Shaw and Boyle again in 1940 (wearing the #1 it shows today) and Shaw would lead the race with the car, yet again in 1941, until he lost a wheel and crashed - ending his driving career.

The car lived on and continued to be competitive in the hands of Ted Horn and Lee Wallard right up through 1950! Today the car is one of the stars of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum's collection.

Mike Boyle would continue to hold power over the union until his death in Miami Beach Florida in 1958. Wilber Shaw would be instrumental in saving the Indianapolis track - bringing in Tony Hulman to purchase it and serving as president of the track until his death in 1954.

The 1939 & 1940 Indy 500 winning Maserati today - from the author's collection

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