Over the years, the Coca Cola company has sponsored numerous sporting events, both professionally and in college, but did they ever sponsor a NASCAR race? It seems that the popular soft drink company has left many people asking that very question, and today we’re going to explore whether or not Coca Cola was, in fact, ever a corporate sponsor of the Indy Motor Speedway.
The Early Years
The first Indy 500 was held in 1911 and was an instant hit, drawing huge, enthusiastic crowds. It soon became a regular event, held each May, and even then the drawcard was the glamour of the racing and the unique atmosphere in such a small town. Coca Cola wasn’t the only company taking an interest in the fledgling race either; other major sponsors included Anheuser-Busch and Pabst Brewing Company. In fact, before the inaugural edition of the Indy 500, teams had already started gathering for practice sessions, having to put up with the cold temperatures that would cause discomfort to anyone not suited to the Indiana climate. It’s safe to assume that not many people were doing practice laps in those days, as the tracks were nowhere near as sophisticated and the gear minimal compared to today.
The Roaring ’20s
Although the cars had changed, the popularity of the event didn’t diminish in the least in the early 20s. In fact, it actually peaked during this decade as car ownership jumped up, along with road trips and leisure trips to the country. The biggest change during this time was the tracks themselves; the first super speedway, with separate features for racing and qualifying, was built in 1922 and paved the way for future tracks. The same year, the Indianapolis 500 became an annual event, taking place every other year. Teams had to content themselves with half-tracks at first, but these were gradually upgraded to full-blown, finely tuned touring cars, and soon, full-length chassis. The engine capacity also increased as the decades went on, from a starting capacity of 4.5 liters in 1923 to a whopping 9.6 liters in 1948.
The Great Depression
The Great Depression wasn’t kind to professional sports in general, and the Indy 500 was no exception. In fact, the only professional sports teams to survive were those that had a ready-made following before the economic crisis, such as the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The rest were either unable to pay their players or had to cut costs in other areas, such as travel and advertisement, to make up for the revenue lost due to fewer spectators and a lower number of betting transactions. The Indianapolis 500 was no exception and, in fact, only two iterations of the race were held in 1933, the first being canceled due to the poor economic climate and the second one being moved to Detroit to allow the cars to drive on actual roads instead of just on track. The move was a success and, given that all the roads were still there, the cars didn’t even need to be driven on the track! The event returned to Indianapolis in 1934 and has remained there ever since.
World War II
The world changed in many ways during World War II, including the way people viewed sports. While many sports teams were able to resume playing after the war, others were not so fortunate. In the case of the Indy 500, a lot of preparations had to be made to ensure that the race would go ahead as usual, including getting safety equipment approved and procuring all the equipment needed for medical purposes in case there were any accidents. Due to the nature of the event and the amount of work that had to be done, the Indy 500 was postponed for the duration of the war. However, after the war ended, the cars were driven on the track for a victory parade, which was one of the final events held before the first race was held in more than three years. The cars were driven at reduced speeds to allow for the celebrations to take place without any accidents or injuries.
Things changed significantly in the decade that followed. After years of trying to get to the big time by becoming a sponsor, Coca Cola went all in, buying up exclusive rights to the brand name and becoming a full corporate sponsor of the Indianapolis 500. This was a smart move as it helped them gain notoriety on a global scale, not just in Indiana. They also equipped some of their racecars with special Coca Cola body decals, which were extremely popular, especially among the female fans. Due to their overwhelming popularity, the body decals were later reissued as a commemorative coin for the 65th anniversary of the company. In 1948, Coca Cola became a mainstay as a sponsor, even after the event was removed from the active sports calendar. It remained a sponsor until the early 1990s, continuing even after the Indy 500 had become a popular NASCAR event. However, due to the economic hardship of the Great Depression, many fans might not have been able to afford the luxury of staying at home and watching the race on television, so it’s possible that many of them still got their fix when the race was held in person.
The Post-War Years
While many companies have left the scene, Coca Cola has remained a mainstay of the Indianapolis 500 as the population has changed. The company initially tried to capitalize on the increased interest in cars by selling them refreshments outside the stadium, something that had never been done before in the history of the event. However, this was unsuccessful and traffic eventually became such a problem that the company had to leave. The stadium now tries to cater to everyone, with food booths, souvenir shops, and even ice cream trucks parked outside. Since the inception of the race, attendance has steadily climbed, from a reported 7,000 in 1911 to a capacity crowd of 135,000 in 2018. This is partially due to the fact that it’s become a popular NASCAR event, with the Indy 500 serving as the halfway point of the season, and partially due to the increasing interest in cars in general, something that was certainly present during World War II.
While the cars have changed, the stadium itself has not. In fact, aside from the addition of more bathrooms and some concession stands, the interior of the stadium has remained largely unchanged. This might be because the company that owns the stadium is also the organization that owns the rights to the Indy 500, so they have every incentive not to make any major changes. The organization does work hard to keep the charm of the early days alive, repairing broken seats, picking up trash, and adding some decorations here and there, but overall, the stadium looks much as it did in the 1950s.
Was Coca Cola A Sponsor Of The Indy Motor Speedway?
While the cars might have changed, the sponsor itself has remained the same for more than a century. It seems that the only major change will be in the form of the logo that might appear upon the cars at some point in the future, given how technology advances and the world changes around us.