In 1920, French-born driver Gaston Chevrolet won the Indianapolis 500, becoming the third Frenchman to win in the first eight editions of the event.
Little did anyone know it would be 99 years before a French driver would again win at the greatest spectacle in racing.
Sunday, some 36,154 days later, the day belonged to Poitiers, France native Simon Pagenaud. The 2016 IndyCar Series champion won the race’s 103rd edition from the pole, earning triumph over 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi in a riveting final-laps battle.
Pagenaud soaked in the win for himself and his country, stopping on the track at the start-finish line and delaying the traditional victory-lane celebration and milk-drinking to celebrate with his team, family and friends. Perhaps Chevrolet had done the same nearly a century earlier.
If you’re wondering if Gaston Chevrolet has something to do with that Chevrolet, you’d be correct — as I found out in some brief research after Sunday’s race.
His brother Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Car Company in 1911 after moving to the United States. Gaston, Louis and brother Arthur co-founded the Frontenac Motor Corporation in 1916, a racecar manufacturer, and all three competed in the Indianapolis 500 multiple times, including Gaston’s 1920 victory.
Frontenac also won the 1921 Indy 500 with driver Tommy Milton before the company folded later that year. Chevrolet, of course, has become one of the largest auto brands in the world and is heavily involved in many forms of auto racing, including IndyCar.
Chevrolet eventually earned their first Indianapolis 500 win as a manufacturer with Rick Mears in 1988; Sunday was their 11th.
Hopefully Pagenaud’s fate after his 500 victory is better than that of Gaston Chevrolet: While his 500 triumph helped propel him to the AAA National Championship in 1920, he was killed in the season’s final race in Los Angeles.