AS THE INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY SAT IDLE THROUGH THE WAR YEARS OF 1942 though '45, a question began to press on the minds of auto racing fans: Would the Indy 500 return as a glorious race? After four years the track was dilapidated and all but abandoned. Then, on Nov. 14, 1945, a 44-year-old baking-powder magnate named Tony Hulman Jr. from Terre Haute, Ind., bought the track from Eddie Rickenbacker for $750,000. He helped modernize the track's facilities and buffed its appearance to attract fans after the four-year hiatus. The track was restored, and cars traveled faster than ever on it, once again turning the 500 into the most popular race in America.
Other, smaller touches helped build tradition. In 1947 Hulman's wife, Mary, suggested the speedway release thousands of balloons before each race, a spectacle that's been repeated every year since. A few years later the facility's general manager, Wilbur Shaw, would begin the tradition of announcing, "Gentlemen, start your engines!" before each race—now a custom at nearly every track across the country.
In 1946 the Brickyard also welcomed the debut of announcer Tom Carnegie, who would call Indy races for 60 years, coining his own popular announcements such as "Heeeee's on it!" and "And it's a neeew track record!" (Carnegie died at age 91, in February 2011.)
Mauri Rose, the mercurial driver known for his controversial wins, took the checkered flag three times in the 1940s, sharing a ride and finishing as co-champion with teammate Floyd Davis in '41, then winning solo in '47 and '48. Rose capped the decade by getting fired by owner Lou Moore in '49 for ignoring his crew's signals and trying to beat out teammate Bill Holland. Something better that happened in '49: the first live TV broadcast of an Indy 500. The track's attendance soared, and so did interest from sponsors and the media. It was official. The Indy 500 was back.