“Umbrella” Mike Boyle’s Racing Headquarters Lives Again

Bill Shaw with the replica Boyle Maserati. He once drove the original. Photo: Fritz Frommeyer

by Fritz Frommeyer

“Penske-like” is how the Boyle racing team of the ’20s and ’30s has been described. Top drivers and cars raced out of the stable owned by Chicago labor leader “Umbrella” Mike Boyle, claiming four victories at Indianapolis.

For years, the building that was Boyle’s racing headquarters sat in near collapse just off 16th Street in Indianapolis a few miles east of the Speedway. Now, the building has been resurrected by a dedicated group of enthusiasts with the aid of a local developer.

Boyle’s best years at Indianapolis came just before World War II when driver Wilbur Shaw’s near hat trick was prevented by collapsed wheel in 1941, the final race before the war. Winning in 1939 and 1940 and leading in 1941, Shaw was ahead for 294 of his 551 laps. Driving his own car, Shaw also won in 1937.

The third principal of the team was manager and mechanical chief Harry “Cotton” Henning. He also prepped two other Indianapolis winners.

With the Speedway shut down during the war, Shaw learned that the track was up for sale as a real estate development. Shaw couldn’t let that happen, so he put together a plan to save it from extinction. After two years of knocking on doors he took his case to Terre Haute, Indiana, businessman Anton “Tony” Hulman, who bought the Speedway, promising to put money back into the track.

Shaw’s success with Boyle had much to do with the Maserati 8CTF that he asked Boyle to buy for him after being impressed with Maseratis at the 1937 Vanderbilt Cup race. With Henning’s expert tuning, the car became unbeatable. A replica of that car is in the former Boyle building, the original in the IMS Museum.

Recognizing the importance of the Boyle facility, the Indiana Racing Memorial Association unveiled a historical marker at the site.

IMS president Doug Boles attended the marker’s unveiling. “To do something like this and keep the history going, thank you,” Boles exclaimed. “It means so much, and the story of Wilbur Shaw goes well beyond the story of a racecar driver.”

Also present was Shaw’s son, Wilbur, Jr., who goes by Bill. He is a former racer, finishing 5th in a NART Ferrari at the Daytona 24 Hours in 1973.

“Dad felt that he owed everything that he had become to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway…and he could not see the Speedway demolished.” Shaw said that his father, Boyle, and Henning were “a good mix.”