When Will Overhead Won The Indy 500

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Many of the drivers that won the Indianapolis 500 have had their names become immortalized. Names like Shaw, Foyt, Mears and Unser will live forever in the annals of the Indianapolis 500. But have you heard the name Overhead? When did he win the race?

A little bit of Indy trivia has almost been eroded away over the years. During the 1933 Indianapolis 500, the citizens of Walsenburg, CO were led to believe that a relatively unknown driver by the name of Will Overhead had won the race. In the golden days of newspapers, most of the special stories were sent by telegraph. Since the telegraph wires were above ground, an industry insider would refer to this as sending an overhead.

While the race was only at the halfway point, the young editor of The World-Independent of Walsenburg had received his last news reports of the day by telephone. He thought it was important to go to print with the final results of the race. The editor sent a telegram to the Denver office of the Associated Press asking them to send him the results of the 500. In response, the Denver office sent a telegram back that said “WILL OVERHEAD 500 WINNER”.

Anyone knowing the industry jargon of the day, would have known that this meant that they would send the results via telegraph when the race was over. But the young editor was green, and he assumed it meant that Will Overhead had won the race.

The young editor was familiar with most of the big names in the race, but he had never heard of a driver named Overhead. But he was up against a deadline, so he ran with it. To make matters worse, he improvised and wrote an elaborate story how an unknown driver named Will Overhead had started from the back of the field and charged his way up to take command in the latter stages and win the Indianapolis 500.

For the record, the winner of the 1933 Indianapolis 500 was Louie Meyer. This was the second of three victories for Meyer, who would win again in 1936 to become the first three-time winner of the 500, the first to drink milk in Victory Lane and the first to receive the Borg-Warner trophy. There was no Will Overhead in the race that year or any other.

But to the readers of The World-Independent in Walsenburg, CO on May 31; the winner was Will Overhead. I’m not sure that this rivals the infamous "Dewey Defeats Truman” headline following the 1948 presidential election, but it always generates a few laughs and is definitely worthy of remembering as one of the many little gems from the Indianapolis 500.

George Phillips

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14 Responses to “When Will Overhead Won The Indy 500”

  1. This isn’t April 1st is it?

  2. Does that mean that Will Power is a second generation driver?

  3. Ron Ford Says:

    No one will ever accuse you of not doing your homework George. Your research is always impressive. Where do you come up with this stuff?

    Reports of Ed Carpenter getting a ride were a bit fuzzy, but welsome news indeed.

  4. if only the telegram read, “I WILL OVERHEAD 500 WINNER”

  5. As a long-time stringer (freelance) photographer for AP I have been well aware of this story for many years. Just last weekend I told the story to someone I had just met who has some background in broadcasting but did not know this tale.

  6. Bruce Philbrick Says:

    George – I must admit that you’ve really crossed the line this time maligning Will Overhead.

    What is this rubbish about Will not winning the INDY 500?

    Next, I imagine that you are going to tell us that there is no connection between the famous Indy driver, Will Overhead, and the Overhead Company here in the Northeast!

    Hopefully, none of the employees of the Overhead (Garage) Door Company get wind of your outrageous berating of Will.

    If they do, be forewarned that they just may be capable of jaming the frequency of your electronic garage door opener.

    No Will Overhead, indeed!.

  7. Walt Tabak Says:

    George

    • Walt Tabak Says:

      George
      Nice job, going into detail, explaining the Will Ovewrhead story, for people wo were not familiar with the story.
      It was kind of fun seeing some of the responese it generated.
      Walt Tabak

  8. A good story for sure. Another little known related item is the William (Will) Overhead was the inventor of the Overhead Cam engine, often used in modern automobiles.

  9. Bob Sellers Says:

    This did not require much research as my dad, John Sellers, wrote an article on this a few years ago which was included in that years Indianapolis 500 official program. He even included a copy of the front page of the paper to prove it actually happened.

    • I once was a writer for the Walsenburg Huerfano World and dug out the bound copy of the story to look at it (having rememered mention of it in a college journalism textbook). Didn’t have a way to copy the story though. Do you still have a copy? I’d gladly pay for it. You can message me via facebook or send me an e-mail to outlawtaxi@earthlink.net.

  10. Doug Hargrove Says:

    I worked for the World Independent when I was a boy (50’s & 60’s; the man (George Zanon) who wrote the headline and story owned it by then. Just proves that one blunder doesn’t always end a career. And, to this date, I’ve never seen even a typo in it or its successors!

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