There are lots of really fast diesels these days. You’ll find diesel dragsters, diesel pullers, even diesel watercraft, but did you know that a diesel powered car once set the fastest lap and took the pole position at the Indy 500. Yes, a diesel powered car beat the best at the “Brickyard” during the qualifying sessions of the 1952 Indy 500, the greatest of all American motorsports events.
It was, and still to this day is, the only diesel powered vehicle to ever to capture the Indy 500 pole. Cummins had been there before, but returned to the Indy 500 with an innovation new to the Speedway. The car was turbocharged. It also featured a unique angled engine design (it was referred to as “laid-over”). The tilted engine allowed the drivetrain to be offset and gave the car a lower center of gravity. This created better handling on the banked turns.
The No. 28 Cummins Diesel Special was also the first Indy car ever tested in a wind tunnel for aerodynamics. Freddie Agabashian drove the No. 28 car like a bat out of hell, tearing the tread off of the front right tire, but he got the job done. He nailed down the pole position, running the fastest single-lap time (139.104 mph), as well as the fastest four-lap time (138.010 mph) in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, up to that point.
Although it started the race well, the No. 28 Cummins Diesel Special suffered a clogged turbocharger inlet, and mid-way through the race it was out of the action. Rubber debris on the track had been sucked up into the inlet. No matter, this performance put turbocharging and diesel technology on the map as a viable racing technology. The video above offers dramatic footage of the 1952 Cummins Diesel Special qualifying for the race.