Did You Know?: Purdue Grand Prix

April 19, 2013  

Grand Prix

The Purdue Grand Prix began on May 17, 1958 as a way for the University's engineering students to exercise their skills, knowledge and enthusiasm. (Photo courtesy Purdue University Libraries Archives and Special Collections)
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"The Greatest Spectacle in College Racing" began as a dream for a group of Purdue students, who were looking for an event to allow engineering students to showcase their skills and enthusiasm. That dream became a reality on May 17, 1958, with the running of the first Purdue Grand Prix.

The first kart race was run on a field and adjacent parking lot near the Recreational Gymnasium. The first karts were built from scratch and featured lawnmower engines. They could barely exceed 30 miles per hour. After 144 laps, James Moneyhun of Gable Courts won the first Grand Prix.

The race was moved to a new location in 1969. The new track, located northeast of Ross-Ade Stadium, was carefully modeled after a kart championship track in Japan. In 2009, the track was moved again. The $1 million track is west of the corner of McCormick Road and Cherry Lane. It resembles its predecessor but is wider and safer for drivers and crews. The new track also includes an updated scoring system.

The Grand Prix now draws more than 50 team entries each year. More than 350 participants are involved in the Grand Prix race, which draws more than 5,000 spectators every April. Today's karts cost around $5,000 each, and they are able to reach top speeds close to 50 miles per hour.

The Purdue Auto Club coordinated the race from its beginning to 1966, when the Grand Prix Foundation took it over. The primary purpose of the race is to raise funds for student scholarships through the Grand Prix Foundation.

"The annual Grand Prix race has become one of Purdue's most notable traditions anticipated by students, faculty, alumni and the surrounding community," says Mary Farlow, director of promotions for the Purdue Grand Prix Foundation.

For some former racers, including David Fuhrman, who won the 1981 Grand Prix, the event is a top reason to keep coming back to the West Lafayette campus.

"There is nothing like it anywhere in the country," Fuhrman says. "There are a few imitators, but it is by far the largest and most involved kart race on any campus."

The 56th annual Purdue Grand Prix is April 20. More information on the race can be found online at www.purduegrandprix.org/race-information.

Source: A University of Tradition: The Spirit at Purdue. Purdue University Press, 2012.

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