René Thomas (racing driver)

René Thomas (7 March 1886 – 23 September 1975) was a French motor racing champion.[1] Thomas was also a pioneer aviator.[2] He won the 1914 Indianapolis 500.[3]

René Thomas
René Thomas at 1914 Indy 500.jpg
Thomas at the 1914 Indianapolis 500
Born(1886-03-07)7 March 1886
Périgueux, France
Died23 September 1975(1975-09-23) (aged 89)
Paris, France
Known forIndianapolis 500


He was born on 7 March 1886 in Périgueux, France.

A leading driver in his native France, René Thomas traveled to the United States to compete in the Indianapolis 500 on four occasions. He won the 1914 Indianapolis 500 on his inaugural try driving a Delage.[4]

He was given leave from the French Army during World War I so he could continue to race.[4] Laminated spring steel steering wheel were manufactured in the inter-war period engraved with Rene Thomas portrait and signature and were used particularly on Delage motorcars but also championed by racing ace Jean Chassagne on his winning 1922 TT Sunbeam.[5]

On 6 July 1924 at Arpajon, France, Thomas set a new world land speed record when he drove a Delage at 143.31 mph (230.64 km/h).

On 28 May 1973 he returned to Indianapolis to drive his winning Delage in a series of parade laps, prior to the start of the 1973 Indianapolis 500. Although he did not drive the car himself, he did sit in the seat where the riding mechanic would sit.

He died on 23 September 1975 in Paris, France, at age 89.[3]


Beginning around 1910 Thomas flew airplanes for the Antoinette company whose president was Leon Levavasseur. Hubert Latham was one of Thomas's fellow Antoinette test pilots. Thomas competed in early aviation competitions throughout Europe. In Milan Italy in October 1910 Thomas was involved in the world's first mid-air collision when his Antoinette monoplane fell onto the Farman biplane of Scottish aviator Captain Bertram Dickson. Thomas miraculously was not seriously injured but Dickson suffered internal injuries and never fully recovered, eventually dying in 1913.

Indy 500 resultsEdit


  1. ^ : Rene Thomas
  2. ^ Champagne|Berceau De L'Aviation Du Monde: Rene Thomas
  3. ^ a b "Rene Thomas, 1914 Indianapolis Winner, Is Dead. French Racing Driver Who Set Record of 82.4mph With a Delage Was 89". New York Times. September 25, 1975. Retrieved 2012-10-02. Rene Thomas, the French racing driver who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1914, died here yesterday. He was 89 years old.
  4. ^ a b "Rene Thomas Coming Here To Race. Famous French Driver Gets Leave From Army. One of the Most Resourceful Pilots in the World". Boston Globe. February 27, 1916. Retrieved 2012-10-02. The internationally famed Rene Thomas, winner of the 1914 500-mile international sweepstakes race, has been given freedom from military service in France and will drive, May 30, in the sixth annal international sweepstakes race at ...[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Motor Sport & Clutton (1948), P.77
Preceded by Indianapolis 500 Winner
Succeeded by