At the turn of the last century, auto racing was in its infancy and was a most dangerous pursuit. Many drivers were killed. One who lived to die quietly many years later was George G. Henderson of Fernie, B.C. Known as Pete, he was – as far as we know – the first Canadian to race as a driver in the famed Indianapolis 500, was the first Canadian to be employed as a works driver for a major automobile manufacturer (Duesenberg), was the first Canadian to compete regularly on the AAA championship circuit, which evolved into USAC and then CART/IRL, and he was, we believe, the first Canadian to win what today would be called an Indy car race – an AAA national championship race on the two-mile board track at Maywood Speedway in Chicago in October, 1917. Born in 1895 in Ontario, Pete went to British Columbia as an infant when his father moved the family to Fernie and started the Fernie Free Press, which is still in business today. In his teens, Pete went to study automotive engineering at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. He started his racing career as a riding mechanic in 1915. He drove in his first 500 in 1916 for Eddie Rickenbacker’s team (he was credited with sixth) and his last in 1920, when he finished tenth. It was his last race. He retired and settled in Los Angeles where he died in 1940 while employed as a civilian aircraft inspector for the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Image via Indy 500 archives.