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500 facts: the '60s

The era that ended the roadster



292. Jim Rathman and Rodger Ward gave Indy fans perhaps the greatest two-man duel ever seen in 1960.

Ward and Rathman spent the latter half of the '60 500 swapping the position at the front of the field in a race that saw 29 lead changes — a record that would stand until the next century. On lap 197, Ward noticed that one of his tires was dangerously worn, and Ward's cautious driving over the course of the last three laps allowed Rathmann to pull ahead for good.

293. A homemade scaffold in the Indy infield collapsed during a parade lap just prior to the 1960 500, killing two.

Makeshift scaffolds and bleachers were once allowed in the infield at IMS. According to UPI reports from the 1960 disaster, a fan named Wilbur Shortridge, Jr., built a fairly tall multi-tiered scaffold that was supported by the bed of his truck. Shortridge charged fans between $5 and $10 to climb aboard his jerry-rigged bleachers made of metal pipe and planks in Turn Three. As the field of 33 came up the backstretch, fans rose to their feet and leaned forward, pitching the stands toward the track. The resulting carnage claimed the lives of Fred Linder from Indy and a Zionsville resident named William Craig. The collapse injured another 82 fans, and resulted in numerous lawsuits and the banning of homemade stands in the infield. Indianapolis News photographer J. Parke Randall caught the event on film as the scaffold fell.

294. A.J. Foyt won his first 500 in 1961.

Foyt would, of course, be the first man to win the 500 four times.

295. Foyt also won the DaytonA 500 (1972), 24 Hours of Daytona ('83 and '85) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans ('67).

He's the only driver to ever win all four (the 24-hour races are team efforts).

296. But Indy was his favorite place to race.

"A.J. Foyt did not make the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is what made A.J. Foyt." — Foyt on WIBC, May 2011.

Rodger Ward's car being towed prior to the '61 Indy 500. Ward, after winning the 1959 race and duking it out with Jim Rathmann in '60, would place third after starting on the inside of row two in 1961. - GERALD WALSH
  • Gerald Walsh
  • Rodger Ward's car being towed prior to the '61 Indy 500. Ward, after winning the 1959 race and duking it out with Jim Rathmann in '60, would place third after starting on the inside of row two in 1961.

297. Jack Brabham's "funny car" — a rear-engined Cooper Climax — debuted in 1961.

The car was a warning bell — the era of front-engine roadsters was coming to an end. The car finished ninth that year.

298. Tony Bettenhausen died during practice in 1961.

Mechanical failure caused Bettenhausen's car to hit the wall in the front straight.

299. And a firefighter died during the '61 race.

John Masariu fell off a truck coming to the aid of Eddie Johnson after a crash. Masariu died when that same truck backed over him. Johnson was unhurt. Masariu, a Danville native, was also a hoops coach at Ben Davis High.

300. Andy Granatelli bought the Novi team in 1961.

Granatelli had been a fixture at Indy since the 1950s, but fans will never, ever forget the man's suit covered with STP logos. Lori Lovely wrote for NUVO in 2014:

It wasn't just his STP attire that shook up motor racing's establishment. He introduced mechanical change. From 1961 to 1965, he entered cars with supercharged V-8 engines, whose horsepower of 837 trampled the competitors' 450 horses.

But it was his 1967 entry that made people sit up and listen: the "whoosh mobile," powered by a turbine engine and 80 percent fewer parts than the conventional piston-driven power plant. Parnelli Jones led 171 laps in it and looked like a sure bet to win — until three laps from the finish, when a $6 transmission ball bearing broke.

The car was so dominant that the following year the United States Auto Club enacted a new rule to reduce turbine power by one-third. Undeterred, Andy entered a car for Joe Leonard, who led until eight laps to go, when a gear broke in the fuel pump shaft.

Additional restrictive regulations put an end to the turbines, but not to Andy's determination to win the biggest race in the world. His dream came true in 1969 when Mario won in a year-old car after crashing his four-wheel-drive Lotus in practice. Andy won again in the tragedy-marred 1973 race with driver Gordon Johncock, but it was that joyous moment in 1969 that changed everything.

301. Parnelli Jones broke the 150 mph mark in qualifications for the 1962 race.

Jones pushed his Offy to 150.729.

302. The '62 running was All-American — for the last time.

There have been drivers from other nations in every race from 1963 to the present.

303. The second-place finisher in the controversial '63 race was a classic Ford-Lotus combo.

Jimmy Clark's rear-engined ride nearly ended the roadster era that year.

304. After the '63 500, Panelli Jones punched Eddie Sachs in the face over an oil leak.

The 1963 pole-sitter's leaking motor caused wrecks behind him. Lori Lovely, writing in NUVO in 2015, picks up the story with 20 laps left in that year's 500:

Jones' car began smoking, having spewed oil from a horizontal crack in the external overflow tank at the rear of the car for several laps. Observers reported increasingly thick smoke and dripping oil in the corners.

[Jimmy] Clark's team owner, Colin Chapman, reminded Chief Steward Harlan Fengler of the protocol, explained during the pre-race drivers meeting, that cars losing oil would be black-flagged. However, Jones' team owner, J.C. Agajanian, argued — in a heated exchange at the start/finish line — that his car should be allowed to continue because the oil leak was minor and, having dropped below the level of the crack, had subsided.

It wasn't true. Clark slowed, settling for second place rather than risk spinning out in the oil still spilling from Jones' car. Two drivers following Jones did spin in his oil. When Eddie Sachs, who spun in Turn Three, confronted Jones the next day, Jones punched him in the face. Roger McCluskey, in third place, spun in Turn Two on the last lap, bringing out the yellow flag.

Chapman accused USAC officials of a bias for the American driver and car. Had Fengler black-flagged Jones, per the rules, Clark would have won that day. However, Fengler insisted that the car had ceased leaking and that he didn't want to "take this race away from a man [based] on a snap judgment."

305. Johnny Rutherford got punked pretty hard in '63 before the race.

When Betty Hoyer's dad heard she was dating Rutherford, a race-car driver, he was nervous. His first question to Betty was, "Is he married?" She assured her dad that he was single. 

The next weekend her parents came to the track. They were up in the old Tower Terrace and Betty introduced Johnny to her parents and brother and sister. Everything was going well when over the PA system came the announcement: "Johnny Rutherford, meet your wife and kids at the garage area gate."  

Johnny looked over the railing and saw that veteran drivers Bobby Marshman and Chuck Hulse were rolling on the ground laughing. The prank didn't slow Betty and Johnny's romance down — they were married just two months later. 

— Nora Spitznogle

Eddie Sachs with his wife outside the Speedway hotel in 1963. - COURTESY OF THE FASIG FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Fasig family
  • Eddie Sachs with his wife outside the Speedway hotel in 1963.

306. The race was stopped as the result of an accident for the first time in 1964 after a wreck killed Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald.

That sentence doesn't do the crash justice — the '64 lap-two disaster involved seven cars, but the catalyst was a poor-handling, fendered machine called the "Sears-Allstate Special."

The events that would lead to the '64 wreck may have been set in motion two years prior. Mickey Thompson, a racing hero who'd cracked the 400 mph barrier at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1960, was entering cars in the 500 with 12-inch diameter tires. The smaller wheels gave Thompson's cars a lower profile — and the nickname "skateboards."

Thompson's "skates" garnered a negative reaction from the old guard at Indy. In October of 1963, USAC put a minimum-wheel size rule in place, and Thompson's fleet was forced to convert to 15-inch tires.

The larger wheels changed the aerodynamics of Thompson's cars, lifting them higher and affecting handling badly. By the time practice began in Indy that May, modifications brought speeds up to roughly 145 again — and then the front end of the car would "lift and float," according to the men at the wheel.

On May 13, Thompson driver Masten Gregory hit the wall in the No. 84 car — and promptly left Thompson's team. Before departing, Gregory told Thompson he believed that air collecting under the front fenders was diminishing the car's stability, creating steering issues. Thompson's crew responded by hacking off the tops of MacDonald's fenders in the No. 83 ride. MacDonald managed to turn four laps at an average speed of 155 mph with the sawed-off fender tops.

On the first day of time trials, MacDonald became the first rookie to qualify for the 48th Indy 500 with an average speed of 151.464.

On race day, with Jim Clark on the pole, defending champ Parnelli Jones in row two and MacDonald in the middle of Row 5, a Ford Mustang paced the field. In addition to the "flying saucer" body, MacDonald's car also held a fuel bladder that ran along the left side of the car, a tank that carried roughly 45 gallons of gasoline.

As the cars accelerated through the green flag, MacDonald started to move around traffic. Although numerous colleagues had warned MacDonald about the car's maneuverability, MacDonald passed perhaps five other drivers by the time he was halfway through lap two. As MacDonald exited turn four, the car began to slide toward the infield. Did the car lift? Was MacDonald too aggressive? Was the rookie trying to dodge slower traffic ahead?

Whatever the cause, the outcome was horrific: MacDonald's ride turned a full 180 degrees before slamming into the inside retaining wall at the exit of four and exploding into a ball of flame and billowing black smoke as the gasoline ignited. The flaming debris curled across the face of the track toward the exterior wall, spinning slightly after the initial impact. Johnny Rutherford — who drove through the inferno as it spread — told Racer's Robin Miller that it looked like "a black curtain had been drawn across the track."

Seven other cars would be involved in the crash, but the unluckiest of all was Eddie Sachs. Track position for Sachs gave him few options, and as he tried to squeeze past the No. 83 car on the outside, MacDonald's car slid directly into his line. Sachs slammed into MacDonald and was killed instantly, and the impact generated a second explosion. Bobby Unser closed his eyes and buried his throttle, eventually passing through the carnage after smacking Rutherford's car.

A.J. Foyt — who'd go on to win the 1964 Indy 500 — thought the stands were on fire from his turn three vantage point. Spectators ran from the heat.

The race was red-flagged. A short time after the cars were stopped, track announcer Tom Carnegie told the crowd that Sachs had been killed. Although he somehow survived the initial impact and fire, MacDonald would only hang on for a few hours after the wreck.

IMS radio man Sid Collins paused for five seconds, then delivered a live, on-air eulogy that draws praise to this day. Sid's deep memory and love for the event was evident: Collins knew Sachs' age, the name of his wife and the fact that Sachs had two kids. He remembered his pole victories. And then he said this:

These boys on the race track ask no quarter and they give none. If they succeed they're a hero and if they fail, they tried. And it was Eddie's desire and will to try with everything he had, which he always did. So the only healthy way perhaps we can approach the tragedy of the loss of a friend like Eddie Sachs is to know that he would have wanted us to face it as he did. As it has happened, not as we wish it would have happened. It is God's will I'm sure and we must accept that.

We are all speeding toward death at the rate of 60 minutes every hour, the only difference is we don't know how to speed faster and Eddie Sachs did. So since death has a thousand or more doors, Eddie Sachs exits this earth in a race car. Knowing Eddie, I assume that's the way he would have wanted it.

The Foyts, early '60s - COURTESY OF THE FASIG FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Fasig family
  • The Foyts, early '60s

307. 1964 marked the second of A.J. Foyt's four wins.

Photos show a subdued Foyt in front of the Borg-Warner trophy at the end of the race holdin an extra of the evening paper that reads: FOYT WINNER IN 500; SACHS, MACDONALD DIE.

308. Two more men died in '64 — two months after the 500.

Jerry Albright and James Cross were teenage workers who found summer jobs working the grounds at the golf course. When a storm came up, the two 17-year-olds took shelter in a small outbuilding that was hit by lightning.

309. In 1965, USAC put limits on the amount of fuel a car could carry and switched the cars to methanol fuel.

The changes were a direct result of the '64 disaster. USAC would also institute a minimum number of pit stops during the race to further ensure that no one would ever try and pack a car with fuel to avoid a stop.

310. Jim Clark's Ford-powered Lotus topped 160 as he qualified for the 1965 race.

Clark went on to win, becoming the first Brit to take checkered since Dario Resta (an Italian-born UK citizen) won the 500 in 1916.

311. Graham Hill was surprised he won the 1966 500.

Back to Lori Lovely, writing for NUVO:

Controversy arose because of a mix-up when Jim Clark's teammate, Al Unser, crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 161. Officials announced it was Clark who crashed, so he wasn't scored that lap, according to the Indianapolis 500 Chronicle by Rick Popely. The confusion was compounded by frequent changes on the scoring pylon that sometimes indicated Clark was a lap ahead of Hill.

Late in the race, Jackie Stewart led by a lap in his Lola T90-Ford, owned by John Mecom. On Lap 192 he lost oil pressure due to a broken scavenge pump that returned oil to the crankcase, forfeiting the lead to his teammate and fellow rookie Hill, 41 seconds ahead of Clark.

Believing Hill to be a lap down, Andy Granatelli, part-owner of Clark's STP Lotus, argued the win. The Tuscaloosa News quoted Granatelli: "It's impossible for Hill to be the winner. We were a lap ahead of Stewart and Hill was even farther behind. There's been an error."

Even Hill reportedly expressed surprise at winning because he hadn't passed a car on the track all day. Nevertheless, the IMS Radio Network, scoring the race independently, also proclaimed Hill the winner.

312. Chuck Rodee died in quals for '66.

Rodee died after a crash in turn one on his second practice lap.

313. A lap one multi-car crash red-flagged the 500 for the second time in three years.

The '66 scorecard shows no less than 11 cars that completed zero laps.

314. And '66 saw the fewest cars running at the finish.

That'd be a lucky seven.

315. Foyt won his third race in 1967.

As we mentioned earlier, he'd be the first man to win four, tallying the last in 1977.

316. The 1967 STP-Praxton Turbocar was taken out by a six dollar part.

The turboprop airplane engine — you heard me — driven by Parnelli Jones had four- wheel drive. The car lost a transmission bearing with just three laps left after Jones had led 171 laps in total.

317. In 1968, Graham Hill cracked the 170 mph qualifying barrier.

Hill broke the mark with a Pratt & Whitney motor.

318. Jim Clark's replacement was killed during practice in '68.

After Clark, the '65 winner, was killed in a wreck in Germany, Mike Spence took over. Spence was driving one of Andy Granatelli's "wedge" turbines when he hit the wall in turn one.

319. Bobby Unser won his first Indy 500 in 1968.

He'd win twice more, in '75 and '81.

320. 1969 saw all 33 cars powered by rear-engines.

The front-engine roadster era officially came to a close that year.

321. Team Penske debuted at Indy in '69 with Mark Donohue driving.

Donohue finished seventh and was named "Rookie of the Year."

Mario Andretti, 1982 — 13 years after his only 500 win. - COURTESY OF THE FASIG FAMILY
  • Courtesy of the Fasig family
  • Mario Andretti, 1982 — 13 years after his only 500 win.

322. Mario Andretti won his only 500 in 1969.

Who knew that the young racer — only 29 at the time - would qualify for the race an amazing 29 time and not have another trip to Victory Circle? 

His lack of subsequent victories became a thing and eventually took on a life of its on, earning the name "Andretti Curse"  

In spite of his heart-breaking record at the Indy 500, Mario had an amazing racing career. He is one of only two drivers to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR (Dan Gurney was the other). He also won races in midget cars, and sprint cars. 

During his career, Andretti won the 1978 Formula One World Championship, four IndyCar titles, and IROC VI. To date, he remains the only driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 (1969), Daytona 500 (1967) and the Formula One World Championship. He and Juan Pablo Montoya are the only drivers to have won a race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Formula One, and an Indianapolis 500. Mario was the last American to win a Formula One race since his victory at the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix. He has an incredible 109 career wins on major circuits.

He is only person (so far) to be named United States Driver of the Year in three decades (1967, 1978, and 1984). He's also had IndyCar wins in four decades. And yet the "Andretti Curse" still gets talked about when his named is mentioned.

— Nora Spitznogle


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