Countdown to Indy: 99 Races, 99 Problems (Chapter 2: 1938-1966)

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

As the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is making preparations for the historic 100th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, it is a wonderful time to take a trip down memory lane and examine the rich history of this uniquely American event.

Each of the 99 previous races has produced a winner that will forever have his name etched in motor racing history. 67 race winning drivers, and two relief drivers have their images on the Borg-Warner Trophy. There are, however, an untold number of heartbreaking stories of missed opportunities, bad luck, and tragedy.

This is the second of four installments as we examine 99 races and 99 problems. Click here for Chapter 1 :1911-1937.

26 ) 1938 Everett Spence: During the race that was won by Floyd Roberts, the Elgin Piston Pin entry of Emil Andres lost control of the his car and rolled over several times after hitting the wall in turn two. His tire was launched into the grandstands, striking and killing 33 year-old spectator, Everett Spence.

27 ) 1939 Floyd Roberts: An inferno erupted on the back stretch as the cars of Chet Miller, Bob Swanson and Floyd Roberts were involved in a terrifying accident. Roberts, who was defending his 1938 500 win, went through the wall and was killed instantly.

28 ) 1940 Ted Horn: Prior to 1940, Ted Horn had a four race streak completing every lap at Indianapolis. He was flagged one lap down with 199 laps completed. It would go on to be the only lap that he did not finish at Indy during an eventual nine-race streak ending with 1799 laps completed of 1800 possible.

29 ) 1941 Wilbur Shaw: In 1941 Wilbur Shaw had a chance to become the first four-time winner and the first to pull off a three-peat. In the race, Shaw’s crew installed a bent tire which caused Shaw to crash, ending his day. The bent tire had been marked “USE LAST” with chalk the night before. When a fire broke out in the garages that morning, the water used to douse the flames had washed the chalk markings off.

30 ) 1946 Ralph Hepburn: In the first race back after World War II, Ralph Hepburn arrived at the Speedway with a brand new Novi front-wheel drive car. He shattered the track records in qualifying with a speed of 133.944 mph. He would start 19th, based on setting his time on the second day of time trials. He moved quickly up through the field, and led 44 laps before the new car gave up on Lap 121.

31 ) 1947 Bill Holland :  In the late stages, Bill Holland and his teammate, Mauri Rose, were running 1-2, and the drivers were ordered to hold position. Holland thought he had a lap on Rose. Thinking he had nothing to lose, he allowed Rose to unlap himself, and the two drivers shared a friendly wave as Rose went on by. The two cars were, in fact, on the same lap. Holland took it easy to the finish, blissfully unaware that he had just given the race win to Rose.

32 ) 1948 Ted Horn: In his final Indianapolis 500, Ted Horn finished fourth after having led 74 laps on the day. This completes a nine-year streak of finishing in the top four, but never taking the win. He was killed in a racing accident in October of 1948. He is the one of the earliest drivers to earn the distinction of being one of the best drivers at Indy to never win.

33 ) 1949 Mauri Rose : In a repeat of 1947, teammates Bill Holland and Mauri Rose were once again running 1-2 in the late going.  One again, team orders were called to hold position, and once again Mauri Rose attempted to pass his teammate. Holland held on for the win, and Rose was promptly fired by the team at the conclusion of the race.

34 ) 1950 Lew Welch: Beginning in 1946, the powerful Novi engines were setting records, but faced reliability issues. Team owner, Lew Welch entered two Novi-powered cars for the 500. Arriving at the track, he found that there was no garage space for his team, based on the last-minute filing of his entry. The best they could do was work on the cars at a Lincoln-Mercury dealership in downtown Indy. The burden of hauling the cars back and forth to the track proved to be too much, and the cars were withdrawn.

35 ) 1951 Mauri Rose : With a chance at becoming the first four-time winner at the Speedway, Mauri Rose was running well in the race that had seen a high rate of attrition. On the 126th lap, Rose crashed, and his car flipped over. It was his 15th and final Indy 500, retiring from racing in the aftermath of the accident.

36 ) 1952  Bill Vukovich: In a Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser, Bill Vukovich had a dominant car, and seemed to be well on his way to a victory. After leading 150 laps, the steering linkage broke on his machine with only nine laps to go, as Troy Ruttman took the win.

37 ) 1953 Carl Scarborough : With temperatures in the mid 90s, and track temperatures over 130 degrees, conditions were absolutely miserable for the drivers in 1953. More than half of the field needed relief drivers to finish the run. Carl Scarborough stuck it out as long as he could, before handing the car over to Bob Scott. Scarborough was taken to the infield care center where he passed away, a victim of a heat stroke.

38 ) 1954 Jack McGrath :  Starting from pole, Jack McGrath led the first 44 laps in a race that stayed green for more than 100 laps after the start. Losing the lead on pit lane, McGrath worked his way back to the front by the 91st lap, but found that his car was no match for eventual winner Bill Vukovich.

39 ) 1955 Bill Vukovich : In 1955, Vukovich seemed to be well on his way to becoming the first driver to three-peat at the Indy 500. He lead handily after wrestling the lead from Jack McGrath on the fourth lap. He had a 17 second lead on the field when he became involved in a four-car crash. Vukovich’s car went over the wall, flipping four times and killing him instantly.

40 ) 1956  Pat O’Connor : Embroiled in a three-man battle for the lead with Pat Flaherty and Don Freeland, Pat O’Connor was in contention for the win in the closing stages of the race. With only 13 laps to go, O’Connor’s electrical system shorted dropping him from the running.

41 ) 1957 Paul Russo : Elmer George, husband of Mari Hulman-George, qualified ninth in his first attempt at Indianapolis. Due to mechanical problems, he was forced to start at the back. Getting a bit anxious on the pace lap, he ran into the back of 26th-qualified Paul Russo taking both cars out before the race started.

42 ) 1958 Edward Elisian : In 1956, Ed Elisian was involved in an accident that claimed the life of Bob Sweikert. At the 1958 Indy 500, Elisian triggered a first-lap,15 car pile-up that resulted in the death of Pat O’Connor.  Less than a month later, he was involved in another fatal accident, this time with Jim Davis losing his life. This made Elisian tremendously unpopular with the other drivers who saw hm as a bad omen on the track. In 1959, Elisian himself perished in a racing accident at the Milwaukee Mile.

43 ) 1959 Bobby Grim : 1959 Rookie of the Year, Bobby Grim,  suffered one of the oddest injuries on record during the race. He qualified fifth and was running well until his car began to experience problems. He headed towards the pits, and in doing the simple act of raising his arm to signal the drivers behind him, he somehow managed to dislocate his shoulder. With Grim writhing in pain, and unable to speak to his crew, Jack Turner jumped into the car as a relief driver. When the car did not start, they realized the problem.

44 ) 1960 Rodger Ward : In a race that featured 29 lead changes, Rodger Ward and Jim Rathmann fought each other tooth and nail for the entire second half of the race. Rathmann passed Ward for the final time on lap 197. With only three to go, Ward realized that he had worn his tires so badly that he could not mount a final challenge for the win.

45 ) 1961 Eddie Sachs : Battling it out with A.J. Foyt in the late stages, Eddie Sachs thought he had the race won when Foyt was forced to make an extra pit stop after not getting a full fuel load on his prior stop.  Sachs seemed headed for a certain victory until his badly-worn left rear tire began to vibrate so badly that he had to head down pit lane on lap 197, handing Foyt the win.

46 ) 1962 Parnelli Jones : Becoming the first driver to top 150 mph in qualifying, Parnelli Jones led the first 59 laps before getting shuffled back during pit stops. He made his way back to the front to lead another 61 laps. His car’s performance fades in the final third of the race, and brings home seventh place.

47) 1963 Jim Clark : Leading in the late stages of the race, the car of Parnelli Jones began spewing oil onto the track due to a cracked overflow tank. Jim Clark was running second in the British-built Lotus Car. Clark’s team owner, Colin Chapman was furious that Jones had not been shown the black flag, after another driver had spun and crashed on the oil. Jones continued on for the win, igniting a controversy that USAC officials had no intention of allowing the British car to win while an American was leading.

48 ) 1964 Dave MacDonald : One of the more interesting entries in the 1964 500 was the Mickey Thompson-designed Sears-Allstate special. Utilizing an oversized fuel tank, and bodywork covering the wheels, the car was modified to fit the 15 inch tires that the rulebook mandated. The car was fast, but it handled so poorly that many other drivers were concerned. At the start, MacDonald passed five cars, despite the fact that his car was all over the place. On the second lap, he lost control and triggered a fiery crash that involved seven cars. Eddie Sachs was killed instantly, and MacDonald died at the hospital a few hours later.

49 ) 1965 Jim Hurtubise : Fan-favorite, Jim Hurtubise, was injured in a crash at Milwaukee in 1964. Many feared he would never race again. His hands were burned badly, and due to the nerve damage, future movement of his fingers would be impossible. “Just make ’em so I can hold a steering wheel,” he instructed his doctors. His triumphant, against the odds, return to Indianapolis was short-lived when he lost the transmission on the opening lap.

50 ) 1966 Jackie Stewart: With the British Invasion in full-force, F1 drivers Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart joined 1965 winner Jim Clark at Indianapolis. Lloyd Ruby and Jim Clark traded the lead back and forth several times, until Jackie Stewart came to the front and began dominating the race. Stewart was well on his way to victory when his car lost oil pressure with only ten laps to go. Stewart was named Rookie of the Year, despite the fact that the race winner, Graham Hill, was also a rookie.


I hope you have enjoyed this trip through history. Click here for Chapter 3: 1968-1991

Image: IMS Photo Archive

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A life-long racing enthusiast, Santoroski attended his first live race in 1978, the Formula One Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. Following graduation from Averett College, Santoroski covered the CART series through the 1990s and 2000s for CART Pages and Race Family Motorsports in addition to freelance writing for various print and web sources. He produces a variety of current and historical content for Motorsports Tribune and serves as the host for the weekly radio broadcast,Drafting the Circuits,

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