1954- The Year Before the Storm

The program was buried in a stack of old programs in a box at the IMS memorabilia show  the day before the 500 this past May.  I  was thinking of collecting Indy 500 programs for all the races beginning the year I was born. Hard for some of you to believe, but cars were invented before I was born.

My plan was to begin with the programs from 1953 to 1956, the programs covering the Bill Vukovich era.  The programs on top were pre World War II, and the prices were quite high. I dug through the stack and found this 1954 edition in a sheet protector. There was no price label attached. I asked the vendor how much it was. She looked it over and said, ” $20″, at least one third the price of the others I saw.  I paid quickly and walked away before she could change her mind.

1954 is  the appropriate year to begin my collection quest for several reasons. It was the first year I was fully aware of the race. 1953 was the first year I heard any of the race on the radio. I was six at the time. I wanted to learn more about it. Bill Vukovich won the race and became my first racing hero. The program recapped the 1953 race and previewed the upcoming event.

To put the 1954 race in perspective:

It was  the third year of the IMS Radio Network.

This would be the ninth race under Tony Hulman’s ownership.

The 1954 500 was the eighth race Tom Carnegie handled the PA full time.

AAA was the sanctioning body. USAC would not exist for two more years.


There was a nice bonus inside when I first opened the program. The starting lineup sheet for the race fell out. The original owner wrote some notes on it during the race.  Pole sitter Jack McGrath led the first lap with a speed of 132.004 mph.  The average speed of the race at 200 miles was 134.225.


The pre-race schedule was shorter and simpler in 1954. The race started at 10.  The schedule lists just the National Anthem, a salute to soldiers who died in battle, and “Back Home Again in Indiana” sung by James Melton. This all completed by 9:35. Then the cars are gridded. Following a series of aerial bombs, the Dodge pace car leads the field on the ONE pace lap before the start.  The command to start engines was not listed as part of the schedule.

Guaranteed first place money was $20,000. Drivers also received money from the equipment companies for using their products. Lap leaders got $150 for each lap lead. n 1953, Vukovich collected more than $89,000 for winning.  Guaranteed money for 10th place? $1,750. I can’t imagine what last place got.

The ads in the program feature many companies and products that no longer exist such as Eastern Airlines, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Belond Exhaust Systems, Pure gasoline, and RCA.

Bill Vukovich won the race for the second straight year. Jimmy Bryan was second, Jack McGrath came home third, and Duane Carter finished fourth. Vukovich started 19th; the others in the top 4 started in the top 8, McGrath and Bryan on the front row. The winner led 90 laps, the fewest he had led in the  last three races.

The following year was the year auto racing nearly ended.  In practice for the 500, popular driver Manny Ayulo was killed. In the race, Vukovich died in accident while leading after a great duel with McGrath early in the race. McGrath would die in a sprint car wreck at the end of the year.  These deaths, coupled with the 83 spectator deaths at LeMans in June, nearly led to a worldwide ban on the sport.

AAA decided they were done sanctioning racing after 1955. Tony Hulman formed the Untied States Auto Club to sanction races and keep the sport going.

I wish both my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I’ll be back next week with thoughts on the news that broke last Friday and other Silly Season ramblings.






True Racer- McLaren Movie Review

Just one more lap before lunch. Bruce McLaren, always looking for more from himself and his car, wanted to try a different downforce level.. He left the pits but didn’t return that day in June 1970, ending a meteoric rise from champion driver to successful car builder. A view of the accident scene comes at the end of the documentary, McLaren, a film making sporadic appearances in the United States. I had the good fortune to see it Thursday night.

The film chronicles McLaren’s life in chronological order from his humble beginnings in New Zealand. Bruce knew he wanted to be a race car driver by the time he was 5 years old. When he was nine, he developed Perthes disease, a disease that causes the head of the femur to lose blood flow and die. As a result his left leg was shorter than his right one. McLaren was bedridden for nearly 2 years as doctors tried to strengthen the hip and lengthen his left  leg.  While the hip got stronger, his leg did not get longer. Mclaren walked with a permanent limp.

He went to Europe to drive F2 in 1958 and won his first Formula 1 race the following year, the U.S. GP at Sebring. At the time McLaren was the youngest F1 winner in history, a distinction he held for 44 years. He drove as a teammate to Jack Brabham for Cooper.  Brabham won the World Championship the following year and McLaren finished second.   Both drivers  left Cooper and eventually each built their own Formula 1 cars.

McLaren’s greatest success came in the Can Am series.  In 1969, McLaren-built cars won every race on the Can Am schedule. The three McLaren  cars swept the podium twice that year.  Dennnis Hulme and Mark Donohue were McLaren’s teammates that year.

The movie contains interviews with many racing greats including Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, and Chris Amon. McLaren’s family also appears, lending a personal view of the man. We also hear from several engineers and mechanics, mainly Robin Heard, who came to work for McLaren after helping design the Concorde supersonic airplane.  Many of the airplane’s aerodynamic principles, and some of the same materials, were applied to the cars.

My favorite segments were the vintage racing footage. The race films contain shots of Graham Hill, James Hunt, Jack Brabham, and many other drivers of that era.  We see Le Mans in 1966, Monaco in 1958, Sebring in 1959, and Spa in 1968.  Several things in the films stood out. Grand prix races used to start 3 wide and both F1 and F2  raced at the same time just as sports cars race today. It was great to see the traditional Le Mans start again, with drivers sprinting across the track to their cars. How would that work today?

Several McLaren home movies brought a personal touch to McLaren’s life. He would send film of his European races home and the family and their friends gathered to watch. I also enjoyed the movies of Bruce with his wife and young daughter.

McLaren is one of the best documentaries I have seen on any subject. It is a new, important contribution to preserving racing history. I’m hoping the movie returns in general release. Had there been a second showing last night, I might have stayed for it.  Look for its return, and go see it.

Iowa Preview- Penske or Carpenter?

0710161242Editor’s note: This post is my 100th on this site. Thanks to all of you who have read. It’s a lot of fun.


If the Iowa Speedway were a candy bar, it would be called Fun-size. It’s the smallest track on the schedule at 7/8 of a mile. It is also the most fun race of the year.  Lightning quick laps create a bullring atmosphere for Indycars.  There are virtually no straights. The cars are turning constantly.

My favorite year at Iowa was 2012 when the USAC Midgets ran as part of the program.  It was a great show as the fun size cars zipped around the fun size track. I’d like to see them back here someday.

The Iowa Corn Producers use the race to promote ethanol. They are a dedicated state wide group justly proud of the success this race has. They have exclusive t-shirts proclaiming “This is Our Race”. I know they’re exclusive because I asked someone where I  could buy one.

The only thing that could make this event better would be returning it to a night race. The racing was better and the crowd was better. Attendance has been hurt by the late Sunday afternoon start. Surely the track could work something out with Knoxville Speedway for one Saturday a year and change the date by a week to avoid conflicting with the night race Nascar has this weekend.

The strangest thing about this track is that a Penske car has never won here.  Ed Carpenter Racing meanwhile has last year’s dominating win by Josef Newgarden which was the team’s third consecutive podium at Iowa. Andretti Autosport has won seven of the ten races here, with Ryan Hunter-Reay winning three times. Look for a Penske or a Carpenter car to win Sunday.  Chevy should have a big advantage on this track, which is not good news for  Andretti drivers.

Any aero advantage of course can be negated by how cautions fall. The race has been decided more than once by untimely yellows. That may not be enough to help Hunter-Reay, whose luck this year has been awful. Potential good finishes have disappeared for him several times this year.

I think the race comes down to one of the Penske drivers, likely Newgarden, or Carpenter’s lead driver, J. R. Hildebrand.  Newgarden has three straight podiums in a Carpenter car here. Hildebrand is now driving that car. Is ECR the new Andretti at Iowa? I’m looking for Hildebrand to get his first win Sunday.  A Penske car will probably be on the pole. No driver has won this race from the number 1 staring spot. Newgarden started second last year, but took the lead on the backstretch of the first lap and cruised to victory.

Honoring A Legend- The A. J. Foyt Exhibition at the IMS Museum

First, a bit of news: Spencer Pigot has been confirmed as a driver for Juncos Racing in the Indianapolis 500. he will drive car no. 11, with sponsorship from Oceanfront Recovery, an organization involved in helping people overcome issues with opioids. This will be Pigot’s second 500. he drove last year for Rahal letterman Lanigan. Sebastian Saavedra has been announced as the driver of the second Juncos car.  These two cars and the entry from Lazier Racing brings the car count to 33.  I don’t believe this to be fully firm at this point.


The Speedway legends I grew up with are all in or nearing their 80’s.  They race during what I consider the Golden Age of Indycar racing.  Foyt,  Andretti, Jones, the Unser brothers, and Gurney would race almost anything on almost any kind of track- pavement, dirt, oval, road course. When the checkered flag waved, it was highly likely that A. J. Foyt was the first to see it.

Full disclosure- I was a crazy Foyt fan back then. Yes, I appreciated the skills and talents of the other drivers, but Foyt was my man. Thanks to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, I had a chance to see his entire career on display.

Virtually every car he drove, including the four he drove to his 500 wins, is on display.  One car I didn’t see was the car he and Dan Gurney drove to victory in LeMans in 1967.  I  was really looking forward to seeing that one. It did not take away from my enjoyment of the exhibit, however. Several of the cars I had completely forgotten about, like the Scarab MK IV from 1964. A. J. won 3 races in 1964 driving for Lance Reventlow.

One poignant entry was the 1981 Coyote, the last coyote chassis Foyt produced.

The cars and their histories are displayed clearly. It would take a while to read every word. I have all summer. The display is at the Museum until October. Even more intriguing than the the cars was all the memorabilia and photos. People apparently donated things from their private collections for the show. Make sure to walk to the display room in the back.  The most fascinating item to me was a set of micro-miniatures cars, replicas of many Foyt’s Indy 500 cars, labeled by year. The photo collection the walls, including a couple of murals take you back in history.

I plan to return to see the exhibit in more depth later this year.  I will close with some photos, including a mural of A. J. on dirt.foytexhibit 025

foytexhibit 024
This is the car Foyt drove to the first of his 67 wins in Indycar. The Scarab is the blue car in the background.
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The car A. J. Foyt drove at Indianapolis his rookie year, 1958
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Midget racer from the early 1960’s.

The Greatest 33 Non-Winners: Final Grid

What a fun project this turned out to be! It was fascinating seeing how much those who submitted grids both agreed and disagreed. Some drivers got just one mention, while others appeared on every ballot.  There was near unanimous placement for some drivers, and some drivers were near the front on some grids and near the back on others. The driver nearly everyone agreed should be on the pole is Michael Andretti (pictured above, from 1992).

I  noticed the rankings were along age lines. Older fans close to my age seemed to have near identical grids,  and younger fans as a group submitted similar lineups.  Many drivers from long ago in general fared better on the lists from the older group. I was surprised how well the current drivers stacked up against the racers of the past. Another interesting detail is that all 50 driver finalists had at least one mention. I didn’t expect that.

To rank the drivers, I assigned points to the drivers corresponding to their spot on each person’s grid. A driver on pole got 1 point, the last driver got 33. If a driver was listed on pole on five grids, his total was 5. The lowest total won the pole. If a driver did not appear on someone’s grid, he/she was given 34 points. To my shock, there were only two ties. I resolved placement by averaged each driver’s highest and lowest rank of all the grades, with the lowest average getting the higher spot. One of the ties was for 32nd and 33rd. It was just like qualifying for the 1963 500.

The front row- Michael Andretti, Rex Mays, and Ted Horn, is strong. These drivers were in the top 10 on everyone’s grid. Andretti led 431 laps, the most by any non-winning driver. he started on the front row three times and had 5 top 5 finishes.  Rex Mays, in the middle of the front row is the only other driver to lead more than 200 laps and not win. Mays was on the pole four times. Ted Horn, on the outside of the front row, finished in the top five 9 times in 10 starts.

So here they are, the Greatest 33 Non-Winners of the Indianapolis 500:

Row 1

Michael Andretti

Rex Mays

Ted Horn

Row 2

Harry Hartz

Marco Andretti

Lloyd Ruby

Row 3

Gary Bettenhausen

Ralph Hepburn

Roberto Guerrero

Row 4

Scott Goodyear

Carlos Munoz

Robby Gordon

Row 5

Eddie Sachs

Tony Stewart

Jack McGrath

Row 6

Wally Dallenbach

Tomas Sheckter

Will Power

Row 7

Danica Patrick

Tony Bettenhausen

Joe Leonard

Row 8

Jimmy Snyder

Ed Carpenter

Danny Ongais

Row 9

Pancho Carter

Mel Kenyon

Kevin Cogan

Row 10

Vitor Meira

Russ Snowberger

Paul Russo

Row 11

Tom Alley

Johnny Thomson

George Snider

it’s kind of fitting that Snider is last on the grid. his trademark was jumping into a car on Bump Day and getting into the field starting near the back. Thanks to everyone who submitted a grid. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and reasoning as to how yo put your grids together.

I will be back tomorrow with some 500 news and a report on my visit to the A. J. Foyt exhibit at the Speedway Museum. The cars were great to see, but the memorabilia was even more amazing to me. Thursday I will have my Indianapolis Grand Prix preview with my normally inaccurate winner’s prediction.






The Race Fans’ Christmas Gift Guide

Race fans are always happy to receive gifts, especially gifts related to racing.  Here are some suggestions for the race fan on your list, including many gifts that I have enjoyed over the years.

One of the best things I’ve received is tickets to a race. Many fans say they would be happy to go to more races if they had the budget. Race tickets  as a gift are a big help in making races more affordable. If you have never been to an Indycar race, get one for yourself as well. It’s silly to let your friend go alone.

A ride in an Indycar 2-seater will delight any Indycar fan.  It was one of the best I ever got. The ride is good at any track offering them.  There are sometimes discounts on Groupon.  It’s the best way to see what driving an Indycar is all about.

My friend George Phillips, in his Oilpressure.com column yesterday,talks about the Indy Racing Experience. You get to drive an Indycar on your own at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.This is something I want to try in the next couple of years.  If you haven’t read this column before, check it out.  It is always a good read.

Have friends who collect things?  We fans are eager to get our hands on anything related to racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum has lots of things for the collector. They are currently having daily sales on selected items. They also have a clearance sale in mid-November with incredible deals. Also, check eBay for items like old programs and ticket stubs.

Books about racing, especially racing history, are one thing I can’t get enough of.  I highly recommend Black Noon by Art Garner. It tells the story of the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and talks about how the events of that day came to be and their lasting effects on racing  The author does a great job profiling Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. This is one of the best books on the history of the 500 I have read.

Beast by Jade Gurss details Roger Penske and Imor engineering developing the Mercedes badged engine that dominated the 1994 500.  It was not as easy as it appeared. Gurss also discusses the brewing storm that led to the split in 1996. Even though you know the outcome, the narrative creates a suspenseful conclusion.

I have not read Lionheart by Andy Hallberry and Jeff Olson. I anticipate receiving it in a few days.  I have heard great things about it, and I will share my thoughts in January. The IMS Museum shop has it online for purchase.

Trivia buffs will enjoy Pat Kennedy’s compilations of trivia questions. He has two volumes of How Much Do You really know about the Indianapolis 500?, The Official Indy 500 Trivia Book, and Indy 500 Recaps, the Short Chute Edition.  The recaps book has a summary of every race and a results table for each race.

Other books I have enjoyed are Vukovich by Bob Gates and Umbrella Mike by Brock Yates. Umbrella Mike tells the story of Mike Boyle, whose cars won three Indianapolis 500s, including the famous Maserati car driven by Wilbur Shaw in 1939 and 1940.

Hard Luck Llloyd by John Lingle is a biography of Llloyd Ruby, a great racer who almost won the 500 several times, but bad luck always seemed to thwart his trip to Victory Lane.

I hope everyone has a great holiday season. I will be back after the first of the year when I settle in following my southern migration.



Lunch With a Legend

Sunday morning’s routine never varied.We ate a big breakfast at home, went to the restaurant to take inventory, restock and help Dad prepare for Monday. Then we went back home to read the Sunday Star before deciding how to spend the rest of the day. The Sunday before Thanksgiving in 1962 was no different.

I usually began with the sports section, looking for a column by George Moore, the racing writer for the Indianapolis Star at that time. I had gone to my first Indianapolis 500 that May, and I wanted to know everything about racing I could. There was nothing by him that day. I would then turn to the auto section. Cleo Kern, the automotive writer, always had something in Sunday’s paper about a new car and what was going on with dealerships in town.

A news blurb got my attention.  It was about Harry Hartz, one of the greatest drivers to never win the Indianapolis 500, joining a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership not too far from where I lived. The article gave a brief review of his racing career. I remarked to my dad, “This guy must have been a great driver.”  He asked who I was talking about. “Harry Hartz.”

“Oh yeah. He comes into the restaurant a couple times a week for lunch.”

Stunned stony silence was my only response. How long had this been happening? All summer while I was out of school?

” I don’t have school Friday since it’s Thanksgiving break. Will he be in then?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, if he comes in, can you call home and tell me?” The restaurant was an easy walk from our house.

” I don’t want to bother him.”

” I sure would like to meet him.”  No response.

Nothing more was said about it through that holiday weekend and into December. Dad’s word was usually pretty final, but he somehow always found a way to make his kids happy. So life went on through December. Then it was time for Christmas Break.

The second day of break, the phone rang. It was Dad.  “Harry Hartz is coming for lunch today. Would you guys want to come and eat with him? He’ll be here at 11:30.”

Was this a trick question? This was so typical of Dad. He may not have liked what we were interested in, but he would find a way to support us.  I knew this was not an impromptu meeting. He probably planned it the day after Thanksgiving.

My brother and I were at the restaurant at 11.  Harry and a colleague walked in. I was struck by how small he was. I had not given much thought at the time that drivers were usually small. We shook hands and sat down for lunch.  I wish I had recorded that conversation. I remember we discussed the pros and cons of riding mechanics and about the board tracks that were popular when he drove. He was a great guy and seemed genuinely happy to be talking with young fans. Before he left, he signed the above photo for my brother and me and promised to get us a copy of Floyd Clymer’s Indy 500 yearbook.

We met one more time, at the Speedway the following May. I was amazed that he saw me first and approached me. We had a brief talk before he had to go to a meeting.  Meeting him inspired me to delve deeper into the history of the race. I have come to admire the great drivers who were never fortunate to win the 500 but were always a threat every May- Rex Mays, Ted Horn, Jack McGrath, and  Michael Andretti. I’m planning an off-season blog on the greatest 33 non winners.

I owe a lot to my dad for arranging the meeting. It was the equivalent of having lunch with A. J. Foyt or Al Unser today. The photo hangs on my wall, and  I still have the yearbook (below). They are the oldest and most cherished. memorabilia I have .




Harry Hartz Indianapolis 500 record:

1922  2nd

1923    2nd

1924    4th

1925     4th

1926      2nd

1927       25th

1930       Winning car owner- Billy Arnold, driver

1932       Winning car owner-Fred Frame, driver