Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500 — Paul Goldsmith
By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Originally published Post-Tribune/Chicago Sun-Times News Group — May 23, 2007
It was once said that Paul Goldsmith‘s racecars should all have been painted ice blue, to match his “cool under pressure” demeanor when he was behind the wheel. Quiet and reserved outside the car, relentless and calculating inside.
There wasn’t anything Goldsmith couldn’t race. Motorcycles, Indy cars, stock cars or airplanes, if it could go fast, Paul could pilot it. Goldsmith raced roadsters at Indianapolis. Paul won stock car races at tracks such as Daytona, Bristol, Rockingham, DuQuoin and Milwaukee to name just a few. He is the only man to win races at the Daytona Beach course and fearsome Langhorne one-mile oval, on both a motorcycle and in a racecar. Goldsmith is one of a select few to have ever competed in the Daytona Challenge Cup, the Daytona 200, Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. He even took the Pole (in record setting time) for the 1965 Pikes Peaks Hill Climb, before he almost raced himself right off the side of the mountain.
When Goldsmith showed up at Indianapolis in 1958, he had just won the NASCAR Beach race at Daytona the previous February. His entry for the 1958 Indy 500 was the City of Daytona Beach Special and he promptly qualified on the inside of the sixth row for his rookie race. He never completed a lap. A 15 car accident, spurred on by Eddie Elision and Dick Rathmann tangling in the third turn, eventually collected Goldsmith and finished his day. The only remnant he has from his first Indy 500, are the burn scars on his back from the tires of Jerry Unser’s car before it tumbled completely out of the speedway.
Three months later, Semond “Bunkie” Knudsen, CEO of the Pontiac Div. of General Motors asked Goldsmith to drive for Ray Nichels in a Pontiac stock car testing program. Paul agreed and began what would become a long business association with Nichels. In a matter of months, Nichels would hire Paul as his chief Firestone test driver replacing Nichels’ close friend and driver, Pat O’Connor, who was killed in the 1958 Indy 500 wreck that Goldsmith inadvertently was drawn into.
Within a few years, Goldsmith would become Vice-President of Nichels Engineering. In 1961, he and Ray would jointly open an aircraft engine business known as G&N Aircraft. Other business opportunities such as the ownership of the Griffith-Merrillville Airport would soon follow. It was during this time that Goldsmith moved to the Region and settled his family in Munster to be closer to the daily operations of Nichels Engineering and G&N Aircraft.
Goldsmith’s and Nichels association paid off at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Paul collecting two top-fives (a third in 1960 and a fifth in 1959) in just six races.
His stock car efforts for Nichels Engineering were even more impressive. In 1960, he finished second in the United States Auto Club (USAC) season championship. In 1961, Paul was the 1961 USAC champion with 10 victories, 7 poles, and 16 top-five finishes in just 19 races. In 1962, he and Nichels won their second consecutive USAC championship in 1962 with 8 wins, 6 poles, and 15 top-five finishes in 20 races. The back-to-back championships over this two year period were an exhibition of pure dominance by Goldsmith and Nichels.
Also in 1961, Goldsmith teamed with Glenn “Fireball” Roberts, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch, Rodger, Ward and Len Sutton to set a series of 24 hour speed and endurance records (that still stand to this day) at both the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington Raceway for Nichels Engineering.
In 1963, Paul piloted the Nichels Engineering No. 50 Super Duty 421 Pontiac LeMans, built by Nichels Chief Engineer; Dale “Tiny” Worley, to one of the most lopsided victories in Daytona Speed Weeks history, by beating 2nd place finisher A.J. Foyt by over 5 miles in the Challenge Cup 250.
In 1963, Paul’s engineering expertise was a key part of Nichels Engineering and their transition from Pontiac to Chrysler products helping to lead Chrysler to stock car racing dominance in NASCAR, USAC, IMCA and ARCA. Goldsmith’s ability to read a race track and articulate his observations while test driving, along with Ray Nichels’ innate skill to modify the race car to get it to do precisely what Goldsmith needed, proved to be priceless in the development of the Chrysler Hemi engine, Plymouth Belvedere, Dodge Charger, Dodge Daytona Charger and the Plymouth Superbird.
Paul captured the very first 426 Hemi-engine Pole at Daytona in 1964, in a fire-red Nichels Engineering Plymouth Belvedere by beating the previous year’s pole speed by almost 15 miles per hour when he posted a track record of 174.910 mph.
What the racing world didn’t know, was the previous November, during a week-long secret testing session at San Angelo, Texas, while he and Ray Nichels were testing the newly developed Hemi engine, “Goldy” would share his cool, dry humor as well.
As Goldsmith drove, Nichels, in an effort to find more speed, sat beside him and analyzed every possible chassis combination. As they were running 185 miles per hour, (unheard of in stock car racing circles at the time,) Nichels leaned over and said loudly to Goldsmith “You know, there really isn’t any sort wall to stop us if we begin to rollover.“ Goldsmith yelled back at Nichels “not to worry, if we do roll the car, it will stop by the time we get to Abilene.” Nichels asked: “How far away is Abilene? Goldsmith replied “About 80 miles.”
Paul ranks fifth in all time wins in USAC late model competition with 26 wins behind Don White, A.J. Foyt, Norm Nelson, and Butch Hartman. In addition to his two USAC National stock car championships, he finished second in season points on two occasions. Paul’s 11 year NASCAR career consisted of 127 races, 9 victories, 8 poles, 44 top-fives and 59 top-tens.
Goldsmith retired as a race driver in 1969 and continued on in differing racing capacities until his complete retirement in 1972. He is still active with his ownership of the Griffith-Merrillville Airport, G&N Aircraft and a series of other businesses.
Goldsmith was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall-of-Fame in 1999, Michigan Motorsports Hall-of-Fame in 1986 and was honored by the Living Legends of Auto Racing during Daytona Speedweeks in 2007. He is being inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation Hall of Fame on May 26, 2016.