Archive for May 26, 2010

Region Racers at the Indianapolis 500
Munster’s Goldsmith part of ‘Greatest 500 Ever’ in 1960

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Originally published in the Post-Tribune – Chicago Sun-Times New Group – May 25, 2010

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Since 1909, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been the site of more drama than any another racing venue on earth. Every month of May brings a long list of stories, all of them beginning with optimism, many of them involving crisis and only a handful ending in elation.

One common denominator every May is that almost everyone remembers the winner and almost no one remembers the back story, the heart of the race itself.

True followers of this century-long Hoosier tradition get the most out of these races, because even after the checkered flag, the stories behind the 33 individual drivers logging 500 miles around the world’s fastest race track remain to be compelling. Whether you follow the race either in person, on television or listening on the radio, you get an amazing insight to the dramatic pace this of three-hour soap opera.

Many fondly remember Rufus “Parnelli” Jones as the Indy winner from 1963. But few recall that many believe he should have been black flagged for dangerously leaking oil on the track (and causing two wrecks) in the late stages of the race, opening the door for Jimmy Clark to be the true victor.

In 1995, Jacques Villeneuve needed 505 miles to win the Indy 500 after being penalized two laps early in the race for passing the pace car under yellow. His run back up to the front was breathtaking, but his victory wasn’t assured until the checkered flag, after his closest competitor, Scott Goodyear had been black flagged for the same offense.

In 1972, after “Region Racer” Gary Bettenhausen of Tinley Park led for 138 of the first 175 laps, Jerry Grant, driving a Dan Gurney Eagle (under the banner of Chris Vallo Enterprises) appeared to have the race won when he pulled in for fuel and tires on lap 188.

Grant mistakenly pulled into his teammate Bobby Unser’s pit and when he went back out on the track was black flagged for the remainder of the race.

Mark Donohue was the victor giving Roger Penske his first of 15 Indy wins.

That leads us to the story of what is believed to be by many, the greatest Indianapolis 500 ever.

In 1960, the Indianapolis 500 Roadster era was in its prime — cars that men like Munster’s Paul Goldsmith wrestled around this behemoth of a race course that still had much of it’s main straightaway composed of the bricks originally laid down in the early part of the 20th century.

The defending champion that year was the legendary Rodger Ward, who had topped Jim Rathmann for the win in 1959.

When “Goldy” returned to Indy in 1960 he was once again the pilot of the Quin Epperly-built Demler No. 99 laydown roadster being campaigned by Nichels Engineering, a car with a great pedigree whose history included finishing second in 1958 and fifth in 1959 (with Goldsmith behind the wheel).

During the cold, rainy, windy May weather of 1960, the Nichels team just couldn’t find any speed in practice with Goldsmith becoming increasingly concerned about his ability to qualify.

Concern soon grew to alarm when the car failed to make the race during the first three days of qualifying. In fact, on one attempt, Nichels chose to yellow flag “Goldy” after just two qualifying laps at speeds just over 143 miles per hour, since Rathmann had qualified in the front row at 146.371 mph and had Ward right next to him at 145.560 mph.

Goldsmith finally made the starting grid at 142.783 mph, the very last car to make the race, finishing his last lap as the gun sounded ending the final day of qualifications.

On race day, Goldsmith started 26th on the grid and by the 28th lap was 10th as the first 50 miles brought a new race record of 144.866 mph.

By the time of his first pit stop, Goldsmith had risen to an unbelievable sixth in a 500 that was running a pace faster than ever before. Goldy was driving the tires right off the car as he continued to move up through the field.

Rathmann and Ward traded the lead an unbelievable 15 times over the last 78 laps of the extremely fast race. They had started in the front row together and battled all afternoon in a race that lasted just over three and half hours.

So at the end of the day, who captured third place behind those two front runners in this classic Indy 500?

It was Paul Goldsmith, in what can only be described as one his quietest, most successful Indy drives ever.

Goldsmith started 26th, had four pit stops (Rathmann and Ward only had three each) yet finished the day in third spot to earn himself a nice $24,350 purse.

Many true race fans may recall one of Goldsmith’s many victories over the many years that he raced motorcycles, stock cars and IndyCars.

But almost no one recalls the tremendous race he drove on that May afternoon 56 years ago.

Speedway Sightings …

By: Wm. LaDow
Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune — May 24, 2010
Speedway, Indiana

With temperatures rising inside and outside the garages along Gasoline Alley, the pressure of the new two-day Indianapolis 500 qualifying format began to show early Sunday morning.

It started with Andretti Autosport reeling from its worst showing in years. The biggest woe was the Tony Kanaan saga. After crashing his primary car during his qualifying attempt Saturday, Kanaan went out early Sunday and drove his backup car into the wall in almost the same location.

Kanaan never started worse than sixth in eight career Indy starts, so it was an especially grueling day. His team cannibalized parts from other cars and used crew members from other teams to get him back on the track. He tested twice during the afternoon, returning to the garage for more adjustments as the car lacked stability.

The Andretti team, already running midpack during Saturday qualifying, still had two cars to get into the show Sunday, with Kanaan and John Andretti on the outside looking in. Andretti qualified 28th with a four-lap average of 224.518 mph. Kanaan placed 32nd in the 33-car field at 224.072.

As the teams prepared for qualifying at noon (EDT), a stunning development came from the Foyt Garage as Anthony Foyt IV was replaced with Jaques Lazier to drive the No. 41 entry owned by his grandfather, A.J. Foyt. It was learned that Foyt IV expressed concern over the performance of the car he was scheduled to qualify later in the afternoon and was promptly replaced.

Early afternoon qualifying saw Andretti, Fisher, Vitor Meira, Alex Lloyd, Sebastian Saavedra, Takuma Sato, Bruno Junqueira, Paul Tracy, Mario Romancini and Jay Howard taking runs, with only Milka Duno waiving off her attempt.

Bryan Herta Motorsports and driver Saavedra suffered what appeared to be a crushing blow, when Saavedra crashed hard coming out of the first turn, heavily damaging the team’s only car, ending any chance to defend their spot already earned.

The final push for qualifying began at 5:23 when Kanaan bumped No. 29 Saavedra. Lazier was next, posting a 223.360, not enough to make the field. Romancini then bettered his position with another run of 224.641.

Duno then began a run, only to be waved off as too slow. Sato, in the No. 5 KV racing entry, then bumped Howard in the No. 66 Fisher car with a run of 224.178. Howard went back out and posted a 223.610, placing Tracy on the bubble.

With only 10 minutes left, Tracy stunned the crowd by relinquishing his spot and trying to requalify at a higher speed in an attempt to move off the bubble. His first two laps of 223.704 and 223.070, proved too slow to continue and his attempt was waved off.

“As soon as the track temperature came up, we couldn’t get a handle on it,” Tracy said. “I was just sitting in the car. When we needed the car to run in the heat, it just wouldn’t run.”

Neither of the next two drivers, Lazier and Duno, completed their qualifying runs due to lack of speed.

Like Tracy, Howard also gambled by waiving his spot and trying to requalify with a higher speed. This put Saavedra back on bubble for a third time, even though he had been in Speedway Medical Care Center and his car was sitting in a heap in the Bryan Herta garage.

Howard’s 223.120 was too slow to retain his position. Without being on the track, rookie Saavedra became the 33rd and final qualifier.