Posting vignettes based on great postcards found in my mail box and elsewhere.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Revolution Is Complete

This 3x5 inch postcard shows the starting field of the 1965 Indianapolis 500-Mile Sweepstakes. The eventual race winner, Scotsman Jimmy Clark, is in the middle of the front row. He is flanked by defending champion A.J. Foyt, on the pole (right) and Dan Gurney (left).


This was the first year that a rear engine car won the 500 mile race. Since 1911 the front engine roadster-style cars were the vogue. The rear engine revolution was now complete and there was no looking back.

The rear engine was brought to Indy several times. The first was in 1937 by Lee Oldfield, a maverick engineer. The car failed to qualify. There were a few others but the revolution began in earnest in 1961 with Jack Brabham's Cooper-Climax, a modified Formula I racecar. Compared to the traditional front engine roadsters, the Cooper was a tiny car with a small engine compared to the roadsters of the day but because of superior handling finished a respectable ninth its first time out.  Despite this top ten finish, the rear engine car's finish was seen as a fluke by most, though others could see the future was in the rear end.

Seeing the writing on wall, American Dan Gurney paid famed English car builder Colin Chapman to attend the 1962 race and arranged for him to meet with the Ford Motor Company executives. He returned to England with a contract to build three rear engine cars powered by an aluminum Ford engine for the 1963 race. Jim Clark drove one of those to a strong second-place finish. By 1965 27 of the 33 cars were rear engine. Fourteen were Ford-powered rear engine cars and they took nine of the top ten spots. People soon began to refer to the front engine cars as dinosaurs.

Besides the first win by a rear engine car, this was a years of other firsts. Notable among them was the first year since 1916 the race was not won by an American. It was the first year the race was televised live by the American Broadcasting Company (ABC's Wide World of Sports). It was also the first year the racecar's gas tanks contained a thick rubber bladder with a low-density plastic foam so that if the tank was ruptured the fuel spill and splash would be minimized. This safety feature was added following the previous year's worse fiery accident in the speedway's history (another first). This seven car accident claimed the life of rookie Dave McDonald and veteran racer Eddy Sacks. The deaths and injury to other drivers in this conflagration led to several safety related changes at the speedway, such as less volatile fuels and limits on fuel capacity in cars.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I have a few cards of Indianapolis, but none of the speedway.