Disciple of INDYCAR Weblog

May 27, 2010

A Child of the 60s at the Indianapolis 500

Filed under: The Disciple Blogs — Disciple of INDYCAR @ 11:53 am

The 1960s at Indy was a magical era for this then-young fan. What stands out the most during that decade was evolution from front to rear engine powerplants. A very long era came to an end. Many traditionalists were completely unwilling to accept that change. The howling of the locals over rear engine cars rivaled the hysterical shrieking to which real racing fans have been subjected for fifteen years by enthusiasts of the cart era about Tony George.

My personal highlight occurred prior to the 1965 race in May. My father worked with driver Ronnie Duman at his ‘real’ daytime job, and one evening I was snuck into the garage area during a time when not even women were allowed in there. Imagine the thrill of sitting in a real race car and having it all explained to me by an actual participant! He quickly became my favorite although he did not finish that particular 500 well and later lost his life doing what he loved.

Any discussion of rear engine race cars or turbines with oldtimers generally results in a good debate. What stands out for a fan that soaked it all in were broken speed barriers. The 1960s saw the 150, 160 and 170 mph marks set with Tom Carnegie enthusiastically delivering the news each time. Drivers from a wide variety of disciplines mixed it up. European formula drivers with stock and sprint specialists as well as those who were ‘championship’ Indy drivers competed with gusto.

During the late 1960s free love was taking hold along with student protesting and civil upheaval. I was still a little too young to care about much of that, but Indy had become my sport of choice, although the young ABA and the brand new Indiana Pacers were also fascinating at the end of that decade. The ABA was loaded with personalities just like Indy.

Andy Granatelli probably does not get enough credit for being an innovator (or bending the rule book). He endured his share of criticism. The turbine ‘whooshmobile’ Parnelli drove in ’67 stood out for me primarily because of its lack of noise as it went by. It did not ‘sound’ like a race car. In the race Parnelli checked out on the field. Until that $6 part let go late the stands were poised to congratulate Parnelli and Andy. AJ received louder cheers than he ordinarily would have because he won in a car with an actual motor, even if it was in the back. Wedge turbines that succeeded the bulbous model Parnelli drove were artistic beauties. The decade ended well for everyone with Mario in Victory Lane with Granatelli in a ‘real’ car and a big kiss.

As the 70’s began, so did an adolescence that included enthusiastic participation in the debauchery that was the snakepit. That, however, is a topic for another day.


1 Comment »

  1. In 1967, I was in the Marine Corps stationed in San Diego, but I got to see the ‘500 on closed-circuit TV downtown–both days! Kinda grainy and dark, but it was the race. In 1968, I was in Vietnam, listening to the race on AFVN network–in the middle of the night; there was twelve hours difference. I was quite a converter–my radio was crowded around by a bunch of guys who a few months before didn’t give a rip about auto racing at all. It was especially gratifying to “see” Bobby Unser win his first ‘500, and my parents sent me the clippings from the Chicago Tribune. After that I got Floyd Clymer’s 1968 edition of the ‘500–his last yearbook before his death.

    Comment by DOUG — May 27, 2010 @ 2:54 pm | Reply

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