A.J. Foyt and Eddie Sachs, the big names in the 1961 500-mile race, were, along with Dave McDonald, the big names in the 1964 race. Foyt repeated his first-place finish of 1961 while Sachs and McDonald were killed in the second-lap fire which some people claim was the worst wreck in 500-mile race history.
We received our tickets on May 5th. In February, Dad mailed his annual request for our tickets in the Tower Terrace section. A few days later, he received a letter informing him that, due to an unusual request for tickets for this year’s race, all Tower Terrace tickets were already sold out. The letter also stated what tickets were available, so Dad immediately mailed his second ticket request, and on May 5th, we received our tickets in the Tower Terrace Extension, row B, seats 6,7, and 8.
For the third consecutive year, I came home from George Air Force Base in California to see the big race, arriving home on Saturday, May 23rd.
Friday morning, May 29th, our house was its usual madhouse as Bobby, Dad, and I got ready for the big event. Bobby prepared the food, and Dad and I gathered up all the other paraphernalia and got it ready to put into the car. We had blankets, pillows, sunglasses, camera, film, medicine pills, cooking utensils, plus all of the food that Bobby prepared.
Shortly before 12:00, I backed the car out of the garage and parked it in front of the back entrance to our house. Dad starting putting our equipment in the trunk while I went upstairs and brought some of Bobby’s food preparations down to the car. We put as much as we could comfortably into the trunk and then put the rest on the back seat.
We checked to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, and I checked the glove compartment to make sure we had the most important item of all — the tickets. Assuring ourselves that we had everything, the three of us got into the car. At the last minute, Dad decided to change the seating pattern of the three previous years by sitting in the back instead of the front seat. With me driving, Bobby on my right, and Dad occupying the right rear seat, I turned on the ignition, we waved goodbye to Mother, and at 12:15, we left on our annual journey to the Indiana capital.
We went north on 3rd Street to North Grand Avenue, east on North Grand to 5th Street, north on 5th Street to Sangamon Avenue, and then east on Sangamon.
When we crossed by-pass 66, we came upon Interstate 55 highway. Not being real familiar with the new highway, Dad mistakenly directed me to turn left, which was Route 54 going to Chicago. I was rather confused and, although I knew I was going the wrong way, turned left anyway. I told Dad we were on the wrong road, and then he realized what he had done. I turned back at the first chance I had, and pretty soon we were on the right road again.
In about five minutes, we reached Route 36 on the outskirts of Riverton. We went through Dawson, Buffalo, Lanesville, and around Illiopolis, Niantic, and Harristown. When we reached the four-lane highway, I knew we were getting near Decatur. The traffic seemed about the same as it was every other May 29th afternoon. About 1:15, we passed the sign saying “Indianapolis – 150,” and a short time later, we passed over Lake Decatur — on the open highway once again.
The first towns after Decatur were Long Creek and Casner, and from then on until just a few miles from the state line, the road was absolutely straight. As we traveled, the three of us talked about many things — the farmers plowing their fields, the condition of the crops, the small towns we passed through, the people we saw in the towns, the nature of the towns, how many miles we had traveled, and most certainly the big race we were going to see.
About 1:45, we arrived at Tuscola. It’s easy to remember Tuscola because of the big chemical factory on Route 36 just west of the city. I’ve always been intrigued by the size of this factory and always enjoy driving by and seeing it. When we were clear of the chemical factory, we resumed our normal highway speed of 60-70 mph.
As always, when we passed through Hume, I was reminded of that first year I went to Indianapolis, 1954. That was the first and only year we stopped there. I could tell by the time and the mileage on the car that we were getting close to Chrisman, our usual rest stop. When we went under the famous viaduct about a mile or so west of the junction of Routes 36, 150, and 1, I knew the first half of our trip was about over. A short distance later, I discovered the restaurant on our left and started easing up on the accelerator. I turned left at the intersection, drove a few feet to the first turnoff, and then came back to the restaurant. There is a Standard Service Station immediately adjacent to the restaurant, so Dad said to stop there first and get the gas tank filled up and the windshield washed. When we stopped at the pump, I looked at my watch and it read 2:21. It had taken us two hours and six minutes from the time we pulled out of the driveway until the time we stopped at the gas pump.
While I sat in the car and waited for the attendant to fill the tank, dad used the restroom and Bobby waited outside for her chance to do likewise. Dad returned to pay for the gas, and then I drove the car into the parking lot in front of the restaurant. I got out, locked the car, stretched a little, and made use of the restroom while Dad and Bobby went on into the restaurant. With that important job completed, I went in and joined Bobby and Dad.
We sat in a booth at one end of the restaurant. Dad ordered coffee and a hamburger, Bobby decided on a dish of salad and a cup of coffee, and I had a cheeseburger, french fries, and coffee. Our waitress wasn’t real speedy, but the best part, or maybe I should say worst, was yet to come.
I sat on one side of the booth while Bobby sat directly in front of me with Dad to her right. When the waitress brought Bobby her coffee, I immediately noticed there was a fly in it. When I asked Bobby if she was going to drink her coffee like that, she gave me a funny look and said, “huh?” When she looked at her coffee, she saw what I was talking about. Dad asked the waitress to exchange it for a good cup. She did so but was indifferent about what had happened. When we finished eating, we felt better and decided to be on our way again.
We took the same seats we had before we stopped, and at 2:55, I turned the ignition key and once again we were on our way. Our rest stop took up 34 minutes of our time, which was longer than we usually stop.
At 3:04, we left Illinois and entered Indiana. As usual, the pretty green trees provided attractive scenery as we traveled through the west central part of the Hoosier State. The straight highway we had in Illinois soon became a series of hills and curves, and the yellow center line became a common sight. As we drove through the towns of Hillsdale, Montezuma, Rockville, Bainbridge, Danville, and Avon, we observed the same tranquil life of Indiana that we had noticed in Illinois. As we traveled through the Wabash Valley and over the famous river, I commented about how pretty and cool it always was when we traveled through here.
A few miles from Avon, the traffic started getting heavier, so we knew we were getting close to our destination. As appears true every year, the western outskirts of Indianapolis seemed more modern than they did last year. Dad remarked about how modern and attractive this part of the city always looks every year when we go through it. We came to the intersection of Route 36 and Lynhurst Drive and turned left. The traffic on Lynhurst Drive wasn’t heavy until we reached 10th Street, the first stoplight. From then on, it was quite heavy. We crossed 16th Street, then the railroad tracks, and stopped at the stop sign. We turned right and went about four or five blocks to Fisher Street and turned left. I stopped and backed into our temporary home.
When we stopped and got out of the car, the owner of the house whose property we were on, Mr. Kramer, came out and extended his annual welcome to us. He asked me if I could drive the car up and park it more to the right, which I did. When I shut off the engine the first time, I checked the time and it was 4:37. It had taken us 1 hour and 42 minutes to go from Chrisman to Crawfordsville and Fisher. The entire trip took 4 hours and 22 minutes. It had taken us six more minutes of traveling time than it did last year, but for the eleventh consecutive year, we had made the trip without a wreck and without car trouble.
We talked to Mr. Kramer for a few minutes and then decided to take our initial walk down to the Speedway. The scenery was similar to that of the past years. There was the heavy traffic, cars parked on the shoulder of the road on both sides, people sitting and eating in their cars, and the overall carnival atmosphere that prevailed. When we reached the Speedway Museum, we talked about taking a tour through the building but decided that, since the crowd was so large and we were getting hungry for supper, we would skip the tour for this year.
As we started walking back to the car, I bought a couple of newspapers. As always, most of the news in the papers was about the big race. The intersection of 16th Street, Georgetown Road, and Crawfordsville Road was real busy with the 5:00 traffic plus all the traffic going into and coming out of the Speedway. A person really has to keep his eyes and ears open to avoid being caught in the traffic. When we managed to get across the busy intersection, we continued on our way back to the car. As we were walking, we remarked to each other that despite the many years we had seen this same scene, we still are amused by it. Although it was about 5:30 in the afternoon, some people were already full of liquor and showing it. The many outdoor grills being utilized, the enormous amount of beer cans and bottles, the many people sleeping in the cars, and the thousands of people all together in the same place having such a good time, is something I see only once a year.
When we arrived back at the car, we glanced at our newspapers and then got our supper ready. Dad got the cooking grill assembled and working while Bobby got the hamburgers out and ready to put into the skillet. When we started out from home, it looked as if Bobby had prepared enough food for us to stay for a week. While the hamburgers were cooking, we got the rest of our equipment out, including plates, cups, glasses, silverware, and napkins. In addition to hamburgers, we ate baked beans, potato chips, cookies, deviled eggs, salad, and bananas. We drank coffee to help wash everything down. A nutritionist might have said that we weren’t eating a well-balanced meal, but our meal had some nutrition in it and it tasted real good. As we sat in our car and ate our supper, we sat and watched and talked about everybody and everything around us. At the same time, we listened to the radio. Every newscast on every station mentioned something about the 500-mile race tomorrow. The drivers’ meeting that afternoon, the 500 festival parade the night before, and the weather prediction for tomorrow were the big stories. When we felt we had enough supper in our stomachs, we cleaned up our mess. We washed our silverware, plates, cups, and glasses and put all of our scraps into a paper sack for later disposal.
With the supper dishes done, we sat in the car for a little while and relaxed. While listening to the radio, we read our newspapers and pointed out articles of interest concerning the race to each other. There is so much variety of activity connected with the 500-mile race that it takes a long time to read and talk about it.
When it became too dark to do any more reading, we decided to take our usual nightly stroll down to the 16th Street and the surrounding area to take in the activity that makes up The Night Before the 500. The Night Before the 500 was somewhat different this year than it had been in years past. The many long lines of cars extending back several miles on 16th Street and Main Street were absent this year. Under a new ordinance, all the cars which in past years would have been parked on these streets were directed to park in the parking lot at the north end of the Speedway. Although this new law took the cars off the streets, it still left all of the pedestrians with all the noise that they make.
We walked along the south end of the Speedway and took in everything that was going on. We passed one of the few remaining wooden grandstands, Grandstand D, and a little farther down, Grandstand G. At the southwest turn, we saw the Speedway Motel and Clubhouse. Business seemed to be good at the motel. We crossed the street, walked by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company race headquarters, walked under the viaduct, and stopped at the first intersection. The traffic was bumper to bumper on this night, and the drivers were most unpredictable, but somehow we managed to get across to the other side of the street without getting hit or causing any crack-ups.
The first person we saw was a drunk who had had more than just one too many drinks. As we continued walking west, we saw more and more of the high school and college kids that we see every year. As usual, they were drinking their beer, taking up more than their share of the sidewalk, and by their noise letting everyone know they were around. The shopping center parkway was empty, but the Holiday Inn was alive with activity. The concession stands were receiving a lot of attention from the hundreds of people walking by them. They were selling hot dogs, soda pop, pennants, model race cars, and several other items. A couple of minutes later, we came to the intersection of Main Street and 16th Street. With the help of a policeman, we crossed the street and went into the drugstore on the corner. The place was crowded as it is every May 29th evening. We walked around for a few minutes and bought a newspaper before we left. We noticed that the traffic on Main Street was almost nil compared to previous years, but little by little it was getting heavier. Now, there were four lanes lined up back to the next intersection. We continued walking for another block, but everything seemed pretty quiet, so we turned around and walked back.
Bobby and Dad decided they wanted to go back to the car and try to get some sleep, but to me that night was still young and there was a lot I hadn’t seen yet. I turned left and walked west on 16th Street. The traffic, like that on Main Street, was small compared to previous years, but it was beginning to get heavier. The usual large amount of cars was missing, but as usual, the street was infested with college kids drinking beer and having a jolly good time. I continued walking for three more blocks, then crossed the street and walked towards the Speedway. I somehow managed to get across the three-way intersection without getting hit or causing an accident and then took a walk down Georgetown Road. It was just as lively as it had been in other years. It was about midnight now, and all the activity was really in high gear. One has to stay awake to avoid the drunks, the crazy drivers, and the empty beer cans and bottles all at the same time.
Shortly before reaching Gate 6, an Indiana State Police Jeep with two officers in it approached me and suddenly stopped a few feet in front of me. They sprung from their Jeep and immediately stopped two boys who were drinking beer. The policemen asked them for proper identification of their ages. When the boys replied that they didn’t have any identification, they were immediately escorted into the Jeep and hauled away.
When I reached Gate 7, I turned around and started walking back. The light coming from the huge beacon behind Grandstand C could be seen a long distance from the Speedway. Parking lots and concession stands all along the road were vociferously advertising their presence. When I reached Crawfordsville Road, I turned right and headed toward Fisher Street. The pre-dawn activities were going full blast. At 1:00 in the morning, some of the amateur cooks were applying their culinary skills. The aroma some of the food emitted was very pleasing to my sense of smell. In addition to the cooking, there were several small dance parties enlivening the scene. In some cases, there were several people in one car. Those people had a little fire going and were singing and playing their banjos around the fire. Despite all of the noise around them, there were still many people sleeping in their cars or in sleeping bags on the ground.
I reached Fisher Street about 1:00. When I got to the car, I found Dad sleeping on the cot by the right rear tire and Bobby sleeping in the back seat. As quietly and carefully as I could, I opened and closed the door, took off my shoes, shirt, and watch, pulled a blanket over me, and tried to go to sleep.
As usual, I was too excited to be sleepy, so I just lay on the seat for a while and thought to myself and listened to all of the noise around us. I was quite cramped and kept moving around to get comfortable, but somewhere around 2:00, I dozed off for a while. When I awakened, I looked at my watch and it read 3:15. The revelers were still going strong with their merriment. I wanted to go watch them but thought the noise of the car door might disturb what little sleep Bobby and Dad were getting, so I moved around some more and finally managed to doze off again. The next time I woke up, it was 4:30, so I decided that was the end of my sleeping. I put on my shirt, shoes, and watch and went out and walked along Crawfordsville Road for a short distance. The cool morning air made me shiver a little, but it wasn’t cold enough to keep me from watching all the activity in the area. There was quite a bit of giggling, especially from those cars with both boys and girls in them. The dancing and drinking hadn’t stopped yet. About 4:50, I went back to the car and lay down again.
At 5:00, the big explosion occurred. The traditional opening bomb had gone off, and Memorial Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was under way for 1964. A minute or so later, Bobby woke up and then sat up in her seat to see what was going on. Dad gave the impression of being still asleep, so Bobby and I watched and talked about the activity around us. The cars lined up on Crawfordsville Road hadn’t begun to move yet, but one by one the people in the cars were waking up. It wasn’t very long until some nitwit in the line started honking his horn in an apparent attempt to get the traffic moving. As Bobby and I were talking, Dad woke up, folded his blankets and cot, and then put them in the trunk of the car. When I knew for sure that Dad was awake, I got out to get some fresh air and stretch my arms and legs. Most of the people around us were still trying to sleep, so the three of us tried not to disturb them.
About 5:30, we started our annual early morning walk down the Gate 6 to see the many hundreds of cars go under the track and into the infield. We stopped at the Standard Service Station a block from the car and got us a good hot cup of coffee. It was still pretty cool, so the coffee felt real good. The closer we got to the Speedway, the better the traffic was moving, and by the time we reached Georgetown Road, all three lanes were moving. The scenery along the road was the same as it had been at 12:30 except that the traffic was all moving in the same direction now. About the time we reached the bridge, we saw our first ticket seller. A couple minutes later, we reached our destination.
One thing I noticed this year was that the same Indiana State Policeman and Speedway Patrolman were working here at Gate 6 as had been working here for the past several years. We stood a few feet from the street and watched the activity. As we were watching the passenger cars, every once in a while we could hear the loud crackling roar of the engine of one of the race cars as its pit crew was testing it out to see if it would start. It was a wonderful sound.
If a person ever wanted to see every make of car there is all at the same time and place, he should stand where we do at Gate 6 for a few minutes. We see just about any make and year of car a person could think of. The policemen have no trouble with most of the people, but there are always a few who stand up in or sit on the back of convertibles. These people are not allowed to go through the gate until they are seated in their cars as they’re supposed to be. After watching all the cars for a while, you begin to wonder where in the world they’re all coming from. I’ve never tried to count all of them, but I’m sure we see several hundred cars and people pass through this gate every year. It’s a lot of work for the law enforcement officials, but they always do a real good job of directing the traffic.
About 7:00, the bumper-to-bumper traffic began to diminish slightly, so we started walking back to the car. When we reached Crawfordsville Road, the traffic between the intersection and Fisher Street had thinned out considerably. We arrived back at the car shortly before 7:30 and got all of our cooking utensils out. Dad got the cooking grill assembled and ready to use while Bobby got out the cups, coffee, silverware, plates, eggs, bacon, and a few other items. A few minutes later, the bacon and eggs were sizzling, the coffee was boiling, and we were ready to eat breakfast. In addition to the bacon and eggs, we had fruit salad, oranges, bananas, cookies, and sweet rolls to eat. Some people may not have liked the way we were cooking and eating our food, but the food was good, we were having a good time, and we didn’t care about what anybody else thought. When we felt as if we had eaten enough, we cleaned up our mess and washed the plates, silverware, glasses and cups.
It was shortly after 8:00, so we decided it was time for us to leave for the Speedway. We took all of the equipment we would need out of the car, which included camera, film, field glasses, transistor radios, sunglasses, jackets, and most important of all, the race tickets. I gave the tickets to Dad and then locked and checked the car. The pedestrian traffic between Fisher Street and the Speedway was heavy now. Many people were carrying sack lunches, seat cushions, and small coolers full of beer and other cold drinks. As we passed the Standard Service Station, we noticed that the two restrooms and the coffee counter were all doing a real good business. If a person’s bladder isn’t ready to rupture, he would save money and much time by waiting until he arrived at the Speedway where the use of restroom facilities is free. About halfway during the walk, we met some people we see every year at the same location — members of the VFW selling their little pins for whatever donation you wished to give them. We always give them a donation so that they’ll quit pestering us.
A short distance later, we arrived at the entrance to the Speedway. The pedestrian traffic was really heavy now. Dad took the tickets out of his pocket, gave them to the ticket-taker as we entered the Speedway, and the ticket-taker returned part of the tickets to us. A few feet inside the gate, I bought three official souvenir programs, selling for 75c each.
Now came the long walk to the viaduct which leads to the inside of the track. All along the way, there were concession stands selling soda pop, coffee, hot dogs, Floyd Clymer yearbooks, plastic model racing cars, Speedway pennants, and other items. The enormous mass of people was making it difficult to walk comfortably, and we were beginning to wonder if we had missed our turning-off point, but I knew from previous experience that we hadn’t arrived there yet. Shortly thereafter, we saw the sign directing us to go under the viaduct and onto the infield. When we left the viaduct on the infield, we turned right toward the garage area. One of the first things we did was to make use of the restrooms. Then we walked a little farther down to Gasoline Alley. All of the cars were in their pits, so all we could see were some of the pit crews milling around and waiting out the last couple of hours.
It was after 9:00 now, and since we weren’t sure just how to get to our seats, we decided we’d better do so. We walked down a flight of steps, under one of the roads going through the infield, and up another flight of steps. We went a few steps farther and then entered a gate behind the Terrance Extension seats. An usher led us to our seats, which were in section 4, row 3, seats 4, 5, and 6. We were seated right at the entrance to the pit area, which gave us an excellent view of the cars as they came into the pit area. We also could see the north-most three or four pit areas. The seats were not as comfortable as those we’ve had in the Tower Terrace section. The bottom was narrower, and they didn’t have any back. The rows were closer to each other, which made it hard to move around. As we looked up and down the straightaway, we noticed that the seats were rapidly filling up, and I thought to myself that by the time the race started, there wouldn’t be an empty seat in sight.
At 10:00, the PA announcer, Tom Carnegie, announced to all pit crews that they were to line up their cars in their respective starting positions. Only one hour remained until the green flag fell. Tom Carnegie had to make the second announcement before the pit crews went to work. As I watched the cars being pushed out of the pit area and into their starting positions, I got that tense and excited feeling I get every year during the last hour or so before the start of the race.
As the cars were being lined up, the Speedway turned the clock back 50 years when a 1914 Stutz and Delage made a one-lap tour around the track. Former driver Earl Cooper drove the Stutz, which started out right in front of us.
As usual, there were several movie and television stars in attendance who rode around the track for the acclamation of the crowd. Among those who were there this year were Art Linkletter, Vic Damone, Marilyn Maxwell, Keely Smith, and Phil Harris. Marilyn Maxwell received a big applause for her presence from the men in the audience. In addition to all of these people, the 500 Festival Queen, Donna McKinley, and her court each rode around the track in separate automobiles.
At 10:05, the Purdue University band played the first of the traditional yearly songs, On the Banks of the Wabash. The Purdue University band was doing its usual excellent job of marching up and down the straightaway. To the men, of course, the main attraction was the glittering golden girl, who marched in front of the band. At 10:30, Sam Hanks and Harlan Fengler, chief steward for the race, made the final inspection tour of the track. At 10:40, the massive crowd rose to its feet as the band played the second of the traditional songs, The Star-Spangled Banner. Five minutes later, the crowd paid its respects to those former 500-mile race winners who lost their lives while racing as the band played Taps. At 10:50, the song that sends chills of excitement up everybody’s back, Back Home Again in Indiana, was played as the pre-race ceremonies reached their climax. While the band was playing, thousands of colored balloons were released skyward from behind the Control Tower.
While the crowd was watching the balloons, Tom Carnegie announced loud and clear that the big moment had come. Drivers were seated in their cars and ready to go, the portable starters had been inserted and were ready to go to work, and pit crews were ready. Tom turned the microphone over to Speedway president, Tony Hulman, who pronounced slowly and distinctly those four famous words — “GENTLEMEN, START YOUR ENGINES!”
A big roar arose from the audience, but that cheer was soon drowned out by the tremendous road of the 33 engines all being charged up at the same time. The sweet sound of those 33 engines brought a big, wide smile to our faces. The chief mechanic of each pit crew raised his hand to indicate that his car and driver were ready to go. About a minute later, the Mustang pace car slowly started moving, with Benson Ford doing the driving and Tony Hulman sitting in the right front seat. The front row of Jim Clark, Bobby Marshman, and Rodger Ward moved out, and the other 10 rows followed behind them. Tom Carnegie announced that all 33 cars had started and were moving, which evoked a big cheer from the audience. I’m always happy when nobody has any trouble starting.
The field moved through the first and second turns and then onto the back straightaway as the drivers moved into their eleven rows of three each behind the pace car. The deep, low roar of the engines could be heard from where we were as the field moved toward the number three turn. Everybody seated on the front straightaway was standing and stretching their necks to catch sight of the field as they came through the number four turn and down the front straightaway. It seemed like a long wait, but a few seconds later the pace car was coming toward us as the buzz of the crowd turned into another cheer. The pace car and the eleven rows behind it presented a breathtaking sight of beauty and precision as they moved down the straightaway and past us. Whistling and arm-waving erupted as the 33 cars moved by us. Many of the drivers waved back to the audience as they went by.
As they crossed the start-finish line, the parade lap ended and the official pace lap started. The cars disappeared into the southwest turn as once again the long wait started. Many of the people kept track of the cars by listening to the broadcast of the race with their transistor radios right by their ears. Again, attention focused on the northwest turn as necks and eyes were stretched to catch sight of the pace car. We could hear the field moving down the backstretch and then into the short north chute. A few seconds later, a big cheer went up from the crowd as the pace car came out of the turn, moved down the straightaway, and headed for the pit area. The roar of the crowd increased as the 33 drivers increased their speed and waited for Pat Vidan to wave the green flag. As the front row went by us, Pat dropped the green flag and the big race was on!
Pole position man Jim Clark jumped into the lead. As he went through the first turn, he was followed by Parnelli Jones, Bobby Marshman and A.J. Foyt. The noise of the crowd diminished somewhat but started rising several seconds later when the cars came out of the fourth turn and came down the straightaway to complete the first lap. As they crossed the line, it was Clark, Marshman, Ward, Foyt, and Jones. Clark had set a new first lap record with a speed of 149.775 mph. The race was off to a fast start. As they completed the second lap, it was Clark, Marshman, Ward, Dan Gurney, and Foyt.
And then it happened…
As Clark crossed the starting line and began his third lap, rookie Dave McDonald came out of the fourth turn and went into a long slide. He fought to gain control of the car, but it continued sliding and hit the inside retaining wall, and on contact with the wall, it exploded into a huge inferno. The car was sliding across to the outside wall when it was hit on the left side by Eddie Sachs in the American Red Ball Special. Like McDonald’s car, Sachs’s car immediately exploded into a huge fire. The two fires together, plus the black smoke from the fires, created an enormous, horrible sight that could be seen several miles from the track.
Sachs was killed instantly, although it hasn’t been established whether the fire killed him or he was killed when he was crushed inside his car. His car made such a terrific impact with McDonald’s car and the outer wall that it pushed the front end of the car heavily against his chest. Because the fire was so large and hot, and because the cockpit was squeezed so hard, it took rescue workers a long time to reach him, and by the time they did, he was dead. A white sheet was put over his body. When his body was finally extricated from the car, it was wrapped in the white sheet and taken to the Speedway funeral home. When McDonald was pulled from his car, his entire body was burned badly. Much of his uniform was burned off, and as he was taken in an ambulance to the infield hospital, his arms, legs, and head dangled loosely. From the infield hospital, he was flown to Methodist Hospital of Indianapolis, where he died at 1:20 PM.
The approximate location of the holocaust was the extreme northern end of the Terrace Extension seats. Needless to say, it was one of the worst crashes in the history of the 500-mile race. As I looked to my right and saw what was happening, I was overcome with a feeling that I’ve never experience before. I could feel my face flushing as my mouth fell open and the rest of my body started shaking. Everybody was standing up, but Bobby was so shaken by what was happening that, for a long time, she couldn’t look at what was happening. Dad had the look of death on his face as he immediately turned the radio on and put it to his ear. I was panic-stricken, but I don’t know if either one of them noticed it. Dad didn’t say anything for several minutes.
Besides Sachs and McDonald, other drivers involved in the mess were Chuck Stevenson, Norm Hall, Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford, and Ronnie Duman. The cars of Stevenson and Hall were damaged enough to have to leave the race, but neither driver was hurt. Unser’s car was hit in the rear by either Sachs or McDonald. He lost control of his car and spun around several times before crashing into the outer wall directly across from us. The car was damaged considerably, but Bobby immediately jumped out of the car and walked around and waved his hands to show everybody he was unhurt. Rutherford was riding behind Sachs when McDonald’s car hit the wall and exploded. He tried to steer clear of the wreck but went over McDonald’s engine and came down with his car on fire. He kept going, and the wind put the fire out. His only injury was a burn on the back of the neck. Before Rutherford went over McDonald’s car, he was hit by Ronnie Duman. Duman’s car caught on fire and crashed into the inner wall as I watched the horrible event. It was facing north and was a mass of twisted, burned metal beyond repair. Duman got out of his car and climbed over the wall to safety, but not before receiving extensive burns. He was taken to the infield hospital and then transferred to Methodist Hospital for care of his injuries.
One of the tires on Sachs’s car caught on fire and came off the car. The ball of fire sailed high into the air, over the fence, and landed in front of Grandstand H. In addition to the tire, there were other parts of cars all over the place. Large puddles of oil also covered the track.
Immediately upon seeing what had happened, chief steward Harlan Fengler directed starter Pat Vidan to display the red flag, which he did. For the first time in the history of the race, it was stopped because of an accident. The wreckage covered the entire width of the track. It was impossible for the other drivers to get through. When the remaining drivers reached the fourth turn, they were notified that the race had been stopped. One of the questions that kept running through my mind while the wreckage was being clear was, “How in the world did they manage to stop all of those cars before they ran into the wreckage?” I couldn’t see beyond the fire and therefore was unable to see the cars stop. Ambulances, trucks, and people with fire extinguishers immediately started running toward the fire. Fire extinguishers from every pit crew were rushed to the scene. When the fire was finally put out, one of the tow trucks picked up McDonald’s car and drove through the pit area to the garage area. As the trucked passed in front of us, the race fans stared and moaned in disbelief at the remains of what was once No. 83, the MT Sears Allstate Special. I don’t think any of them had ever seen such a horrible mess.
While the fire was being fought, several of the drivers walked back to their pits. At this time, we were uncertain just what and how many drivers had been hurt, so each driver we saw was one more who wasn’t involved in the accident. Don Branson and Rodger Ward walked down the pit apron together talking about what had happened. Other drivers we were able to identify were Len Sutton, Bob Veith, Jack Brabham, and Jim Clark. There were all ashen-faced. There was nothing funny to laugh or smile about. All of them had seen death before in an auto race, but they were all shaken to the bone by this wreck. Clark appeared to have a bandage on his nose, and this aroused fear that he had been in the wreck. This fear was later proved groundless.
The huge fire eventually was put out, the damaged cars were removed from the track, and the track maintenance crew cleaned up the pieces of race cars scattered all over the track and then went to work on getting rid of all of the oil on the track.
There was nothing for the spectators, drivers, pit crews, and race officials to do except to wait until the mess was cleaned up. During this long waiting period, I wondered what would happen when the mess was finally cleaned up. Would they start from where they stopped? Would they start the race from the beginning again with what cars were left? Would they start from the position they were in at the end of the second lap? Or would they call of the race altogether? The huge crowd was very quiet as it watched the clean-up operation and wondered what would happen when that was finished.
The silence of the Speedway was broken when the PA announcer said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is with deepest regret that we make this announcement. Driver Eddie Sachs was fatally injured in the accident on the main straightaway.” The audience was stunned into unbelievable, deathly silence. One of the trumpet players in the Purdue University Band played Taps as the crowd stood in quiet reverence. After Taps was finished, everybody remained standing for one minute in honor of the man who had just given his life to auto racing.
It was astonishing how quiet everything became. There was not a sound heard from anywhere — just absolute, deathly silence. One of auto racing’s biggest names now was gone forever. My and Bobby’s eyes were both filled with tears as I tried desperately to refrain from coughing and crying. A day which started out to be one of my happiest ever now had become a horrible nightmare come true. When the crowd was seated again, I said to myself silently, “Let’s call this race off. This is too much. I’ve had enough for one day.”
The question of what to do about the 26 remaining cars was still unanswered. USAC officials finally decided that the cars would line up at the starting line in single file in the position they were in at the end of two laps. The race would be restarted beginning with the third lap. Bobby Grim and Bill Cheesbourg were both in the pits during the long wait. Both of them had skidded to a sudden stop to avoid the wreckage and in doing so had ruined one of their tires. This necessitated their pit stops, but the USAC officials said no mechanic could do a thing until the green flag fell. Harlan Fengler announced the line-up for the restart of the race by the numbers on the cars. The pit crews pushed their cars to their starting positions as the maintenance crew put some white powder on the track to dry up what remaining oil spots there might be.
Harlan Fengler directed the engines of the cars to be started, and once again, Benson Ford and Tony Hulman led the field on its way. They went around the track in single file for one lap, and then Pat Vidan dropped the green flag. It had taken an hour and 45 minutes to get the wreckage cleaned up, and the race was started again. As soon as the green flag fell, the pit crews of Bill Cheesbourg and Bobby Grim changed the damaged tires on their cars, and the two drivers were back in the race.
At the drop of the green flag, Jim Clark again took the lead, and Bobby Marshman was right behind him. Clark led until the seventh lap when Marshman and his Pure Oil Firebrand Special overtook Clark. After ten laps, Marshman led Clark by four seconds with Gurney third, Ward fourth, Jones fifth, Foyt sixth, and Walt Hansgen seventh. Eddie Johnson was the first driver to leave the race after it was restarted. He ran six laps. Engine trouble was the cause of his exodus from the race.
With 20 laps completed, Marshman had a 14-second lead over Clark. Marshman’s 15th lap speed was 157.646 mph, the fastest ever run in the 500-mile race. Ward moved into third when Gurney made a pit stop on his 14th lap. Bob Veith, driving one of the MG Liquid Suspension Specials, had moved up from eleventh to eighth position.
At 30 laps, Marshman had increased his lead over Clark to 26 seconds, but when he went through the second turn on his 36th lap, he went too low and the under part of his engine was ripped, spilling oil and water onto the track. He continued for three more laps and then came to a slow stop in the fourth turn. He got out and joined the other drivers who had been sidelined.
With Marshman out, Clark again was the leader, but his luck, like Marshman’s, was about to turn sour. Jim led for eight laps until his left rear tire started chunking, which caused vibrations to rip the universal joints to pieces. When this happened, the bottom of the wheel sprung out to the left and almost came off as Jim came down the main straightaway. He kept it under control and drove it into the infield on the first turn.
Jones, who had been second behind Clark, was now in first place and led Foyt by 1.06 seconds. For the next seven laps, these two drivers put on the most exciting battles of the entire race. During these seven laps, they drove wheel-to-wheel with each other, and there was never more than a few feet separating them. Jones made a pit stop on his 56th lap, and as he started to leave the pits, his car caught on fire. He was unaware of what was happening, but several persons in the pits ahead of him waved frantically to him, and he finally felt the heat. He steered the car into the pit wall and at the same time jumped out of the right side of the car onto the concrete. He rolled over several times trying to extinguish his uniform and then was taken to the infield hospital and then to Methodist Hospital where he was treated for burns on the arms and legs and then released. With the race less than one-third completed, three of the first four starters were finished for the day.
Foyt was now the leader. Ward had made pit stops on laps 40, 55, and 60, but was still second behind Foyt. Bob Veith was eight seconds behind Ward, and he was followed by Don Branson, Jim Hurtubise, Lloyd Ruby, and Len Sutton. Rookie Johnny White was running well in ninth position. On lap 77, rookie Bob Mathouser had brake failure, Jim McElreath had mechanical failure, and Jack Brabham had a leaking gas tank as all three of them departed from the race. At 80 laps, Hurtubise was running third after starting in the eleventh position. Veith was four seconds behind in fourth and was followed by Sutton, Gurney, Ruby, Branson, White, and Johnny Boyd.
On the 88th lap, Veith’s luck turned rotten when one of his pistons burned out and he was sent to the sidelines. Ten laps later, 1952 winner Troy Ruttman ran over something on the backstretch and developed a leak in one of his tires. Troy kept the car under control and steered it into the grass on the third turn.
At the halfway point, 100 laps or 250 miles, Foyt was still leading the pack in his Sheraton-Thompson Special. Ward was second and trailing Foyt by only 11 seconds. The standings at 100 laps were Foyt, Ward, Hurtubise, Sutton, Ruby, Branson, Boyd, White, Bud Tingelstad, Gurney, Dick Rathman, Bob Harkey, Art Malone, Grim, Bob Wente, Cheesbourg, and Walt Hansgen.
On the 106th lap, Ward made his fourth pit stop. By now, it was evident that the reason for his many pit stops was the poor gas mileage he was receiving from his Ford-powered car. Wente, Harkey, Malone, and Grim were right together with each other. This four-car battle continued for several laps as they shuffled between positions 11 through 14.
Art Malone was the only Novi car left in the race. All three cars had started, but Bobby Unser was involved in the second-lap mishap, and Jim McElreath had gone out after 88 laps because of mechanical trouble.
On lap 110, Gurney was called into his pit by his crew when a Dunlop Tire Company representative decided the tires were unsafe. The tires on both Gurney’s and Clark’s cars had been performing badly all day long. From our seats, we could see pieces of rubber on the track that had come from the two cars. Both Lotus-Fords were out of the race now.
The next driver to be forced to retire to the sidelines was Bill Cheesbourg. Bill’s Apache Airlines Special developed trouble on the 131st lap and was finished for the day.
Ward, only 11 seconds behind at 100 laps, was now 49 seconds behind Foyt. Hurtubise was still third with Branson fourth and Ruby fifth. Len Sutton, driving the Bryant Heating and Cooling Special, was sixth but had to drop out after 140 laps because his fuel pump stopped working. On the next lap, Hurtubise pulled into his pit. His Tombstone Life Special had developed mechanical problems and was out of the race.
At 150 laps, three-fourths of the race, Foyt led Ward by 56 seconds. Branson was third with Ruby fourth, White fifth and Boyd sixth. After 160 laps, Ruby was only 19 seconds behind Branson. Only 14 seconds separated Harkey, Grim, and Wente. A few laps later, Wente passed Grim to take over 10th place behind Harkey.
Branson’s Wynn’s Friction Proofing Special was misbehaving, and on the 188th lap while running very slowly, Don had to retire from the race. On the same lap, Ward made his fifth and final pit stop for fuel.
The crowd was on its feet now as it awaited the end of the race. Unless something unusual happened real quickly, Foyt would be the winner. As Foyt finished his 199th lap, he was given the white flag by starter Pat Vidan, indicating he had one more lap to go. The next time around, Pat waved the checkered flag. Foyt made one more lap around the track and then drove into Victory Lane. There he was greeted by his wife Lucy, 500 Festival Queen Donna McKinley, and his crew.
Ward finished second, one minute and twenty-five seconds behind Foyt. He undoubtedly would have finished closer had it not been for his excessive amount of pit stops.
Lloyd Ruby drove the Forbes Racing Team Special to the third-place finish. Lloyd did an outstanding job and wasn’t out of the top ten during the entire race. This was his fifth race, and four out of those five times he had finished in the first ten.
Rookie Johnny White did another outstanding driving job. He started in 21st position, was 10th by lap 50, fifth at 150 laps, and finished fourth. Johnny’s pit was a short distance south of us, and he received a big applause from the fans around us as he pulled into his pit, having driven one of the best races of his career. For his outstanding performance, he was awarded the Rookie of the Year award.
Veteran Johnny Boyd, piloting the Vita Fresh Orange Juice Special, drove one of his best races to finish fifth. Johnny started 13th, dropped to 18th position by lap 30, was 10th at 80 laps, and kept advancing until he was fifth at the finish. He was the last driver to go the complete 500 miles.
Bud Tingelstad, in the Federal Engineering Special, had his best year at the Speedway this year and finished sixth. Dick Rathman finished seventh, Bob Harkey eighth, Bob Wente ninth, Bobby Grim tenth, Art Malone eleventh, Don Branson twelfth, and Walt Hansgen thirteenth.
Although Foyt was happy with his victory, he was painfully aware of the second-lap tragedy. He knew Eddie Sachs was dead, but the announcement about Dave McDonald’s death was not made until after the race had been restarted. The winner, along with his wife and pit crew, was driven around the track in the Mustang pace car to receive the applause of the huge crowd. When Foyt returned to Victory Lane, it ended all activity on the track. The pit crews gather up all the paraphernalia and took it back to the garage area. Likewise, we gathered up everything we had and started our trip back to the car.
In going from our seats to the main gate, we followed almost the same route we had taken in getting to our seats. The mammoth crowd, which a few hours ago had pushed and shoved its way into the Speedway, now was doing likewise in getting gout of the Speedway. The people were much more somber than after last year’s exciting race. The stunning second-lap mishap was still on everybody’s mind. We decided not to visit the garage area this year and instead went directly back to the car.
When we reached the driveway behind the grandstands, I bought an Indianapolis newspaper which told about the race. A short distance later, I bought another newspaper with the headlines, “Foyt Winner in 500, Sachs, McDonald Die.” A couple minutes later, we passed through the turnstiles and left the Speedway grounds. We turned right and started our walk down Crawfordsville Road. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper as everybody was in a hurry to get on the road and get home.
When we arrived at the car, we opened the doors and windows so that the hot, stuffy air could escape. Then we sat down and took off our jackets and shoes. We didn’t realize until now that we had sat through the whole race with our jackets on. There were probably three reasons why we didn’t take our jackets off: 1.) the weather wasn’t hot enough for us to be really uncomfortable with them on, 2.) we had no place to put them except our laps if we had taken them off, and 3.) our minds were on the second-lap tragedy so much that we may not have paid any attention to them.
When we felt rested a little, we decided to eat some of the food we hadn’t eaten yet. We still had some baked beans, potato chips, salad, sweet rolls, and cookies to eat. While we ate our food, we sat in the car and watched the traffic on Crawfordsville Road. It hadn’t let up any since we had gotten back to the car. While we were eating, Mr. Kramer came out and talked to us for a few minutes. He had listened to the race on the radio so was aware of the bad news. We talked about the race for a while, and then Mr. Kramer told us goodbye until we saw him again. The heavy traffic deterred us from starting our trip home, so in the meantime, I took a few more pictures to complete the roll I had started. It felt real good to walk around in the grass in my stocking feet. Eventually, the traffic began thinning out somewhat, so we put everything away and got ready to go.
Due to the long delay of the race caused by the second-lap tragedy, everything was running about two hours behind time. I put my shoes back on and then we got seated and ready to go. Bobby sat on the left rear and I on the right front seat, and Dad did the driving. With everything and everybody ready to go, Dad turned the key and the engine came to life. He let the engine idle for a few seconds, and then at 6:08 PM we started our journey back to Springfield.
We turned right to Crawfordsville, right on Crawfordsville to Lynhurst Drive, and left on Lynhurst. The traffic on Lynhurst was heavy, but there was a policeman directing traffic at 16th Street and also one further down at 10th Street. Beginning at 10th Street, the traffic moved in spurts. At various spots along the road, there were boys selling newspapers. We were becoming angry and frustrated at spending so much time in the traffic and getting almost nowhere, but at last we reach the intersection of Lynhurst Drive and Route 36. We turned right onto Route 36 and headed toward Springfield.
The traffic was moving a little better now, but it was still quite heavy. Right away, we ran into the slow drivers who impede the flow of traffic. We, along with most of the people, wanted to move faster than we were, but we couldn’t because of the slow drivers and the heavy traffic coming from the other directions. Along with the slow traffic, we were hitting almost all the stop lights just as they were turning red. The farther we traveled, the thinner the traffic became, but then we ran into the problem of hills, curves, and no passing zones. When we reached Danville, there were still boys standing in the streets and selling Indianapolis newspapers. The traffic, most of which was race fans, was moving bumper to bumper.
At 7:45, we left Indiana and entered our home state. Another 10 miles were registered on the odometer, and at 7:54, we stopped at Chrisman for supper. Dad and Bobby used the restroom while I had the car filled with gas. With the tank filled, I parked the car in front of the restaurant and then got out and stretched a little. Business was good, and we got the last booth available. 8:00 was rather late to be eating supper, but this was not an ordinary day. I looked the menu over and ordered meat loaf, potatoes, corn, and coffee. I could tell by looking at the other people that most of them were on their way home from the race. They looked tired and dirty, just as we did, and many of them were wearing white straw caps, which seem to be a trademark of the 500-mile race. The hot, cooked food felt good to all of us. When we had eaten all we had, we paid the bill, and at 8:43 we started traveling again.
It was dark now, and for the first time in our 11 years, we drove part of the way in the dark. Unlike previous years, we couldn’t see the farmers working in their fields. While we passed the miles away, I nibbled away on the potato chips and cookies that were still left. Shortly before 10:00, we began seeing light in the distance, and a few minutes later, we crossed over Lake Decatur and entered Decatur. Ten to fifteen minutes later, we were on the other side of town and on the last leg of our trip home. It seemed different to be driving in complete darkness. The towns of Illiopolis, Lanesville, Buffalo, and Dawson were soon behind us, and then we saw the sign directing us to Camp Butler Cemetery. We turned right and drove until we came to the intersection at Interstate 55. Dad wasn’t familiar with all the new roads here and, after stopping, started out again. A sure collision was averted when I yelled “STOP” and the oncoming car honked its horn. Dad hit the brakes just in time. I said to myself, “We’ve had enough tragedy today without getting killed this close to home.”
We proceeded on to the bypass, crossed it, and went on into town on Sangamon Avenue. We turned left onto 5th Street, right onto North Grand, and then left onto 3rd Street to home. When we stopped at the back door, it was 10:50. It had taken us 4 hours and 42 minutes to go from Kramer’s to home. It was by far the latest we had ever gotten home.
Susie was asleep, but Mother came into the kitchen to greet us. She had listened to the race on the radio, so she knew why we were so late in getting home. We took everything out of the car and into the house, and then I put the car away. We were too tired to put everything away, so we waited until Sunday to do that. Our big event was finished for this year.
It is unfortunate that the memory most people have of this year’s race is probably the second-lap mishap. This was supposed to be the year the rear-engine cars outclassed the traditional Offenhauser roadsters and pushed the roadsters into obsolescence, but this certainly didn’t happen. Rodger Ward drove a wonderful race to finish second, but his was still the only rear-engine car to finish in the first ten. Jim Clark started out as if he was going to run a race of his own, but apparently there was something wrong with the chassis of his car. It seemed strange to me that Clark and Dan Gurney had tires that performed so poorly. Another unusual feature of this year’s race was that, of the first ten finishers, three of them were rookies. They were Johnny White, Bob Harkey, and Bob Wente.
There has been much discussion about what to do in the future to prevent another accident such as that that happened on the second lap. Among the solutions suggested have been those of increasing the speeds during the rookies’ drivers’ test, requiring gas tanks to be only partially filled, and requiring a specified number of pit stops for every car. It’s difficult to say if McDonald would have crashed if he had had more experience at the Speedway. A veteran driver may have done the same thing. It was fortunate that there weren’t more cars involved than there were.
The deaths of Eddie Sachs and Dave McDonald put a damper on this year’s race, but it hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for the race. The 500 Festival, with more activities this year for more people, was bigger than ever. The 500-mile race gets bigger and better with each passing year, and I hope to be a fan of it for a long time to come.
Pace Car — Ford Mustang
500 Festival Queen — Donna McKinley