I've mentioned this in a few previous journals, but I'm finally getting around to one of my personal pet projects! Doubt this will interest most of my friends and fans here very much, but I've worked very hard on it so I figured I had to kick it off. I have been making photo collages of vintage Indy 500 fields...nearly 50 as of to date (1946-1985, 1934-1939, and 1993), primarily using the official photos (taken of the drivers after their qualifying runs) taken from IndyCar.com. And so I figured it was time to start posting 'em up! I'll be posting up one per week for nearly the next year or so, leading up to the 100th running of the famous race next year...And I figured I'd start with 1946, the first Indy 500 to be run after WWII! It was a much different time from now (among other things, there was no wall separating the pits from the track, and the frontstretch was still entirely paved with bricks...and the AAA actually ran the IndyCar Series!)...I figured I would start with a brief summary of the '46 race (the "Cliffs' Notes" version, if you will!).
WWII nearly killed off the Indy 500. Auto racing was more or less banned upon the US' entering the war; a 1942 Indy 500 had been planned, but ended up being cancelled. And so for the four years that the US participated in the war, the track pretty much lay abandoned. It fell into disrepair and became overgrown with weeds. Many people thought the speedway and the race were over, including several former Indy 500 drivers. But Wilbur Shaw, the second driver to win the 500 3 times ('37, '39, and '40), felt the track could be saved and restored. He was able to negotiate a deal with local businessmen to purchase the track in 1945. Hulman made Shaw the speedway's president, and he set to work having the track cleaned up and renovated to get it ready for racing again. And so, by the time May 1946 rolled around, the track was ready and the Indy 500 was set to begin again.
While some veteran pre-war drivers did not return, many did, including Cliff Bergere, George Connor, Ralph Hepburn, Ted Horn (the future three-time national champion), Rex Mays (the 1941 national champion), Chet Miller, Mauri Rose, and Russ Snowberger. Many of the cars were pre-WWII veterans as well, but there were several brand new cars in the field, including Paul Russo's dual-engined Fageol Twin Coach and Ralph Hepburn's Novi-powered car, the fastest and most powerful machine to have raced at Indy to date (unfortunately, the Novis would go on to have a very star-crossed history at the speedway). As always, there were several newcomers, including future national champion Tony Bettenhausen (ten rookies in all managed to qualify for the race). Several European drivers were entered as well, but only Italian Luigi Villoresi was able to actually qualify for the race. Talented German driver Rudolf Caracciola looked to have a good shot at making the race, but an object hit him in the face during a practice run, causing him to black out and crash, seriously injuring himself and ending his hopes of making the race. (While most people said Caracciola hit a bird, some speculate he was shot at by someone with anti-German sentiments...considering that Caracciola was German and Germany was not exactly very popular for...well, take a guess (although Rudolf himself was not a member of the Nazi party)).
Veteran Cliff Bergere, the second oldest driver in the field at age 49 1/2 (he had first competed in the 500 in '27), won the pole and would lead the field to the green flag. Paul Russo would start in the middle of the first row, and future 500 winner Sam Hanks started on the outside. However, rain had kept many cars off the track on pole day time trials, and several of the faster cars in the field started well back, including the Novi of Hepburn (the fastet qualifier, who had shattered the previous qualifying records but had to start mid-field), Rex Mays, and George Robson.
Thursday, May 30th came and the 33-car field lined up awaiting the start of the first 500 in five years. The field took one parade lap and came under the green flag, and the 30th Indy 500 was on! The field shuffled significantly in the opening laps, as ninth place starter Mauri Rose (the co-winner of the last 500 held before WWII) charged all the way to the lead on lap one. He would hold it for the first eight laps, but other cars were quickly charging through the field. Rex Mays, the second-fastest qualifier, quickly moved up from his 14th starting position and took the lead on lap 9, holding it for three laps. However, he would soon relinquish the lead on lap 12 to Hepburn's Novi. Hepburn, a motorcycle racing pioneer, was the oldest (at 50 years old) and most experienced driver in the field (he had first competed in the 500 all the way back in 1925), but had never won the race, his best finish being a close second in '37. However, he had the most powerful car in the field, and it seemed likely he would win the race if his car could hold up. He quickly blasted away from the field and proceeded to lead the next 44 laps.
The attrition rate was VERY high early on. Second-place starter Paul Russo spun out in turn 3 on lap 17 and hit the outside wall heavily, totalling his car and breaking his leg in the process, relegating him to last place in the field. Within a matter of laps, third and fourth place starters Sam Hanks and Hal Cole were also on the sidelines with mechanical gremlins, and 3 of the top 4 starters were already out of the race before 50 miles had been completed. Rex Mays departed the race soon after with mechanical problems as well. Mauri Rose also found trouble, spinning in turn 3 on lap 41 and also hitting the wall heavily, his car coming to a stop near where Russo's wrecked car still lay (cars back then were often just left lying around the track rather than being towed to safety). By the time 100 miles had been completed, 11 cars-a third of the field-had already fallen out of the race.
Trouble soon struck Hepburn, as well. His Novi ran out of brakes, and on lap 57 he came into the pits for what turned out to be a nine-minute stop. The lengthy stop was costly for the veteran, dropping him from the lead all the way back to 13th position. Hepburn's car was still faster than anyone else on the track, and managed to charge all the way back to 4th place before the engine quit on him and put him out of the race. Pole-sitter Bergere also encountered trouble as his car had a broken oil line which was spraying searing hot lubricant over him. He climbed out of his car and handed it over to Mays, but the car ultimately ran out of oil and was on the sidelines by halfway. By the time the halfway distance-100 laps, 250 miles-had been completed, more than half of the field-18 cars, to be precise-had dropped out of the event.
With most of the favorites running into trouble, the battle for the win ended up being between Canadian George Robson, in his 3rd 500 start, and Indy rookie Jimmy Jackson. Robson was driving a car owned by millionaire playboy/driver Joel Thorne (who had failed to qualify for the race), and he had been the fifth fastest qualifier, but had to start mid-field as he hadn't run on pole day trials. Robson took the lead when Hepburn pitted with his brake troubles, and held the lead until lap 88 when Jackson took the lead, but Robson took it back by lap 93 and led the rest of the way. Jackson ran a strong race, but he was more than 34 seconds behind when Robson took the checkered flag, becoming the first Canadian to win the famous race (another Canadian would not win until 1995). Ted Horn (who would go on to win the national championship that year) rallied to finish a distant 3rd after making a long pit stop in the opening laps that dropped him back to last in the running order. Emil Andres was fourth and famous stuntman Joie Chitwood (with relief help from Hanks) placed fifth. Rookie Louis Durant and Luigi Villoresi would place sixth and seventh, the last two cars to complete the full 500 miles (back then, cars laps down were given some time to try to complete the full 500 miles). Frank Wearne and rookie Bill Sheffler (who was many laps off the pace after several lengthy stays in the pits) were the only other cars still on track when the day's action came to a close...in all, 24 cars had fallen out of the race.
By all accounts, the '46 Indy 500 was a major success. 150,000 fans had attended the race, and it was assured that the 500 was back to stay for years to come. Unfortunately, winner Robson would not have a chance to defend his win in '47...as he was killed in an accident at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta later that year, in a crash that would also claim the life of veteran driver George Barringer. For many years, Robson was the last Indy 500 winner to die in the same year he won the race (until Dan Wheldon was killed in the disastrous IZOD IndyCar World Championship race at Las Vegas in 2011, the same year he won his second 500). To add to that, the '47 Indy 500 would be plagued by a tragic death, and a driver boycott which almost resulted in the shortest 500 field ever...
Here's the whole field, in the order of how they finished!
ROW 1 (from left to right):
Guide: Driver name, car number, sponsor (owner-if available), chassis/engine, laps completed, status (Starting position, laps led (if any))
1. George Robson, #16 Thorne Engineering (Joel Thorne), Adams/Sparks FC, 200 laps completed (Started 15th, led 138 laps)
2. Jimmy Jackson, #61 Jackson (Jimmy Jackson), Miller FC/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 5th, led 5 laps)
3. Ted Horn, #29 Boyle Maserati (Mike Boyle), Maserati/Maserati SC, 200 laps completed (Stated 7th)
ROW 2 (from left to right):
4. Emil Andres, #18 Elgin Piston Pin (Frank Brisko), Maserati/Maserati SC, 200 laps completed (Started 11th)
5. Joie Chitwood, #24 Noc-Out Hose Clamp (Fred Peters), Wetteroth/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 12th)
6. Louis Durant (R), #33 Afra Romeo (Milt Marion), Alfa Romeo/Alfa Romeo SC, 200 laps completed (Started 6th)
7. Luigi Villoresi (R), #52 Maserati (Scuderia Milano), Maserati/Maserati SC, 200 laps completed (Started 28th)
8. Frank Wearne, #7 Wolfe Motors (Ervin Wolfe), Shaw/Offy, 197 laps completed (Started 29th)
9. Bill Sheffler (R), #39 Jack Maurer (Jack Maurer), Bromme/Offy, 139 laps completed (Started 25th)
ROW 3 (from left to right):
10. Billy DeVore, #17 Schoff (William Schoof), Wetteroth/Offy, 167 laps completed-throttle/spun out (Started 31st)
11. Mel Hansen, #41 Offenhauser (Ross Page), Kurtis/Duray SC, 143 laps completed, broken crankshaft (Started 11th)
12. Russ Snowberger, #25 Jim Hussey's Sportsman's Club (R. A. Croft), Maserati 8CTF/Maserati SC, 134 laps completed, differential trouble (Started 10th)
13. Harry McQuinn, #14 Mobil Gas (Robert Flavell), Adams/Sparks SC, 124 laps completed, out of oil (Started 18th)
14. Ralph Hepburn, #2 Novi Governor (Lewis Welch), Kurtis FD/Novi SC, 121 laps completed, engine stalled (Started 19th, led 44 laps)
15. Al Putnam, #12 L. G. S. Spring Clutch (G. L. Kuehn), Stevens/Offy, 120 laps completed, magneto (Started 13th)
ROW 4: (from left to right)
16. Cliff Bergere, #3 Noc-Out Hose Clamp (Shirley Bergere), Wetteroth/Offy, 82 laps completed, out of oil (Started 1st, led 2 laps)
17. Duke Dinsmore (R), #45 Johnston (Fred Johnston), Adams/Offy, 82 laps completed, broken connecting rod (Started 8th)
18. Chet Miller, #5 Miller (M. Williams), Cooper FD/Offy, 64 laps completed, broken oil line (Started 17th)
19. Jimmy Wilburn (R), #63 Mobil Oil (Bill White), Alfra Romeo/Weil/Alfa Romeo SC, 52 laps completed, engine trouble (Started 16th)
20. Tony Bettenhausen (R), #42 Bristow-McManus (R. J. McManus), Wetteroth/Miller SC, 47 laps completed, broken connecting rod (Started 26th)
21. Danny Kladis (R), #59 Grancor V-8, Miller FD/Ford V8, 46 laps completed, disqualified-towed (Started 33rd)
ROW 5: (from left to right)
22. Duke Nalon, #54 Maserati (Scuderia Milano), Maserati/Maserati SC, 45 laps completed, broken universal joint (Started 32nd)
23. Mauri Rose, #8 Blue Crown Spark Plug (Joe Lencki), Lencki/Lencki, 40 laps completed, wrecked turn 3 (Started 9th, led 8 laps)
24. George Connor, #38 Walsh Offenhauser (Ed Walsh), Kurtis/Offy, 38 laps completed, piston (Started 30th)
25. Hal Robson (R), #48 Phillips Miller (Overton Phillips), Bugatti/Miller, 37 laps completed, broken connecting rod (Started 23rd)
26. Louis Tomei, #15 Boxar Tool (Joseph Hosso), Stevens FD/Brisko, 34 laps completed, broken oil line (Started 22nd)
27. Henry Banks, #31 Auto Shippers (Lou Rassey), Snowberger FD/Offy, 32 laps completed, stalled (Started 21st)
ROW 6: (from left to right)
28. Shorty Cantlon, #64 H-3 (Charles Hughes), Miller FD/Offy, 28 laps completed, clutch failure (Started 20th)
29. George Barringer, #26 Tucker Torpedo (George Barringer), Miller 4DRE/Miller SC, 27 laps completed, gear (Started 24th)
30. Rex Mays, #1 Bowes Seal Fast (Charles Bowes), Stevens/Winfield SC, 26 laps completed, broken manifold (Started 14th, led 3 laps)
31. Sam Hanks, #32 Spike Jones (Gordon Schroeder), Stevens/Sampson SC, 18 laps completed, broken oil line (Started 3rd)
32. Hal Cole (R), #47 Don Lee (Don Lee), Alfa Romeo/Alfa Romeo SC, 16 laps completed, fuel leak (Started 4th)
33. Paul Russo, #10 Fageol Twin Coach (Lou Fageol), Fageol 4D/Twin Offys, 16 laps completed, wrecked turn 3 (Started 2nd)
-The first Indy start for Bettenhausen, Cole, Dinsmore, Jackson, Hal Robson, and Sheffler
-The only Indy start for Durant, Kladis, Villoresi, and Wilburn
-The last Indy start for Barringer, Hepburn, Putnam, George Robson, and Tomei.
Did not qualify:
Al Miller (#9), Frank McGurk (#17), Gerald Brisko (#18), Ray Richards (#27), Steve Truchan (#28), Tommy Hinnershitz (#34), Comte George Raphaël Béthenod de Montbressieux/"Raph" (#35), Louis Gerard (#36), Bud Bardowski (#37), Buddy Rusch (#37), Wally Mitchell (#43), Rudolf Caracciola (#44, #72), Joel Thorne (#44), Harry Schell (#46), Zora Arkus-Duntov (#49), Achille Varzi (#53), Joe Langley (#55), Bruce Denslow (#56), Robert Arbuthnot (#57), Harold Bailey (#58), Charlie Van Acker (#62), Arvol Brunmeier (#67), Jim Brubaker (#68), Bud Rose (#69), Freddy Winnai (#71), Dioscoride Lanza (#74), Joe Silvia, Bus Wilbert, Doc Williams
*I do not own any of the images used as this collage-they are copyright of their respective copyright holders. No money shall be made off them as they are being used solely for educative and/or informative purposes.*
Coming soon...the 1947 Indy 500 field!