Here's the 1951 Indy 500 field! On to the race summary, per usual from me...
The 1950 Indy 500 had been cut short early due to rain with about 150 miles left to run, resulting in Johnnie Parsons being declared the winner in just his second start. Despite his dominant performance in the previous 500, it hadn't propelled him to his second straight national championship. That honor went to Henry Banks, who only won one race the previous year, but had been extremely consistent throughout 1950. Banks was the son of an early British race car driver...in fact, he was born in Croydon, England. However, his father had moved the family to the US when Henry was a young boy. Banks had become a naturalized US citizen and always raced as an American. He'd also made history back in 1936 when he became the first driver to ever pass an Indy rookie test. However, Banks had a very poor record at the speedway...he'd failed to qualify for the race twice before he made the race for the first time in 1938. By this point in his career, he had failed to qualify for the 500 more times than he'd actually made the show, and in his 4 Indy starts to date, he had yet to even finish the race. This year, he would be driving the #1 Hopkins Blue Crown Special, and hoped for better luck this time around.
There were many drivers and teams thought to be potential candidates for the '51 Indy 500. The Novi team returned with the same drivers who had raced their cars the previous years, Duke Nalon and Chet Miller. The team was looking for redemption after mechanical woes kept both cars out of the 1950 field, and once again the Novis had plenty of speed in them. Lee Wallard had strong runs in his first three 500s, and this year was entered in Murrell Belanger's #99 Belanger Motors Special. He too was expected to be a factor for the win. Mauri Rose was entered in his 15th Indy 500 (as was Chet Miller), and was, as always, a favorite to potentially become the first driver to win the 500 four times. This year, he would be piloting the number #16 Pennzoil Special. Jack McGrath was entered in his fourth Indy 500 in a car owned by John Hinkle; McGrath was beginning to establish himself as one of the top drivers on the AAA circuit, having earned his first two victories the previous season. Other drivers thought to be potential candidates for the win included the young Texan Cecil Green, fresh off a fourth place finish in his first 500 the previous year; Tony Bettenhausen; Troy Ruttman, competing in his third 500 at the age of 21 (now finally actually old enough to legally compete in the race), and Walt Faulkner, the previous year's pole sitter.
Aside from being part of the AAA national championship, the 1951 Indy 500 was once again also a part of the new Formula 1 World Championship. Unlike last year, no drivers actually contesting the World Championship made any attempt to make this year's race. Frenchman Jean Achard did enter the race, intending to drive car #100, but his car never arrived and he was a non-qualifier. Thus, the 33 car field was guaranteed to consist entirely of American drivers.
65 drivers entered the 1951 Indy 500, and as always, qualifying led to frustration for several hopeful drivers. Joel Thorne, a wealthy millionaire and playboy who had owned the winning entry of the 1946 Indy 500, failed to make the field for the sixth year in a row. This would be his last attempt at Indy; he was killed in a private plane crash a few years later. Paul Russo, attempting to make his 8th Indy 500, missed the show for the first time in his career. Several hopeful rookies struggled, as well. Hopeful newcomer Bud Sennett, a 39-year old driver from Missouri, wrecked in turn 2 on his qualifying attempt. Sennett was okay, but he would never return to Indy. Johnnie Tolan and Leroy Warriner failed to qualify in their first Indy attempts, beginning a streak of futility for both drivers. Tolan would enter the next four Indy 500s and fail to make the show again and again until he finally qualified for the race for the first time in 1956. Warriner, a local Indiana native, had even worse luck...he entered the next 7 500s, and never succeeded in making the field. His eight consecutive Indy DNQs are still a record today. Perhaps the most disappointed driver was Bob Sweikert, a 25-year old rookie from California and WWII veteran. Sweikert was the last driver to get bumped out of the field on the final day of qualifying. He would be the first alternate and potentially could have raced had someone withdrawn before the race began, but ultimately, he would have to sit on the sidelines for 1951. Luck would be with him at Indy in the future, however...
When qualifying was all said and done, the Novis had gotten their redemption for their disastrous 1950. Duke Nalon had earned the pole position in car #18, shattering the qualifying record Walt Faulkner had set the previous year with a new 4-lap qualifying average speed record of 136.49 MPH. Joining him on the front row would be Lee Wallard in the Belanger #99 and Jack McGrath in the John Hinkle #9. Despite breaking the track record, Nalon had not been the fastest qualifier...for the second year in a row, Walt Faulkner had been the fastest qualifier, reclaiming his qualifying record with a 4-lap average speed of nearly 137 MPH. However, due to the fact that he didn't turn in his time on pole day qualifying, Faulkner would have to line up several rows back in 15th. Other contenders started deep in the field; Chet Miller, Nalon's teammate, had posted the 3rd fastest qualifying speed, but he turned in his time late in time trials, and had to start all the way back in 28th. Other contenders would start closer to the front, however...Mauri Rose earned the 5th starting spot, Troy Ruttman started 6th, Tony Bettenhausen lined up ninth, and Cecil Green was the 10th place starter.
Of particular note was the sheer amount of rookies who managed to qualify for this year's 500. There were twelve drivers competing in the race for the first time-more than a third of the field, and the most rookies to qualify for the race since before WWII. Two of Indy's future legends were making their 500 debut in 1951. Californian Bill Vukovich, known as "The Mad Russian" to some fans (although he himself disliked that name, as he was actually of Serbian descent) qualified for his first 500 in the #81 Central Excavating Special. He would go on to really make a name for himself in the next few years, being quite possibly one of Indy's greatest masters. Kansan Rodger Ward, in the #48 Deck Manufacturing Special, would take much longer to achieve Indy glory; his early career was very erratic, and he managed to finish just one out of his first eight 500 starts, before he ultimately became one of the top drivers on the circuit and at the Speedway in the late '50s and early '60s. Another prominent Indy first-timer was midget car ace Mike Nazaruk, better known as "Iron Mike". Nazaruk had served in the Pacific in WWII (fighting in such campaigns as Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima), and vowed to himself that if he survived the war and made it back home, he would achieve his life-long dream of becoming a race car driver. Nazaruk had made good on that vow, winning the 1949 American Racing Drivers' Club championship in 1949. He qualified 7th for his first 500 in the #83 Jim Robbins Special. Other notable Indy newcomers included ex-Marine Andy Linden, who would have several strong runs in the 500 over the next decade; future AAA national champion Chuck Stevenson; Arizona midget car ace Bobby Ball; Cliff Griffith, an Indiana native and ace on the Midwestern dirt track scene; and Carl Scarborough, who had been the fastest qualifying rookie (turning in the fourth fastest speed overall), but would have to start back in the field due to not turning his time in on pole day.
On Wednesday, May 30th, it was time to get the 35th Indianapolis 500 underway. Unlike last year's race, the weather was much nicer; no rain was in the forecast and barring any unforeseen circumstances, the race would be run to completion this year. When the command to start engines was given, initially, only 32 cars rolled off the starting grid. Sam Hanks had trouble getting started, and at first it looked like he might be the first car out of the race before the green flag even flew. But after several moments, Hanks' crew were able to get his car going, and he would be able to take the green flag with the rest of the field.
After the pace lap, the green flag flew, and the 500 was on once again. Pole-sitter Nalon did not get off to a good start, immediately losing the lead at the green flag and quickly dropping back through the field. Before one lap was over, Nalon's Novi had dropped out of the top 10, and he came to the pits after just a few circuits. It would be a long and difficult race for both Novis...Jack McGrath won the race going into turn 1, and led most of the first lap, but Wallard pressured him and managed to get around him before they completed the opening lap. Wallard led the first two laps before McGrath got around him and led two more laps. They traded the lead twice more in the next few laps, with Wallard leading laps 5-6 and McGrath heading the field for laps 7-15. Through the early laps, the top 10 consisted of Wallard, McGrath, Ruttman, Nazaruk, Duane Carter, Green, Bettenhausen, Freddie Agabashian, Faulkner, and Johnnie Parsons.
Unlike the previous year's race, the '51 Indy 500 had quite a high attrition rate, especially in the early going. After just 8 laps, Joey James, a rookie from Mississippi, pulled off the track with a broken drive shaft. He was the first driver out of the race. Joining him on the sidelines in the first 50 miles would be 1930s-riding mechanic Johnny McDowell (with a broken fuel tank) and Mack Hellings, the top rookie in 1948 (with piston troubles). By the time 100 miles were completed, 7 cars-Ward, Griffith, Vukovich, George Connor, Hellings, McDowell, and James-were out of the 500. One probably would not have guessed from their finishes in their first 500s that Vukovich and Ward were destined for greatness at the Speedway down the road...
Lee Wallard reclaimed the lead on lap 16, and led the next 11 laps as McGrath fell back. Cecil Green was on the move, and moved his way up to second in the #4 John Zink Special. He began pressuring Wallard for the lead, and got out in front on lap 27 to lead his first ever lap in the 500. Though he surrendered the lead back to Wallard on the next lap, many thought the young Texan was destined for future greatness on the Speedway, and this run seemed to cement that...Meanwhile, troubles continued for Nalon, the pole-sitter, as he came for another pit stop and completely missed his stall, costing him valuable time. Shortly thereafter, his teammate Chet Miller also came for a stop, and had to wait for several seconds for the crew to finish serving Nalon's car. It was just not the Novi team's day...
Wallard led laps 28-51, but gave up the lead to make a pit stop on lap 52, handing the lead to second-year 500 competitor Jimmy Davies. Davies would lead the next 25 laps until he too came in for a stop, the second most laps anyone would lead that day. By the 200-mile mark, 11 cars-Ruttman, Duke Dinsmore, Miller, Walt Brown, Ward, Griffith, Vukovich, Connor, Hellings, McDowell, and James-were all on the sidelines, and they would soon have plenty more company to join them.
Davies' pit stop handed the lead back to Cecil Green, who had managed to get around Wallard after their pit stops. Green led the next 4 laps, but his strong performance would not last much longer. While out in front at the 200-mile mark, Green blew his engine. A connecting rod in his motor had broken, and he would be the 12th car to drop from the race. Sadly, this would be Green's last Indy 500; he was killed later that year in an accident at Winchester Speedway in Indiana, and never would get a chance to fulfill on the promise he showed in his two 500s...
Wallard re-took the lead when Green blew up, and he would be out in front at the halfway point. By now, 16 cars had dropped out of the race-nearly half the field. Carl Scarborough, Bill Mackey, Chuck Stevenson, defending winner Parsons, and Green had also fallen by the wayside. At the halfway point, Jack McGrath came in for a pit stop, and handed his car over to his good buddy Manny Ayulo, who had failed to make the race. Ayulo would proceed to drive the last 250 miles in the #9.
The attrition rate continued to be heavy past the halfway point; Freddie Agabashian dropped out just past the halfway point with clutch problems, and Davies' strong run came to an end shortly afterwards with a broken rear end gear. Walt Faulkner joined them after 123 laps with a broken crankshaft. Despite the high attrition rate, the '51 Indy 500 had been relatively incident-free up to this point. But that was about to change...
With a little over 70 laps to go, Mauri Rose was holding down 3rd place in the Pennzoil Special. But going through turn 3, trouble struck. A wheel on Rose's car collapsed, and he lost control and spun through the infield grass. Rose's car made contact with a dirt embankment on the inside of the track in turn four, and the impact was enough to send the Pennzoil Special flipping through the grass. Luckily, Rose was OK, but his day was over, and he became the 20th driver to drop out of the Indy 500. It was a disappointing end to Rose's career, as this would be his final start in the Indy 500. He had first come to the Speedway in 1932 and had first made the race the next year, and had won the race three times as a driver. It was a great career, but alas, this was his final lap he turned at the Speedway...
Wallard continued to hold the lead as the attrition rate continued to take its' toll. With about 50 laps to go, rookie Gene Force lost oil pressure and dropped out. Force's departure left just 10 cars on the track, and soon that number would drop to nine as Duke Nalon's tough day finally came to an end when his car stalled out on the course. Due to the sheer attrition rate, however, Nalon was guaranteed a top 10 finish...
Wallard continued to hold the lead, now over "Iron Mike" Nazaruk. Andy Linden made up a lap on Wallard, but he was well behind in the running order. With about 50 miles to go, the field was reduced to just eight cars as Tony Bettenhausen spun out in the fourth corner. He was alright, but his day was over. By now, 25 cars had fallen out of the race, and the eight cars still on track was destined to be a record low number of finishers...
Wallard was well out in front in the closing stages, but it was not an easy ride. His #99 was suffering from all sorts of mechanical gremlins, having lost its' brakes, damaged an exhaust pipe, and broken a shock absorber. It was a very rough and bumpy ride, and to add to that, Wallard had not worn an undershirt beneath his fire-retardant uniform, and so he found himself getting badly chafed during the race. Nonetheless, despite the adversity, Wallard led the final 120 laps-300 miles-and took the checkered flag first, winning by more than a minute-and-a-half over Nazaruk. It had taken four tries for the 40-year old New York native to achieve glory at the speedway. After his victory lane celebration, Wallard was so exhausted that he went straight to the infield medical center for evaluation. It had been quite a workout for him; he'd lost fifteen pounds during the course of the event.
"Iron Mike" Nazaruk had impressed in his first Indy start and claimed second place, the highest finishing rookie in the field. McGrath managed to take home 3rd, his best finish to date in the 500, although it was his good pal Ayulo who drove the car to the finish. Rookies Linden and Bobby Ball rounded out the top 5 finishers, while defending national champion Banks placed sixth, the last car to complete all 500 miles. It was the first time he'd ever finished the 500. Rookie Carl Forberg would up seventh, several laps back in what was to be his lone start in the 500, while Duane Carter was eighth, many laps down and the final car on track when the day's activities wrapped up. Bettenhausen and pole-sitter Nalon completed the top 10, although neither car saw the checkered flag.
For the fourth year in a row, the race winner had shattered the average speed record for the race. Wallard's average speed was 126.244 MPH, nearly 2 full MPH faster than the speed Johnnie Parsons had set in the abbreviated 1950 race. Despite a few significant incidents, particularly Mauri Rose's flip, the 1951 Indy 500 was a very safe race, with no driver injuries during the entire month. Unfortunately, Lee would not get a chance to defend his Indy crown next year, as just a week after winning the 500, he was involved in a bad crash at Reading, Pennsylvania, in which he suffered very severe burns. He required nearly 30 surgical skin grafts for his burn injuries, and this ultimately ended up cutting short his career (although he would enter the 500 one more time but would not make the field). 1952 would see a revolutionary new car impress in qualifying, Bill Vukovich begin to make a real name for himself in the 500, and the race's youngest winner ever...
Here's the entire field, in order of how they finished!
ROW 1: (from right to left)
1. Lee Wallard, #99 Belanger Motors, Kurtis/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 2nd, led 159 laps)
2. Mike Nazaruk (R), #83 Jim Robbins, Kurtis/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 7th)
3. Jack McGrath, #9 Hinkle, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 3rd, led 11 laps)
ROW 2: (from left to right)
4. Andy Linden (R), #57 Leitenberger, Silnes/Sherman/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 31st)
5. Bobby Ball (R), #52 Blakely Oil, Schroeder/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 29th)
6. Henry Banks, #1 Hopkins Blue Crown, Moore/Offy, 200 laps completed (Started 17th)
7. Carl Forberg (R), #68 Auto Shippers, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 193 laps completed (Started 24th)
8. Duane Carter, #27 Mobilgas, Deidt FD/Offy, 180 laps completed (Started 4th)
9. Tony Bettenhausen, #5 Mobiloil, Deidt FD/Offy, 178 laps completed, spun turn 4 (Started 9th)
ROW 3: (from left to right)
10. Duke Nalon, #18 Novi Purelube, Kurtis FD/Novi SC, 151 laps completed, stalled (Started 1st)
11. Gene Force (R), #69 Brown Motors Co., Kurtis 2000/Offy, 142 laps completed, lost oil pressure (Started 22nd)
12. Sam Hanks, #25 Peter Schmidt, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 135 laps completed, spun turn 3 (Started 12th)
13. Bill Schindler, #10 Chapman, Kurtis 2000/Offy, 129 laps completed, broken connecting rod (Started 16th)
14. Mauri Rose, #16 Pennzoil, Deidt FD/Offy, 126 laps completed, wheel collapsed/wrecked turn 4 (Started 5th)
15. Walt Faulkner, #2 Agajanian Grant, Kuzma/Offy, 123 laps completed, broken crankshaft (Started 14th)
ROW 4: (from left to right)
16. Jimmy Davies, #76 Parks Offy, Pawl/Offy, 110 laps completed, broken rear end (Started 27th, led 25 laps)
17. Freddie Agabashian, #59 Granatelli Bardahl, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 109 laps completed, clutch (Started 11th)
18. Carl Scarborough (R), #73 McNamara, Kurtis/Wetteroth/Offy, 100 laps completed, broken axle (Started 15th)
19. Bill Mackey (R), #71 Karl Hall, Stevens/Offy, 97 laps completed, broken clutch shaft (Started 33rd)
20. Chuck Stevenson (R), #8 Bardahl/Marchese, Marchese/Offy, 93 laps completed, fire (Started 19th)
21. Johnnie Parsons, #3 Wynn's Friction Proofing, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 87 laps completed, magneto (Started 8th)
ROW 5: (from left to right)
22. Cecil Green, #4 John Zink, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 80 laps completed, broken connecting rod (Started 10th, led 5 laps)
23. Troy Ruttman, #98 Agajanian Featherweight, Kurtis 2000/Offy, 78 laps completed, burned bearing (Started 6th)
24. Duke Dinsmore, #6 Brown Motors Co., Schroeder/Offy, 73 laps completed, overhearted (Started 32nd)
25. Chet Miller, #32 Novi Purelube, Kurtis FD/Novi SC, 56 laps completed, ignition (Started 28th)
26. Walt Brown, #44 Federal Engineering Detroit, Kurtis 3000/Offy, 55 laps completed, magneto (Started 13th)
27. Rodger Ward (R), #48 Deck Manufacturing, Bromme/Offy, 34 laps completed, broken oil line (Started 25th)
ROW 6: (from left to right)
28. Cliff Griffith (R), #23 Morris, Kurtis 2000/Offy, 30 laps completed, broken rear axle (Started 18th)
29. Bill Vukovich (R), #81 Central Excavating, Trevis/Offy, 29 laps completed, broken oil tank (Started 20th)
30. George Connor, #22 Blue Crown Spark Plug, Lesovsky/Offy, 29 laps completed, broken universal joint (Started 21st)
31. Mack Hellings, #19 Tuffanelli & Derrico, Deidt/Offy, 18 laps completed, broken piston (Started 23rd)
32. Johnny McDowell, #12 W & J, Maserati/Offy, 15 laps completed, broken fuel tank (Started 26th)
33. Joey James (R), #26 Lincoln-Mercury, Watson/Offy, 8 laps completed, broken drive shaft (Started 30th) (Sorry about the poor quality photo, but I couldn't find a better one of his car...)
-The first Indy start for Ball, Force, Griffith, James, Linden, Nazaruk, Scarborough, Stevenson, Vukovich, and Ward
-The only Indy start for Forberg and Mackey
-The last Indy start for Brown, Green, Hellings, Rose, and Wallard
Did not qualify:
Paul Russo (#7), Jerry Hoyt (#14), Roscoe Rann (#14), Bill Johnson (#15), Jackie Holmes (#24, #45), George Fonder (#29, #53, #63), Manny Ayulo (#31), Jimmy Daywalt (#33, #47), Johnnie Tolan (#34), Frank Armi (#35, #58, #64), George Lynch (#36), Bob Sweikert (#37), Mike Salay (#41), Bill Boyd (#42), Bayliss Levrett (#46), Joe Barzda (#49), Bud Sennett (#51), Myron Fohr (#56), Norm Houser (#61), Bill Cantrell (#62, #79), Dick Page (#64), Kenny Eaton (#66), Gordon Reid (#67), Jimmy Bryan (#72), Leroy Warriner (#75), Doc Shanebrook (#77), Ray Knepper (#78), Bob Scott (#82), Joel Thorne (#88), Danny Kladis (#89), Jean Achard (#100), Roy Sherman
*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 1952 Indy 500 field!