Trailblazing Indianapolis 500 Car Owner  Rolla Vollstedt Passes Away

Indianapolis, IN — Longtime Indianapolis 500 car entrant Rolla Vollstedt, who is perhaps best remembered for bringing Janet Guthrie to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1976 as the first female to be entered for the Indianapolis 500, passed away Sunday (Oct. 22) in Portland, Ore. He was 99.
Rolla Vollstedt

Vollstedt was a high-profile member of the board of directors for the United States Auto Club who served as USAC’s car entrant representative from the late 1960s until the 1980s.

Although he had fielded a National Championship car (now IndyCar) in some late-season dirt track events with driver Len Sutton in 1955 and 1956, it was not until the summer of 1963 that Vollstedt first brought a car to Indianapolis.

This was one of the very first American-built rear-engine cars to house a normally aspirated Offenhauser engine, and with Sutton driving in summer tire tests, it kept exceeding the official track record, eventually flirting with an unofficial 155-mph run in March 1964. Sutton qualified the car for the 1964 “500” and was running 4th when a magneto failed after 140 laps.

After a dozen years of fielding drivers like Billy Foster, Cale Yarborough, Dick Simon, Tom Bigelow, Arnie Knepper, Larry Dickson, Denny Zimmerman and others, Vollstedt made headlines in 1976 by providing a car for Guthrie.

Plagued by mechanical issues, the team was forced to withdraw the car without Guthrie having an opportunity to make a qualifying attempt. But the following year, she was back, qualifying on the fourth and final day with the 18th fastest speed overall and the fastest of the entire final weekend. Guthrie managed only 27 laps of the race before a timing gear broke, but history was made.

Read the IndyStar’s article about Vollstedt.