A Look Back at Events Leading up to the 2014 Indy "500"

by Administrator 30. June 2014 09:11

A Look Back at Selected Events Leading to the 98th Indianapolis 500

Rare Kurtis Roadster Midget Draws Fans

            It wasn’t hard to spot Fred Johns’ “Kodak yellow” 1958 Kurtis-Kraft Offy midget roadster among a vintage gathering of mostly midgets and sprint cars the day before the “500.”

            Johns, “an old midget driver back in the ‘50s,” bought the unrestored car about 10 years ago because “I just happened to like the looks of it.”

            He was fortunate that the car was in relatively good condition, although the engine had been blown and needed a major rebuild. He and others put the highly original car back into top condition.

            Kurtis roadster midgets are rare. Ten were originally planned but only six were completed, with Johns’ car being number five. These cars were patterned after the KK500G Indianapolis roadsters. They are about 30 pounds heavier than standard Kurtis midgets and handle poorly on dirt because of suspension-travel limitations. Johns says his is the only roadster currently in running condition.

            Johnny Rutherford is the car’s best-known former driver. Others were Jim Hurtubise, Bobby Grim, Shorty Templeman, and Gene Hartley, 1959 USAC national midget champion. Johns is married to Hartley’s widow, Carolyn.

            About that “Kodak yellow,” the car’s first owner had a camera shop. 

 

  Fred Johns enjoys showing his Kurtis midget roadster. Photo Fritz Frommeyer

 

Family Outing on the Brickyard

            There may have been a first in the 105-year history of IMS during the Hall of Fame Museum’s annual event for vintage race cars: a mother and daughter circling the track together in a race car. If not a “first,” it was a rare sight at the famed oval. And it was topped off by their husband and father being on the track at the same time in another family racer.

            Linda Mountanos was at the wheel of her 1935 Pirrung Special, formerly a two-man car, with 22-year-old daughter Mariah in the riding mechanic’s seat. Mark Mountanos drove his 1958 Epperly laydown roadster in which George Amick placed second at the Speedway. The Pirrung car, also a second-place finisher in its first year, was driven by Wilbur Shaw, who participated in its design and build.

            Linda and Mark, long-time vintage racers, sought a car they could enjoy together and “fell in love” with the Pirrung, which was found by restorer Phil Reilly. “After we bought it, Linda drove it and I lost the car…to her,” Mark said with a smile.

            “It’s a great car. It’s just fun to drive,” said Linda.

            Mariah pumped the fuel pressure, looked for other cars on the track, and “I brought my GoPro (camera), filming the whole thing.”


Linda and Mariah Mountanos after their run at the Speedway. Photo Fritz Frommeyer

 

Popular Race-Morning Vintage Run

            Amidst cheers from the stands, six vintage race cars – including the three Lotus 56 turbines that ran in 1968 – took a lap of honor just before the start of the “500.”

            Joining the turbines were the 1914-winning Delage of Rene Thomas driven by Al Unser, Jr.; Wilbur Shaw’s Maserati 8CTF that won in 1939 and 1940 driven by Johnny Rutherford; and the Watson in which A.J. Foyt was victorious in 1964. Kenny Brack, who won the “500” driving for Foyt in 1999, drove the roadster.

            The turbine cars were driven by Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones, and Vince Granatelli, son of the late Andy Granatelli, who had envisioned turbine success at Indianapolis, only to be disappointed twice.

            Driving the Shaw Maserati was a special treat for Rutherford, who had sought to do it for some time. After his drive, he said with a grin, “I can see why Wilbur won two races in a row in this thing. It is so smooth and it’s an exceptionally good-handling race car. I’m sure he just picked his way around and, when it came time, he won it.”

            On this day, the Maserati became the third car, and first foreign vehicle, to be placed on the register of the Historic Vehicle Association


Johnny Rutherford’s smile was even bigger after driving the Maserati that twice won the “500.” Photo Fritz Frommeyer

Mario Honored on Legends Day

            Mario Andretti, celebrating the 45th anniversary of his 1969 Indianapolis victory, was honored by the Speedway on Legends Day, May 24. That feat stands with his winning everything from Pikes Peak and the Daytona 500 to short-track races and the Formula 1 world championship. Andretti raced in an era when versatility was valued.

            He won his “500” in a backup car after his cutting-edge Lotus was withdrawn for safety reasons. Was Andretti optimistic about his chances? “Especially the fact that I was in the front row, I thought I had a shot at it,” he responded. “As luck would have it, the car held. It finished, even though it was overheating badly.”

            IMS historian Donald Davidson commented that Andretti has “one of the most iconic names that there’s ever been. If not now, there were times I’d say Mario was the best-known racing driver in the world.”

            Of Andretti’s 29 “500s,” Davidson said “there’s so many races that he had in the bag and they got away,” singling out 1987 when he won the pole and led 170 of the 180 laps he completed. “He didn’t win, but he had the satisfaction that he was the class of the field.”

            The Associated Press named Andretti Driver of the Century in 2000.


Mario Andretti with his 1967 pole-winning car on Legends Day. Photo Fritz Frommeyer


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Vintage Indy

About the author

Fritz Frommeyer saw his first Indianapolis 500 in 1946 as he and his father drove along Georgetown Road while the race was in progress. He remembers seeing the blurry images of cars in breaks between the grandstands as they sped by.

His racing interest led to a job in the IMS publicity office while in high school and college, doing whatever was asked of him, whether it was Mimeographing press releases, taking visitors for track tours, or sorting prize-money checks.

After working at Eli Lilly and Company for more than 30 years, Frommeyer reconnected with auto racing as a writer/photographer for Vintage Motorsport. He believes he’s been fortunate to turn an interest into something beyond an avocation.

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