VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — An era has come to an end in Indianapolis. Not at the speedway but in the city. A roadster that finished second in 1956 has been sitting on the roof of the Safety Auto Glass company in downtown Naptown since 1961.
The story of this car is unique. A Kurtis 500C Roadster, it was owned by Jones & Maley, a Desoto dealership. Rookie Bill Homeier put it in the show in 1954. On the 74th lap, while pitting, the driver’s foot slipped off the clutch and he hit the pit wall. The car was out of the race and it stands as the longest distance ever run in the 500 by the last place car.
Sam Hanks got the seat in 1955. He ran with the leaders but the transmission failed on the 133rd lap.
Hanks drove it in 1956. On the 21st lap, Paul Russo in the Novi popped a tire and spun into the wall. This caused a chain reaction.
Hanks bounced off Keith Andrews and nudged the wall. During the yellow, Hanks raced furiously to the pits. The crew tried to repair the front wheel, which was bent. He returned to the field.
Despite the front end out of line, Hanks charged furiously through the field and the 41-year veteran edged into second. He once got as close as 11 seconds behind leader Pat Flaherty, but faded to 21 seconds but still was second. If the race had one more lap, Hanks would have won because Flaherty’s throttle linkage broke.
After the race, Hanks was disgusted. “I’ll never win this damned race,” he told chief mechanic George Salih. Salih told him to hang on for one more year as he was building a radical new car.
Salih knew what he was talking about. Hanks won the race and broke the 500-mile record by five mph. Meanwhile, the Jones and Maley car made the show again with Bob Christie driving. He finished 13th, flagged after 197 laps.
The car was showing age so it was sold to Tom Perkins and some partners. Perkins owned Safety Auto Glass. It had several drivers try in 1958, including original driver Homeier but it failed to qualify.
Rookie Johnny Kay was the assigned driver in 1959, but again it missed the show. For 1960, it was the oldest car entered and driving it was the oldest driver, Duke Dinsmore, who had made one 500 in the last ten years. Needless to say, that combo sat out the race. Rookie Bill Randall tried to qualify for the 1961 race, but spun and backed it into the wall. It was the eighth race it had entered.
It was decided that the car had outlived its usefulness. Perkins decided to place it on the roof of his business as an eye opener. The driveline was sold so the body and frame was all that remained. On a windy winter night, a gale blew it off the roof but it was soon back.
The car has been a conversation piece since 1961. Perkins’ son followed his dad’s wishes and kept it there. Two gentlemen, after a year of trying, talked him in to selling them the car. It will be restored to its 1956 lineage.
Last week, a huge crowd formed and watched a cherry picker carefully remove the car.
Yes, the end of an era.