The Legend Of Bobby Grim

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Bobby Grim at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1966.

Lee Kunzman won his first USAC race driving Bobby Grim’s midget at Davenport (Iowa) Speedway in 1968. The next race Grim was back in the car and Kunz­man was a stooge again. As Kunzman pushed Grim to the track for qualifying, they encountered Bobby Grim Jr.

“Hell, dad, you should be pushing him,” Bobby Grim Jr. quipped. “He won the last race, you didn’t.”

Talking about the incident years later, Kunzman said: “I wasn’t worthy to push Bobby Grim’s car, much less replace him in it. He was a great one.”

The most meaningful praise for any race car driver is that he receives from his peers. Bobby Grim’s peers, to a man, would echo Kunzman’s sentiments.

From 1946 through ’71, Grim snared an astounding 199 feature wins, including victories in USAC midgets as well as the 1960 Syracuse championship car race.

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It was in the IMCA sprint cars, however, that Grim excelled, posting 186 victories en route to four consecutive championships. What makes that incredible record particularly impressive is that he beat some of sprint car racing’s best to make it happen. Short-track giants such as Marvin Pifer, Herschel Wagner, Jud Larson, “Buzz” Barton, Jerry Blundy and Jim Hurtubise.

Grim’s longtime IMCA car owner, Hector Honore once said, “Bob Grim was a natural. In a lifetime you’d be fortunate to find a handful of race drivers with his natural-born talent and ability.”

Grim wasn’t born driving, but it was close. His father owned a Chevrolet dealership in their Coal City, Ind., hometown and Bobby Grim was wheeling cars around the lot at age 6. World War II intervened or he would’ve been in a race car right out of high school. Instead, he found himself on the beaches of Normandy and in the Battle of The Bulge.

After the hostilities, the post-war midget racing boom grabbed his attention and Grim, with three buddies, bought a Studebaker-powered car to get in on the seven-night-a-week racing action.

By the time they had scraped together enough money to ready their car, however, another form of racing caught their attention — sprint cars.

So they converted the midget to a sprinter and ran for the first time at the infamous Jungle Park Speedway near Marshall, Ind. That race, like Grim’s other early efforts, was less than memorable. Yet, running with the Midwest Dirt Track Racing Ass’n, popularly known as the “Kerosene Circuit,” Grim learned and soon impressed owners with the better cars.

Honoree was among them. Honoree had won the 1946 and ’47 MDTRA championships with Cliff Griffith driving. When Griffith vacated Honore’s car in 1948, Grim got the call.

He didn’t disappoint.

Adding Central States Racing Ass’n races to his MDTRA schedule, Grim improved steadily. In 1951, Honore got his hands on a coveted Offy, added Bardahl sponsorship and painted his No. 2 sprinter glossy black. With the “Black Deuce,” Grim went on a winning tear on IMCA’s dusty, dangerous fairground tracks.

He finished fifth in points that year. He was fourth in ’52, third in ’53, second in ’54 and won four straight titles from 1955-’58.

A native Hoosier, Grim grew up with the Indianapolis 500 tugging at his heart. While he didn’t relish leaving the IMCA, in 1958 he moved to USAC in hopes of getting to Indianapolis.

In 1959, he made it.

Driving the car that fellow Hoosier Pat O’Connor died in the year before, Grim qualified in the middle of the second row and ran strong until a failing magneto put him out on his 86th lap. Despite his short race, Grim had impressed observers and received rookie-of-the-year honors.

He competed at Indianapolis eight more times but never got the equipment to match his talent. He does have the honor, however, of qualifying the last true roadster at Indianapolis.

In 1966, Grim put Herb Porter’s experimental turbo-Offy in the show. Unfortunately, he never made it to the starting line. He got trapped in that year’s frontstretch melee that eliminated 11 cars heading to the green flag.

In his later years, Robert Harold Grim waged a fight with cancer that was as ferocious as any of his on-track battles. On, June 14, 1995, he lost that one. Yet, until the end, he displayed the relentless, undaunted, tenacious spirit that made him one of America’s best race car drivers.