‘The Peruvian Flash’ Was Brief But Shining Star

INDY MAN: Manny Ayulo after qualifying for his fourth and final Indy 500 in 1954. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

INDY MAN: Manny Ayulo after qualifying for his fourth and final Indy 500 in 1954. (Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

Manny Ayulo is sadly forgotten today, but “The Peruvian Flash” was one of the top Indy-car drivers of his era.

The son of the Peruvian Consul to Los Angeles, Ayulo was born there Oct. 20, 1921. The Ayulos were oft found on the society pages, but like many Southern California youngsters, Manny got interested in hot-rodding.

By 1938, the teenager entered dry lake speed runs, first with the Idlers Car Club and later with the Gophers Car Club. A fellow member was Jack McGrath, and the two became good friends with intertwined careers.

After World War II, many hot rodders left the lakes and rural roads for ovals, as roadster racing boomed. Ayulo and McGrath were charter members of the California Roadster Ass’n and quickly became big winners.

He and McGrath joined the AAA on the same day, May 1, 1947, and both made their champ car debuts at Arlington Downs (Texas) April 25, 1948. Ayulo finished fifth, but had trouble breaking into the ranks, instead concentrating on midgets and sprints, with the occasional foray into stock cars.

After struggling with another car in May 1949, Ayulo was a last-minute replacement in Bill Sheffler’s second car and dramatically bumped his way into the Indianapolis 500. On track when the gun sounded to end qualifying, Ayulo’s final-lap blitz was just enough to make it in.

Ayulo failed to qualify an aging Maserati for the 1950 500 and missed the ’51 race as well, but relieved McGrath for the last half of the race and finished third. Finally a championship trail regular, Ayulo had seven top-10 finishes to rank eighth in points.

After a disappointing 1952 season, Ayulo switched to Pete Schmidt’s team and his fortunes rose. He qualified fourth for the 500 and won the pole a week later at the Milwaukee Mile, but he failed to finish the race. Better things were ahead.

Ayulo drove Schmidt’s Kuzma to four second places. A consistent threat to win, he finished fourth in points. Like his buddy McGrath, Ayulo did his own engine work.

The 1954 season began with a disappointing Indy race, then Ayulo finished second at Milwaukee. Qualifying outside front row for the July 4 200-miler at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, Ayulo paced himself, taking the lead when Jimmy Bryan pitted for fuel after 88 laps. Ayulo led the remaining laps on the scorching day, winning by a half a lap. Missing the 18-car field at Springfield (Ill.), Ayulo rebounded at Milwaukee. After swapping the lead with Chuck Stevenson eight times, Ayulo led the final seven laps to take his second career champ win. He finished second in points to Bryan.

Opening the 1955 season at Indianapolis, Ayulo was practicing in Schmidt’s Kurtis just minutes before the track was to close for the day on May 16 when he crashed head-on into the turn-one wall. He died the following day.

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