THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL
Before spec cars and engine leases, Indy
500 drivers doubled as mechanics, engine
men and even car builders – sometimes
out of necessity, but many times because
they were equally as talented with a
wrench as they were a steering wheel.
Jack McGrath, who started five
straight May classics from the front row
(1951-’ 55), put together his own motors
and sprinkled in a healthy helping of
nitro, while Manny Ayulo did a little bit
of everything in his four starts at Indy.
In 1955, master mechanic A.J. Watson
had to rush back to Los Angeles for a
family emergency a couple days before
the Indianapolis 500, so Bob Sweikert
took apart and re-built the Offy engine
that carried him to victory.
A.J. Foyt loved to get his hands dirty
assembling engines with Howard Gilbert
in the 1970s, while eight-time “500”
starter Mel Kenyon was given a car by
Fred Gerhardt with the condition that he
and his brother, Don, maintained it for
the whole 1966 USAC season.
During the winter of 1967, Jim
Krueger spent the winter putting
together his two-year-old March,
qualified it 15th, then finished eighth.
That same month, USAC soldier
Steve Chassey served as his own chief
mechanic and qualified 26th for his
third and final Indianapolis 500.
Modern IndyCar drivers drive. But back in the day, many of them also worked on their cars – or even built them.
Jack McGrath earned five
consecutive front-row starts
at Indy, including pole in
1954. The Offy engines in
cars such as his 1952 Kurtis
Kraft KK3000 (MAIN) were
all built by the Californian.
Handling a wrench came natural to four-time
“500” winner A.J. Foyt. His dad owned a
garage and A.J. was a mechanic in his teens.
Jim Hurtubise loved front-engine racecars,
but couldn’t defy physics. His Mallard was
the last of its kind to qualify for an Indy 500.
Hurtubise and brother Pete designed
and built a roadster in the garage behind
their home in North Tonawanda, N. Y.,
and Herk qualified it in 1968 – the last
front-engine car to start an Indy 500.
The last of this driver/mechanic breed
came in 1988, when journeyman Phil