INDY 500: A History Of British Racers in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing (Part Two)

It is Indy 500 day tomorrow and to get you in the mood for the great race, Adrian Rickard (aka @IndycarUK on Twitter) has been profiling all of the British competitors in the race for us. Part one, which focused on those who participated up to 1941, can be found here. Part two below focuses on the 1946-1995 era.

Jim Clark – The British invasion did not only come in the form of the Beatles, but on the track too in the form a team, Lotus, with a new way of thinking to run at Indianapolis, a rear engine car, and some drivers who would go down in history, messrs Clark, Hill and Stewart. Jim Clark (pictured above) was a runner up in his debut year behind Parnelli Jones in 1963 after being convinced by Colin Chapman to give this oval racing a go after a discussion with the late Dan Gurney. Engineers and competitors remarked at the time that no matter what the equipment Clark had, he looked, and drove perfectly. Clark took pole position in 1964 with a then record speed of 158.828 mph, before retiring with broken suspension placing 24th. But 1965 was to be his year, starting in second, Clark would put in one of the most dominating performances seen in history at the Speedway with his Lotus leading 190 of 200 laps, and a winner’s purse of over $166,000. Another front row start in ’66 resulted in a runners up place behind Graham Hill (along some may dispute this with timing as the scoring maybe being ‘mis-aligned’). In his first four 500 races, Clark would lead laps in everyone. His final 500 race would be in 1967, his worst qualifying saw him start down in 16th place and matched with his worst finish of 31st, retiring with a broken piston on lap 35. In 1968 Jim Clark was scheduled to run the Pratt & Whitney Turbine ‘Wedge’ in a Lotus before he tragically lost his life at Hockenhiem the month prior.

Graham Hill
Graham Hill – In his rookie year of 1966, Hill started in 15th place but would take victory just ahead of Fellow countryman Jim Clark (apparently, you can read more about the controversy over spins, manual timing, PA and more). Clark and Lloyd Ruby would share the majority of the laps lead. Fellow rookie Jackie Stewart took the lead on lap 151, but oil pressure problems resulted in losing the lead with Hill taking the lead with nine to go, and claim victory. Hill made two other starts, in 1967, finishing 32nd after a mechanical failure, and 1968, crashing out with a 19th place finish. I would be remiss to not include the legacy of doors being added to the front of toilet cubicles, to preserve modestly, a true British hero.

Sir Jackie Stewart
Sir Jackie Stewart – Only two starts at the Speedway for a legend of Formula One, but what an impact he made. A rookie in 1966, Stewart was 10 laps away from winning the race in his first attempt until he had a problem with his oil pressure and had to return to the pits. Upon asking why didn’t he go back out and complete the race, he responded that he had his owner’s machinery to protect. Stewart would be award the Rookie of the Year Honours, even with Graham Hill winning the race. Stewart started the race in 15th position and throughout the race would go on to lead 40 laps before his car failed on him. He returned in 1967 and had a struggle to get into the race driving a Mecom Lola, being bumped out on the first weekend then eventually making his way back in to qualify in the 29th position. The race itself did not fair too much better for Stewart, his engine let go on lap 168, this would be his last run at the 500, despite being on the card to run a steam car for inventor Bill Lear. An interesting side note, Stewart once assisted in making an arrest while riding with an Indianapolis policeman. That wasn’t the end of his connection to IMS, he became the ABC Wide World of Sports commentator in the 70s and 80s as well as driving the pace car in 1979.

David Hobbs
David Hobbs – ‘Hobbo’ as he is affectionately known, competed in four 500s from 1971, finishing 20th in his debut year after crashing on the front straight driving for Penske. Skipping a year and returning in the tragic 1973 race which saw Swede Savage lose his life in a crash coming out of turn four. Hobbs race would be effectively over as his car started to smoke on the pace lap, the problem was rectified, but would be several laps down. His best result cane in 1974 driving for McLaren, qualifying in 9th, and securing a top five finish. A final race would be a short lived affair in 1976, Hobbs race was over on lap 10 after a water leak leaving him in 29th place.

Jim Crawford – The sixties ‘British Invasion’ of the 500 was well and truly over by the time this experienced racer from Fife took to the track. In a lean spell of drivers from Britain saw the now US based Crawford compete in 8 Indy 500’s from 1985 to 1993, topped and tailed with some failed attempts at qualifying.

Jim Crawford
Perennially quick in qualifying at the 500, Crawford set several records during the 1980s in his Buick, his career would be defined by a serious accident bring a whole new meaning to ‘air-time’ that earned him some honorary wings from the US Air Force in practice for the 1987 500 which should have left him with career ending injuries, or you would have thought so had it not been for the surgical expertise of Dr Terry Trammell, and sheer determination of Crawford to get back to racing. A career best finish of 6th was secured in 1988, his comeback race. He left the Speedway for Florida where he became a fishing boat captain and charter. Jim Crawford would die in 2002 suffering liver failure after battling health problems that had constantly arisen from all his accidents, despite advances in medicine, these came too late for ‘Gentleman Jim’. Team owner John Menard called him ‘The bravest driver he ever knew’. The Speedway broke him, but Crawford never let it stop him, a vastly underrated British hero of the 500.

Nigel Mansell – Two Indy 500 starts for the veteran Formula One driver, and current World Champion at the time of moving to the US racing scene. In 1993, he drove a strong race in which he had led 34 laps and was leading but after a poor restart on lap 184, lost out to Emerson Fittipaldi and Arie Luyendyk, with Emerson eventually winning and drinking… well… anyway (Orange juice, check the story out). Mansell was awarded the Rookie of the Year title. In his second 500, things did not go well after starting the race in seventh position. On Lap 92, whilst exiting the pits, Dennis Vitolo who had stayed out was approaching the back of the field in an effort to catch up, lost control of his car, hit John Andretti before mounting Mansell who was caught out completely unaware, and was smothered by an official to put out any invisible flames. It took TV some time to break down what exactly had happened. A less than impressed Mansell left the medical centre and reacted angrily to the popular reporter Dr Jerry Punch who attempted to interview Mansell about the accident. This reaction resulted in a strong change in the tide of opinion towards Mansell who, with his time up, went back to Europe.

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