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Gordon Smiley's crash in a modern Indy car


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#151 brabhamBT19

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 12:13

10 yrs later Piquet went 200mph into the wall he even clopped it with his helmet, survived with broken legs. 1995 Fox went into the wall at 200mph, chassis desintegrated, Fox survived with smashed legs. But than at more less the same period Marcelo went into the wall in what looked like a minor accident, yet he died. Brayton also hit the wall well beyond 200 mph and died. So I think at Indy it is more the question of luck than the pure force of the impact.
With this in mind your question cannot be answered, because freak accident can occur in any car. Besides the worst accident with Dallara chassis is still hanging in the air. You know the accident when that sleek nose dives under the stalled car in front and stalled car's diffuser hits driver in the car behind directly into head. Dallara chassis is a dangerous vehicle. Just remember Mario Andretti's flight, or Briscoe Chichago shunt. They have to do something about it before it is too late. And the most critical part IMO is that sleek nose.

Edited by brabhamBT19, 07 May 2009 - 12:15.


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#152 Little Leaf

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 12:33

That image of Piquet is virtually identical to the one which killed Gordon. Nelson was very lucky.
Smiley was a great old friend and I had the pleasure of accompanying him to England in 1974 when he raced FF/FAtl and saw him win in the Surtees at Silverstone, oddly the last time any American won an FIA sanctioned F1 event.
At Indy that year he was beside himself with rage and aggression and confusion that he couldn't match the (cheating) Whittington team in his March. His car never worked right, was a real handful at Atlanta earlier, and Gordon simply forgot his observation of the Ongais accident about turning down away from a spin. He and the team could never get the March to work correctly and handle, and he made the classic road racer mistake of trying to correct a ground effect car going 200 mph at a track 80 feet wide.
There was no way he was on any drug, he was a fitness fanatic and conservative and almost violently against them. He simply made a mistake in an car that as AJ said "just hit wrong," exploded and killed him. Sometimes crashes at Indy edd oddly and they are all different in nature.
It was a bloody, stinking nightmare in the garage afterwards, all our team in tears while the USAC officials pulled bits out of the pile of parts to "examine." I thought at the time they were just ghouls.
Gordon was a fearless and aggressive driver, and perhaps that style didn't fit well with the concrete walls of the Speedway, but he did lead the event the previous year in a car identical to Johncock's and Mario's and was always very quick. Quite impressive in UK FF races and in the AFX finale in 1979.
One of he funniest men I've ever met, although with an underlying anger and impossible impatience. I miss him to this day. He was spectacular in smaller formula cars and one of the fastest FF drivers of all time.


Some great pics and information, thanks for the info.

Are there any books or websites that give more of an insight into Gordon's career? I know he is obviously written about in Steve Olvey's book but I would be more interested in his career than the crash.


#153 Direct Drive

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 12:38

Been thinking about that project for a few years. There is some more information in the CHASSIS ARCHIVE (Merlyn Mk 21) section of another forum, please forgive the reference Twin.

#154 ensign14

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 13:50

At Indy that year he was beside himself with rage and aggression and confusion that he couldn't match the (cheating) Whittington team in his March.

I've not seen this allegation before. In what way were they cheating?

#155 markpde

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 14:10

I've not seen this allegation before. In what way were they cheating?

I was just about to ask the same question - last night I was watching this video and Kevin Jeanette mentions (near the beginning) that he was crew chief for what he calls "the infamous Whittington brothers" at Indy in '80 and '81. I knew they were infamous for other stuff, of course, and I assumed that's what he meant, but not this.

Edited by markpde, 07 May 2009 - 14:14.


#156 ensign14

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 14:40

They are a bit of a puzzle, talent-wise. In that they won Le Mans (OK, in a weak year, and one wonders how much Ludwig contributed, but they still won) and were generally comfortable qualifiers for the 500, plus in a one-off NASCAR drive both of them got in the top 10. I assumed they were very decent drivers, but if they were cheating at Indy were they cheating everywhere else as well?

#157 brabhamBT19

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 14:47

they were drug smuggling lowlifes god knows what they were capable of

#158 Flat Black 84

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 15:06

Thanks for the excellent post, DD. It's obvious you are a loyal friend of Gordon's.

#159 Direct Drive

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 15:55

For clarification, they were cheating the weight and pop-off valves, and their cars were the same 81Cs they had the previous years. Funny fellows those two who also raced P-51 Mustangs at Reno air races and other places. The tall one was an easy conversation, his shorter brother was a petulant jerk and they were both convicted narcotic importers and criminals. Unlike Randy Lanier, who fought the feds and got "life without parole," the Witts pleaded guilty and are out and around someplace.

Edited by Direct Drive, 07 May 2009 - 15:58.


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#160 jjordan

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 16:37

Having known Gordon and worked for him for a number of years in his Kansas days, anyone who knew Gordon would have to laugh at the suggestion that he was under the influence of any mind altering substance. As my good friend Direct Drive has stated, he was violently against them. The real root of the accident lies in his past, if Gordon was guilty of anything it was his belief that his talent could carry any car. When he started road racing in small production cars (Spitfires mainly) and Formula Ford he developed a style of running into the corner at unbelievable speeds and throwing the car to scrub off speed and power out to the exit. The first 100 times I saw it, it scared me terribly, I have seen veterans stand at the fence with their mouths open at some of his cornering "displays." Certainly the most fearless driver I have seen, and I have seen and worked for several in that catagory ( Bob "Easy Money" Lazier in his FF days comes to mind. Lazier and Smiley were good friends.)
At the brickyard that year, Smiley was very frustrated by several things ( I'll leave the details to DDrive), this mental state, plus his faith in his own skill led him (I believe) to revert back to his roots. To get the last bit of speed out of the car I believe he entered too fast, tried to toss the car to scrub some off and "unhinged" the sliding skirts immediately losing some 1800 lbs of downforce.
Would he have survived in a modern IndyCar? Pretty hard to say, I sure don't know, but the fact that the modern cars do not depend on the sliding skirt seal to create unbelievable amounts of downforce, I don't think he would have got in that situation in the first place. As much as he liked oversteer (DD do you ever remember riding with him on the snowy streets of KC?), car probably would just swap ends and back into the wall.
DDrive, when are you going to start on that book?


#161 Direct Drive

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 18:01

JJ
How good to hear from you. Yes I rode with GS many times in the snow and it must have been like being a passenger in one of his race cars. Amazing car control until that last corner.
Might begin book this fall, while most of us are still alive!

#162 PCC

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 18:17

Might begin book this fall, while most of us are still alive!

Now THAT is the best news I've heard in a while! Don't forget to let us know when you're ready for advance orders!

#163 Buford

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 20:37

Having known Gordon and worked for him for a number of years in his Kansas days, anyone who knew Gordon would have to laugh at the suggestion that he was under the influence of any mind altering substance. As my good friend Direct Drive has stated, he was violently against them. The real root of the accident lies in his past, if Gordon was guilty of anything it was his belief that his talent could carry any car. When he started road racing in small production cars (Spitfires mainly) and Formula Ford he developed a style of running into the corner at unbelievable speeds and throwing the car to scrub off speed and power out to the exit. The first 100 times I saw it, it scared me terribly, I have seen veterans stand at the fence with their mouths open at some of his cornering "displays." Certainly the most fearless driver I have seen, and I have seen and worked for several in that catagory (


That's exactly how I drove too. Very effective because few could do it but if you could, you could out brake everybody. Maybe it's good I never made Indy, because I may have done something similar. I can totally relate to the theory of him reverting to his instinct. I think that is what he did.

#164 lil'chris

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 22:36

1995 Fox went into the wall at 200mph, chassis desintegrated, Fox survived with smashed legs.


As far as I'm aware, Stan didn't break any bones whatsoever in that horrendous accident. His injuries were confined to his brain


#165 lotuspoweredbyford

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 03:19

I never heard anyone say anything bad about Gordon,


Except perhaps Gary Bettenhausen.

Edited by lotuspoweredbyford, 08 May 2009 - 03:21.


#166 lotuspoweredbyford

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 03:20

I have some interesting Gordon Smiley material. I have a color photo I took of him on his last ever lap, and i have his last interview on tape, where he's very frustrated about his speed and the car.

#167 TooTall

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 03:41

Gordon Smiley in the Wildcat, Riverside, 1981.

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Cheers,
Kurt O.

#168 Little Leaf

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 07:03

Great pictures, keep them coming!

#169 brabhamBT19

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 08:03

As far as I'm aware, Stan didn't break any bones whatsoever in that horrendous accident. His injuries were confined to his brain


hey, hey I watched that race, I can remember seeing that his legs were exposed completely all the way to the waist

#170 B Squared

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 14:00

"I can remember seeing that his legs were exposed completely all the way to the waist" brabhamBT19

Gordon Kirby - Autosport - 1 June 1995 - page 45

"Earlier in the day, at the start of the race, an accident eliminated six cars and left Stan Fox in critical condition with a serious head injury and unidentified damage to his feet and legs."

I am good friends with Mike Fedorcek, who was very close to Stanley. I never heard anything of concern about the feet and leg injuries during his recovery, most probably because of the head injury worries. They were injured nonetheless. Amazingly not as bad as one would think, given the exposure.

Brian Brown

#171 brabhamBT19

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 14:34

"I can remember seeing that his legs were exposed completely all the way to the waist" brabhamBT19

Gordon Kirby - Autosport - 1 June 1995 - page 45

"Earlier in the day, at the start of the race, an accident eliminated six cars and left Stan Fox in critical condition with a serious head injury and unidentified damage to his feet and legs."

I am good friends with Mike Fedorcek, who was very close to Stanley. I never heard anything of concern about the feet and leg injuries during his recovery, most probably because of the head injury worries. They were injured nonetheless. Amazingly not as bad as one would think, given the exposure.

Brian Brown


I was very young then and that image stuck into my mind, thats why I was thinking the legs were smashed only because of the that image. I can still remember that the car was purple and driver's overalls white. And I didnt look at the picture since. It was traumatic for me.

#172 Direct Drive

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 15:57

Same Wildcat, Watkins Glen 1981

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#173 B Squared

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Posted 08 May 2009 - 16:21

"I was very young then and that image stuck into my mind, thats why I was thinking the legs were smashed only because of the that image. I can still remember that the car was purple and driver's overalls white. And I didnt look at the picture since. It was traumatic for me." brabhamBT19

The image of Stanley's legs hanging on the rear wing of Cheever's car are definitely ingrained in ones mind.

The purple car was a 1995 Reynard. The remains of the monocoque are seen in the following two images. It was broken in half in essence.

Brian

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photos: B²

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#174 Roger39

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 13:16

Watching the video of this horrific crash I notice that the smoke gets blown away quite quickly in more or less the direction of the crash. Was the wind ever considered into contributing to the sudden loss of downforce?

#175 retriever

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 16:54

It is a sad indictment but the only thread topic on the Nostalgia Forum about Gordon Smiley is one that focuses on his death in an indy car.

I am sorry but to my way of thinking this preoccupation with injuries sustained, as those described in this topic and in others, is all a little sad and somewhat unhealthy.

#176 Buford

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 17:19

It is a sad indictment but the only thread topic on the Nostalgia Forum about Gordon Smiley is one that focuses on his death in an indy car.

I am sorry but to my way of thinking this preoccupation with injuries sustained, as those described in this topic and in others, is all a little sad and somewhat unhealthy.


Well the thing is, if you are going to manage to have the most spectacular, horrendous, and gruesome single car crash in racing history, and it is captured by multiple cameras and broadcast in an era before hand wringer censorship, well that's kinda what you are gonna be remembered for.

#177 retriever

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Posted 11 May 2009 - 17:27

Hand wringer censorship - No.

Just bad taste - pure and simple.

#178 jjordan

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Posted 12 May 2009 - 12:03

To the general public, drivers will always be remembered for their one most-spectacular moment, be it good or bad. Those involved with the sport, and those of us who knew Gordon, will always remember him for how he lived, not how he died. He taught me how to get the most out of every moment, because we just don't know how many moments we have left. For that he will live forever in my mind.




#179 B Squared

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Posted 12 May 2009 - 12:33

jjordan - I understand 100% with your last statement for my family was friends with Scott Brayton. You always remember the best of times. I'm very grateful for the fond memories he gave to us. With those, he stays with you.

Brian Brown

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#180 SEdward

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Posted 12 May 2009 - 14:59

Gordon Smiley was one of hundreds of drivers who have pounded the Brickyard pretty well anonymously. If it had not been for the horrific and spectacular nature of his demise, I suspect that he would have remained unknown to most lovers of this sport.

Edward

#181 TomSlick57

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 05:29

Perhaps inexperience was not Gordon's downfall, but a certain rash immaturity may well have been. Smiley was a cocksure gambler in an era when such drivers were gravely imperiled at the Brickyard. A touch more respect and humility may have prevented the tragedy.

PS--In McDonald's case, I'm not sure inexperience was the key, although it may have played a role. I think the bigger problem is that the Mickey Thompson Special was an ill-handling, slapdash monster of a car. Indeed, the car was so doom-laden that none other than Jim Clark said to McDonald, "Walk away from that car, mate. Just walk away." Mario Andretti had done just that a month before. McDonald accepted the ride and the rest is horrifying history.

Cocksure..Slapdash monster?

#182 Rosemayer

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Posted 17 August 2009 - 14:02

Here is some different views of Gordons fatal crash.Warning Very Graphic:



Edited by Rosemayer, 17 August 2009 - 14:02.


#183 David Force

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Posted 18 August 2009 - 10:03

I have not read the thread thoroughly as some of it was, I thought, unnecessary so please excuse me if this has been mentioned before, and it's from memory:-

At the time of Gordon's accident Desire Wilson was also trying to qualify for he first 500. Desi was in my opinion, the most talented lady racing driver of modern times by far and so very nearly made it into F1. As an aside I could add something to the John McDonald thread about why she didn't.

Anyhow we shared a table with our friends Desi and husband Alan at Goodwood FoS of this year. She was there driving a little Porsche as she had been asked by her former Indy entrant to do so. Typical of Desi she gave it her all in a lovely car which was, shall we say, slightly underpowered.

As the talk turned to Indy Desi mentioned that following Smiley's accident she had forced herself to watch the footage to see if she could learn something. Sure enough it was obvious to her that the road racer's instincts had stepped in and Gordon just over corrected and when the car gripped, as they do, went straight in.

Subsequently when Desi was really pushing trying to get into the field her own car oversteered and as a direct result of watching the footage she simply steered WITH the slide and rotated at some 200mph down the straight.

The end result... four flat spotted tyres and a lady glad she had put herself through the trauma of watching a film clip.


:cool: