About time I did this...
Originally posted by David M. Kane
I seem to recall that there are two chapters on this race in Michael Argetsinger's book on Walt Hansgen if anyone has their copy handy. Walt was the car in front of Eddie Sachs at the time of the crash.
Dave MacDonald recognised how difficult the car was, but he had a passion to race in the 500. He had phoned his father, George MacDonald, in Los Angeles during the race week and said he was apprehensive about the handling and didn't think the car was right: "He told me the car seemed to lift and float in the turns," George recalls. "He said the trouble was apparently caused by the fact the car was build for 12" wheels but had to be converted to 15" wheels to meet Indianapolis regulations. the only reason he drove it was that he felt obligated to."
Len Sutton was driving for Rolla Vollstedt, a friend and supporter from Sutton's earliest days of racing in the Pacific Northwest, in a rear-engine car Vollstedt had been developing for a year and a half. Sutton was a top-rank oval driver and had finished second in the 500 to Rodger Ward in 1962 when they both drove for the Leader Card Racing Team. Sutton qualified eighth and was on the row ahead of Walt for the start. Walt passed Sutton on the first lap, and in his book, "My Road to Indy", Len relates his view of the next lap:
In the second lap at the end of the back stretch, going into the third turn, Dave MacDonald went whistling by me, jumped on the binders and proceeded across the short chute in front of me. Walt Hansgen was right in front of him then and Dave drove it deep under him, but not deep enough for Walt to see him. when Hansgen came down, as that was his line, Dave had to get his nose out or turn left enough to keep from running into him.
Dave's back end got away from him and he headed for the inside guard rail. Anyone watching this unfold - and I was - could feel certain it was going to be tragic. By the time Dave's car was off the wall and heading back onto the track, I was just even with him and escaped down the front stretch. Unfortunately for Eddie Sachs, Dave's car collided with him, igniting a second ball of flame and sent a burning tyre and wheel high into the air. The two drivers, from in front of me and behind me, were both killed, burned beyond help.
Jack Brabham, who started behind MacDonald and Sachs in twenty-fifth position, also saw it coming and relates his experience in "The Jack Brabham Story", written with Doug Nye:
All the way round the rolling lap before the start - mindful of Masten's warning - I just kept my eyes riveted on that red car, knowing it was brimful of fuel. It was visibly very unsteady, I did not take my eyes off it.
We came out of turn four, green flags, and we were racing. My eyes were still glued on that odd-looking car a couple of rows ahead. Dave MacDonald nearly lost it in turn two, but caught it. In turn three he was again all over the place. Then, coming out of turn four, it happened. Dave's ultra-low Thompson car flicked broadside, and he lost it.
Instantly I hit my brakes. Dave MacDonald's car speared down to the inside. The ultra-low Thompson car impacted against the concrete wall and exploded like a napalm bomb. the car then ricocheted back up at an angle leaving a blindingly bright wall of orange flame across the track. Eddie Sachs simply couldn't stop. He smashed straight into MacDonald's car, and his own car's fuel load exploded too. He didn't stand a chance.
Despite braking so hard, I just seemed to be accelerating through a funnel between roaring flame and the outside wall. I managed to slow just enough to dodge left through the fire at right angles before the burning wrecks. I was through it literally in a flash, and apart from running over some debris emerged unscathed. The race was stopped.
To this day I'm confident that Masten Gregory's pre-race word saved my life. Tragically, Dave MacDonald died of his burns a few hours later, while Eddie Sachs - poor Eddie, the 'Clown Prince' of Indy who helped make my debut at the famous circuit there in 1961 so enjoyable - had been killed instantly.
David E Davis Jr. provided a trackside observation of the accident in "Car & Driver":
MacDonald had been charging hard, passing several cars on the first lap, and fighting to catch Hansgen, who was cutting his own swath through the field. Coming out of turn four, he evidently decided to try to take Hansgen on the main straightaway. In his usual style, when he was hurrying, he had the tail hung out just a bit, but his line was bad, and the tail started coming around very gradually as the car moved onto the chute at about 140-145. It was not a wild snapping spin, in fact the car had only turned 180 degrees when it hit the inside wall, burst its fuel tank, and erupted in a hundred foot mushroom of flame.
From Walt's rearview mirror, the ball of fire was a shock. He described it for Jim Ogle Jr. in the "Newark Star-Ledger:" "I could hear the explosion and see the giant flames shooting up about 200 feet behind me. It was a terrible and unbelievable sight, and one I'll never forget."
The accident was unprecedented in its ferocity, even at a track that had seen many high-speed impacts. the heat was intense - Brabham said driving through it had been like opening an oven door - and the orange flames and black smoke rose higher than the top of the grandstands. the race was halted for the first time in its history except for rain. It was one hour and forty-three minutes before the drivers were again asked to get back in their cars and go racing again.
Other cars were caught up in the flames, and Ronnie Duman, from Dearborn, Michigan, was the most seriously injured, listed as critical with second-degree burns. Johnny Rutherford and Bobby Unser were treated for minor burns. (Those two would later account for five Indy 500 wins.) Norm Hall, from Hollywood, California, suffered minor cuts but no burns in the accident, and Chuck Stevenson's car was eliminated but he was unhurt. Two USAC observers and two cameramen were treated for smoke inhalation and minor burns. One spectator witnessing the accident was treated for a heart attack. Eddie Sachs, one of the most beloved figures in racing, died in his race car. He was thirty-seven years old. Dave MacDonald, twenty-six, died in the hospital less than three hours after the crash.
Confusion was rampant. the public address system and the radio and closed-circuit TV announcers were attempting to identify which drivers were involved. It was announced that Walt Hansgen was among the drivers in the inferno, and the information was repeated to the closed-circuit TV audience. It was a tough hour for Bev and Rusty Hansgen in the theatre in Trenton until the facts were sorted out. As more information became known, it was tougher still for George MacDonald, watching in a Los Angeles theatre.
Mike has done a great job of putting this together, even though it's only really a sidelight to the story he was writing. I've not long spoken to him on the phone and he's happy to have this brought into this arena to benefit those following this thread.
Thanks, David, for mentioning it.
The above post is #127, page 4 of this thread.
It was written by Ray Bell, and is one of the bests, if not the best post of this thread. It contains the essence of the accident, testimonies of 3 ocular witnesses.
But there are some minor inconsistencies (marked in red), which do not invalidate these testimonies, these inconsistencies are product of memory, who is not perfect, and emotions. These testimonies were validated by evidences, as movies and photos.
Let me show you some research I have made on this subject:
1-Len Sutton testimony:
Memory played a trick with Len, on the movie I post the captions and the link below, it is shown that Dave probably overtook him on turn 2 of lap 2 (we can't see it in the movie), because on turn 1 of lap 2 Dave was behind him and on the backstretch approaching turn 3 Len was behind Dave. The captions below (backstretch end, lap 2) shows how Dave was fast, because he enters turn 3 well behind Branson, and exits turn four ahead him, heading for the accident. But, Len's description of the accident is correct and supported by the photos and movies, he was right behind Branson and could see it so well he forgot Branson was there.http://www.joost.com...00-AJ-s-2nd-Win
2-Jack Brabham testimony:
Jack's testimony, as described by Doug Nye, has a load of emotion ("Despite braking so hard, I just seemed to be accelerating through a funnel between roaring flame and the outside wall") and he exaggerates a bit saying "To this day I'm confident that Masten Gregory's pre-race word saved my life", which is not supported by movies nor photograhic evidence. But Sir Jack could see Dave loosing it at the end of turn 4
, there's no exaggeration in it: by my calculations he was less than 3/8 of a mile away, or at the end of turn 3, and from this distance it is possible for a driver to see what is happening at the beginning of the mainstretch, specially if he has a reason to do it (he probably saw Dave overtaking Branson somewhere between turns 3 and 4, he could have evaluated well Dave's speed there).
The fact that was possible to Sir Jack to see what happened doesn't allow to conclude that Masten's advice saved his life, you can see in the movie and in the photographic evidences that his life wasn't at risk by this accident, Sir Jack exaggerated a little, which is perfectly normal in an emotional testimony.
3-David E Davis Jr. testimony:
Every word he says is supported by the evidences.
I would like to say a word about Rutherford's testimony, not included here: in the movies we can't see what Johnny Rutherford said about Dave, but this do not mean Rutherford is wrong, because when you are racing, the adrenaline and the proximity allow you to see and feel minor things that can't be seen from the trackside or the grandstands or any movies.
Finally, I must say as a TNF observer that rarely posts, that both of you, Ray and Michael are important references here, and what I'm trying to say with my posts is that both of you are are being unreasonable with this anger, there's no reason to be angry.
So please, shake hands and solve any differences, remove the rancor and bring back the joy.
Edited by ovfi, 04 August 2009 - 20:23.