Well, the last part of my 1933 Indy 500 story took a "bit" longer to finish off, mainly because I wanted to clear a few points in research first. And it's not so much about the details
of the story, for which I'm so (in)famous (notorious?
) amongst some members of this board ;), but some rather worrying discrepancies in the various sources about fairly major happenings, and the "whys, whens and hows" concerning them. Two examples:
- in secondary literature, Fred Frame is mostly (exclusively?) reported as having retired with an engine failure, yet the wire reports of the race in progress state that he crashed out! This about the leader of the race (even though he was reported as running second, due to a scoring mix-up), and not about the rather obscure difference between valve failure and a broken crankshaft, but an accident or a mechanically induced retirement! It's still possible his engine blew and he subsequently grazed the wall, with the usual exaggerations coming into play, but I simply wasn't able to confirm one way or another.
- most listings about lead laps show Babe Stapp leading laps 37 and 38, yet the various standings published at the time (and in later books) do not show him in any top ten position until lap 50! Most of these lead lap reports are actually quite accurate, often substantiated by lap prize money reports, but in 1933 the latter was woefully short due to the depression, and even though it's remotely possible that either the lead lap listings or the top ten listings contain errors due to scoring gaffes, I still find it rather hard to believe that Stapp should have been able to run that far up fairly early in the race, considering his starting position and the record pace of the leaders. But, yet again, it proved impossible to establish the truth one way or another...
So, despite all this, I hope you will still enjoy:Meyer Like Milton
The next drama ensued when the cars pulled off on the formation lap, with Louis Schneider unable to start up the engine of his 1931 winning mount, and while he and his crew frantically set to work on the recalcitrant machine, the other 41 cars lined up in order, still representing the biggest field ever in the history of the great event, yet including the smallest number of rookie drivers since its inception in 1911! Headed by Bill Cummings in the same car that had led the field to the green flag the year before (only the second time for a car to repeat that feat), they followed the pace car, a Chrysler Imperial manned by driver Byron Foy (president of the De Soto Motor Corp.), IMS general manager T. E. “Pop” Myers, starter Gar Wood of speedboat fame and referee Lawrence P. Fisher (president of the Cadillac Motor Co.) for one lap before being unleashed in a great crescendo of noise and fumes, with Cummings, one of the betting favourites alongside Fred Frame and Ernie Triplett, streaking straight into the lead from his advantageous position. Exactly 1’18.85” later, Cummings flashed past the starter’s stand again to end the first lap in record time, and unlike Lou Moore in 1932, he soon began to put daylight between himself and his pursuers, led by Frank Brisko in the 4wd Miller. In almost ideal weather conditions (68°F and slightly cloudy, but with the possibility of thundershowers later in the afternoon), the Boyle Miller continued to pile up track records (5’08.81” for 4 laps, and 13’00.97” for ten) before a crowd in excess of 100,000 people, leading after 25 miles from Brisko, Frame, Moore and Triplett, still in grid order, and with the rest of the field strung out in similar fashion, except for Schneider who was still at the pits, trying desperately to coax his Miller engine into life, and last-minute substitute driver Mauri Rose, who was burning up the track to the delight of his car owner, Joe Marks – in fact, such was his progress that by lap 20, he was already up to sixth position, the exact spot the car had qualified for originally, thereby completely negating the adverse effect the Wilcox “affair” had had on it!
By now, Moore and Triplett had dropped back somewhat, allowing Shorty Cantlon and Louie Meyer to move into the top five positions, and with Frame having passed Brisko, things began to heat up nicely at the front, too, for though Cummings was still leading rather comfortably by more than twenty seconds, the 1932 winner was now slowly but surely eating into this advantage over the next ten laps or so, unperturbed by the fact that the Duesenberg/Miller he owned, and which was driven by Paul Bost, had just opened the list of retirements by dropping out with a fractured oil pipe, soon to be followed by backmarkers Rick Decker, Ray Campbell and Ralph Hepburn. The latter still had the consolation of owning the car with which Meyer (L) had just passed Cantlon into fourth position, but attention soon switched to the race leader in the other Miller 230, who was slowing visibly, and heading for the pits at the end of lap33! As the Miller-Hartz swept past into the lead, the Boyle crew went into feverish activity seeking a replacement for the radiator filler cap which had fallen off out on the circuit – in vain, as it would turn out, the design of the cap being rather peculiar (in the best Miller tradition!), so that it didn’t interchange with a standard one, and after going around the circuit one more time, poor Cummings was to spend about three minutes at the pits before a somewhat makeshift repair was effected! That, of course, dropped him right out of contention, and it was now Frame first, Brisko second, Meyer (L) third and Rose fourth (!), with Cantlon, Pete Kreis, Ira Hall, Triplett, Moore and Cliff Bergere in the leading Studebaker filling out the top ten. This order, however, was to change almost immediately due to the first accident of the race, involving Hall’s Duesenberg, the leading semi-stock car, which crashed into the Turn 2 wall, fortunately without causing serious injury to mechanic or driver, the latter amply demonstrating that fact by wedging himself against the car, which appeared to be in danger of sliding down the slope of the banking into the path of the speeding cars on the track, for long enough until a wrecking crew arrived, a feat for which he later was to be awarded the annual Sportsmanship Trophy.
Sadly, Brisko’s valiant ride in second place came to an end on lap 48 when a defective main bearing caused the oil to overheat, and within another lap Rose was stranded, too, when the timing gears on his Miller “big eight” failed, followed by Cantlon retiring with another Miller engine failure, all of which led to a thorough shake-up of the leader board right about the time when the first of the routine stops for fuel were due. Having just been promoted to a top ten position, along with Babe Stapp and Wilbur Shaw, Deacon Litz was “in” on lap 51 and already asking for relief, at which point Schneider gave up the unequal struggle to get his original car started, and hopped into his former team car, the same he had driven to third place in 1930. Before long, pit stop activity was in full swing, and on lap 55 the leader arrived, with the Hartz crew straining every nerve to get the job done, sending Frame away again in fourth place behind the new leader Stapp, who had sped up considerably upon noticing the troubles of his team mate, Meyer (L) and Shaw, the three of them still holding out on their original fuel allotment. Following in fifth was now Kreis in the other Miller-Hartz, then Triplett, Moore and three further newcomers in the top ten: sophomore starter Chet Gardner, sandwiched by Les Spangler and Mark Billman, both of them well on course to fulfil the high hopes of the betting fraternity for top rookie honours! One by one the latecomers were now about to stop, and when it was time for the race leader, all eyes were on the Boyle front-drive as it was serviced, and with the Chicago crew working very efficiently, Stapp was able to resume the contest before Frame appeared in view of the grandstand, and thus seemingly still in first position, although it later transpired that the scorers had missed one lap of the Miller-Hartz, and that instead of trailing by almost half a lap, the defending winner was actually leading again by a similar margin! Thus, over the next twenty minutes or so, the scoreboard and the crowd now believed Frame to be closing in for a thrilling fight for the lead, just like he had done with Stapp’s team mate an hour or so earlier, and in the excitement it went almost unnoticed when two more frontrunners dropped from the race, with Kreis hitting the wall on the backstretch after a universal joint failure, and Triplett stopping with a holed piston. With that, Gardner was now running in fifth place, and Al Miller had come through to being the leading semi-stock proponent in sixth.
On lap 85, with Frame getting ever closer to Stapp, and the crowd ready for a “lead change” when, in fact, the Miller-Hartz was about to put a lap on the Boyle front-drive, suddenly all hopes for a repeat win were dashed when the grey car with the blue number 12 ground to a halt near Turn 2, a valve having broken. Only seconds later, all hell broke loose when Mark Billman inexplicably lost control of the Buehrig/Duesenberg in the same vicinity, crashing violently into the retaining wall. Regrettably, it was soon apparent that the Hoosier rookie was in a bad way, being pinned between the car and the wall – it took about twenty minutes to free him from this predicament, and after being carted off to hospital it was learned that his left arm, nearly ripped off by the force of the accident, had to be amputated, but sadly to no avail as Billman died shortly afterwards. This, of course, cast a gloom over the event, but the racing continued, and with Babe Stapp back in the lead the track records continued to fall, as in fact they had since the very first lap of the race, and by half distance (reached after only 2:17’04.48”, more than three minutes up on the 1932 record) Louie Meyer was second, Wilbur Shaw third and Chet Gardner fourth, albeit already four laps in arrears. The rest of the field was upwards of eight laps back of the leader, with Al Miller now in fifth and still the first of the semi-stocks, Les Spangler in sixth the leading rookie, then Dave Evans, Lou Moore, Russ Snowberger, Chet Miller and the other eighteen cars still in the race, with rookie Johnny Sawyer having since added his name to the growing list of retirements. Another bout of pit stops was coming up fast, and this time rather more driver substitutions took place, but most of the leading drivers stayed put – however, it was noticeable that Stapp continued to circulate the big oval track even many laps after Meyer, Shaw, Gardner, or anyone else for that matter had long since stopped for fuel – evidently, “the Babe” was trying to put one over his competitors, and going the distance on only two stops! Was it possible, with only 45 gallons of fuel, or approximately 170 litres? Only time would tell, and as everybody was doing the arithmetics, questions were being asked as to the virtues of the plot: obviously, the original team plan had been to have two hot irons in the fire, with Cummings going all out in an attempt to destroy the opposition with earth shattering speed, and Stapp playing backup and trying to outfox the field, but with the hare out of it for all practical purposes (and, in fact, soon to retire anyway), and the hedgehog assuming the lead almost by default, was it really worth the risks involved with that scheme? After all, with a record average speed of very nearly 110 mph playing havoc with all sorts of calculations about consumption, and a solid two-lap lead, what on earth were they trying to gain???
Truth to be told, it looked even less of a viable strategy when the white front-drive ran out of fuel on the backstretch of lap 130! Somehow, Stapp managed to coast and coax the car back to the pits, but by the time he got there and had had his fill, the two-lap lead had transformed into a six-lap deficit, and with it had disappeared almost any chance of victory! Meyer (L) could hardly believe his luck as he breezed into the lead after exactly three hours of playing “wait and see”, but with Shaw in second place and less than two minutes behind, he could hardly afford to relax just yet. Stapp was still third, but losing more time still because his clutch was now beginning to play up, and Moore, Gardner, Miller (A) and Spangler were catching up fast, as was Stubby Stubblefield in eighth. Unbelievably, though, the evil spirits had not yet finished their play with the racers yet, as Malcolm Fox, running far back in the field and many laps in arrears, lost control in full view of the grandstands in Turn 1 while trying to avoid another car in distress, unfortunately trapping the closely following Spangler who had nowhere to go, hit one of the rear wheels of the Romthe/Studebaker and was catapulted high into the air, coming down hard on the outer retaining wall – it was
as bad as it looked! Rescue operations took up well over a quarter of an hour, during which time the field was slowed down considerably, but both Spangler and his riding mechanic, Glen Jordan were beyond help. This was turning into a very black year, indeed! The race proceeded under a pall, almost paling into insignificance. With most of the scheduled pit stops now taking place during the caution period, the positions appeared mostly settled, and this was certainly true as far as the leaders were concerned: Meyer (L) could finally afford to let up, with Shaw slowing down to the tune of five seconds and more per lap, evidently striving to just make the finish. Apart from the crash victims, Freddie Winnai, the aforementioned Cummings, and Bennie Hill retired with mechanical woes in quick succession, and Billy Winn (driving relief for Wes Crawford) crashed out after losing a wheel, fortunately without dire consequences. Stapp had his clutch pack up for good while still lying fourth, and both Miller (A) and Miller ©, team mates in the Marr/Hudsons, disappeared from the leader board in the closing stages due to broken con-rods, with Kelly Petillo and Doc MacKenzie retiring from lesser positions even later.
Louie Meyer stroked it home very easily, still managing to break Fred Frame’s track record for the 500 miles by the incredibly close margin of just over three seconds, and with more than four laps in hand over Wilbur Shaw, who was delighted to finish second. Lou Moore had a scare in the closing laps when a part of his exhaust pipe fell off, and the first published results had him down in fourth, but a recheck showed that the scorers had missed a lap, and he finished third after all. Chet Gardner was five laps down in fourth, and well pleased with his “comeback” drive, while Stubby Stubblefield brought the first semi-stock car home in fifth, six laps down for his best ever result at Indy. Dave Evans could also be well satisfied with his conservative race which netted him sixth, seven laps behind the winner, and the fifth time he went the full distance in as many starts. Tony Gulotta brought the first of the disappointing works Studebakers home, nine laps down and in seventh, with his team mates finishing ninth through twelfth (Zeke Meyer, Sam Palmer for Luther Johnson, Cliff Bergere and Slim Corum), the team only separated by Mauri Rose, who drove most of the last half of the race in Russ Snowberger’s latest homemade creation to finish eighth, best of the rookies. Another rookie, Willard Prentiss survived to take 13th, albeit twenty laps in arrears, followed by the only “foreign threat” in the race, Argentinians Raul Riganti and Juan Gaudino in their homemade Chrysler special, with Gene Haustein, Louis Schneider (for Deacon Litz) and Joe Russo being flagged off course at the end of a long and (literally!) cruel afternoon.
Five lives snuffed out in the space of just three days – how long would the public go on tolerating this sort of toll? And with the additional deaths of Bob Carey and Bryan Saulpaugh in the running up to the ‘500’, not to mention Tom Forsythe and Stan Krajenke in lesser events, was racing still sustainable as a sports spectacle? Changes had to be made, and quickly so! The IMS management, and the AAA Contest Board had an unpleasant storm to weather…International 500 Mile Sweepstakes, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 200 laps (805 km)
1 Louie Meyer (Miller), 4:48’00.55” (167 kph)
2 Wilbur Shaw (Duray/Miller), 4:54’42.65”
3 Lou Moore (Duesenberg/Miller), 4:55’16.79”
4 Chet Gardner (Sampson/Miller), 4:56’29.51”
5 Stubby Stubblefield (Shafer/Buick), 4:57’43.82”
6 Dave Evans (Smith/Studebaker), 4:58’56.29”
7 Tony Gulotta (Studebaker), 5:02’48.55”
8 Russ Snowberger/George Howie/Mauri Rose (Snowberger/Studebaker), 5:02’59.84”
9 Zeke Meyer (Studebaker), 5:05’44.49”
10 Luther Johnson/Ralph Hepburn/Sam Palmer (Studebaker), 5:08’22.22”
11 Cliff Bergere/Sam Palmer/Cliff Bergere (Studebaker), 5:10’40.38”
12 Slim Corum (Studebaker), 5:11’00.98”
13 Willard Prentiss/Harold Shaw/Willard Prentiss (Kleinschmidt/Duesenberg), 5:20’31.83”
14 Raul Riganti/Juan Gaudino/Raul Riganti (Gaudino/Chrysler), 5:21’44.13”
15 Gene Haustein (Martz/Hudson), 197 laps (flagged)
16 Deacon Litz/Louis Schneider (Schneider/Miller), 197 laps (flagged)
17 Joe Russo (Duesenberg/Clemons), 192 laps (flagged)
Doc MacKenzie (Nardi/Studebaker), 192 laps (rear axle)
Kelly Petillo/Sam Hoffman/Kelly Petillo (Smith/Miller), 168 laps (accident)
Chet Miller/Shorty Cantlon/Chet Miller (Marr/Hudson), 168 laps (engine)
Al Miller (Marr/Hudson), 161 laps (engine)
Bennie Hill/Frank Brisko/Bennie Hill (Gauss/Cooper), 158 laps (engine)
Babe Stapp (Boyle/Brisko-Miller), 156 laps (clutch)
Wesley Crawford/Billy Winn (Evans/Miller), 147 laps (accident)
Bill Cummings/Frank Brisko/Bill Cummings (Miller), 136 laps (overheating)
Les Spangler (Miller), 132 laps (accident, driver & mechanic killed)
Freddie Winnai/Terry Curley/Freddie Winnai (Duesenberg), 125 laps (engine)
Malcolm Fox (Romthe/Studebaker), 121 laps (accident)
Fred Frame (Miller-Hartz), 84 laps (engine)
Mark Billman (Buehrig/Duesenberg), 79 laps (accident, driver killed)
Johnny Sawyer (Miller), 77 laps (ignition)
Ernie Triplett (White/Miller), 66 laps (engine)
Pete Kreis (Miller-Hartz), 63 laps (universal joint)
Shorty Cantlon (Miller), 50 laps (engine)
Mauri Rose (Meyer/Miller), 48 laps (engine)
Frank Brisko (Miller), 47 laps (overheating)
Ira Hall (Duesenberg), 37 laps (accident)
Ralph Hepburn (Gauss/Cooper), 33 laps (engine)
Ray Campbell (Marr/Hudson), 24 laps (oil leak)
Paul Bost (Duesenberg/Miller), 13 laps (oil leak)
Rick Decker (Ricketts/Miller), 13 laps (engine)
Louis Schneider (Schneider/Miller), 0 laps (engine)
Edited by fines, 14 May 2009 - 09:11.