First-As we all are, I am still stunned and saddened by Bryan Clauson’s death. I only spoke to him once, when he was kind enough to give me an autograph while at a charity event in 2012. I admired his talent mainly from afar. I was planning to go watch him race later this summer. Sadly, the three 500’s I watched him drive in will be my only memory of his racing. My condolences to his family, fiancee, and dogs.
Bump day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway meant a driver needed to be one of the fastest thirty-three drivers or go home. Your car did not get multiple attempts- one four lap run and you lived with it. While the car was done after that, a driver could find a different car if he were to be bumped. After a usually furious Pole Day, action on the other three days followed a more laid back pattern. A couple of cars would make attempts early in the day. Everyone else then waited for the five o’clock shadow to cover the front straight before going out for their run. Things were running as usual in 1963 on Bump Day. The shadow appeared at its appointed time. Then things got strange.
As the magic hour approached, some stars were in danger of not making the field. Troy Ruttman, winner of the 1952 race, qualified just before 5 to bump Ebb Rose. Len Sutton, runner up the previous year, had also been bumped. He was trying to find a new car to drive, as was Rose. The last hour congestion began in pit lane, with thirteen or so cars lining up to get a try.
Ralph Liquori then bumped Masten Gregory, who had qualified one of Mickey Thompson’s cars.. Thompson had entered five cars, but only two would make the race. Liguori getting in was good news and bad news. He had a faster speed than Gregory, but he was now the slowest in the field. Sutton found a new car and took to the track. His qualifying run started well, but at the finish, he and Liguori were tied at 147.620. Thirty- four cars had the thirty- three fastest speeds. In these pre-computer days, the officials had to do some hand figuring to carry the speeds to next decimal place. All they really had to do was wait until Ebb Rose went out again in A. J. Foyt’s spare car.
Rose, owner of a trucking company in Houston, had entered his own car, which Ruttman had bumped. In Foyt’s car, with about ten minutes to go, he comfortably beat Liguori’s and Sutton’s time. In effect, he bumped two cars at once. A new track record! It turned out that Sutton had a better time than Liguori after the time was figured to the ten-thousandth place. Sutton would be first alternate.
This was not the only tie in speed that weekend. The day before, Bob Christie and Lloyd Ruby also had the same average speed. Christie started eighteenth and Ruby nineteenth, based on the tie -breaking fourth decimal place. They were separated by six ten-thousandths of a second.
The race was dominated by Parnelli Jones from the pole. Jim Clark in second began closing in late in the race when oil on the track became an issue. Many thought Jones’ oil tank was leaking. Colin Chapman, Clark’s car owner, pleaded with officials to black flag Jones. They didn’t, and Jones won easily as Clark decided to back off on the slippery track.
Ruttman finished twelfth and Rose came home fourteenth. They both completed all 200 laps. Al Miller, the fastest last day qualifier, finished ninth. It was a pretty good day for some starting at the back of the field. Three rookies in the field, Jim Clark, Bobby Unser, and Johnny Rutherford, would go on to win the race in subsequent years.
In 1963 sixty-six cars were entered. Today it is a struggle to get to thirty-three. Granted, we don’t need two qualifying weekends, and cars do need limited multiple attempts. Indycar is still struggling to find the correct qualifying format for the race. I miss the old format, but I realize it doesn’t work with as few cars as there are now. 1963 provided the drama we all seek out of qualifying.
Top photo: Parnelli Jones (L) passes Ebb Rose, the last driver to qualify, during the 1963 500. (Photo from 1964 500 Mile Race program)