Bump Tales- 1957: Busy Bump Day Knocks Out Parsons; 1950 Winner Still Starts the Race

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has made many necessary changes over the years for various reasons. The track usually doesn’t handle the changes well at first.

Two personal notes:

First, The Pit Window turns 3 today. I want to thank all the readers who were with me May 9, 2016, when this all started. i also want to thank all who have come on board since then.  I have had tremendous growth the last 16 months. It has been very humbling to do something I love and hear how much others enjoy it. 

Second, I chose this Bump Day because it was the first day I ever went to IMS.  I was 10 and I’ve never forgotten it. The cars were loud and seemed very fast.  I still remember the sound of the cars driving over the quarter mile stretch of bricks on the front stretch. It’s a part of Speedway history gone forever. i am glad I got to see it. Okay, enough about me.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway has made many necessary changes over the years for various reasons. The track usually doesn’t handle the changes well at first. There is confusion which sometimes leads to chaos. 1957 was no exception. Wild qualifying led to a crazy race start and a post race protest.

The second year of United States Auto Club sanction was the first year for for the pit wall and the Master Control Tower, which replaced the old Pagoda erected in 1926. With the pits separated from the track,  officials decided to begin the race with a parade lap and a pace lap, perhaps to help the drivers orient themselves to the new setting on race day. There would be two years of chaotic starts with confused drivers with the new configuration.

Bump Day 1957 was one of the busiest Bump Days ever. Twenty- one cars qualified and nine were bumped. The field was filled by 2:30 pm, leaving lots of time for bumping.. As always, the drama didn’t end until the gun went off.

1950 winner Johnnie Parsons went out first despite the high winds.  His Agajanian team figured the winds would continue all day. His average of 138.975 put him in the field. They thought that time would be hard to beat with the high winds. Of course, around four o’clock the winds died down. As usual, it was the sign for cars to line up to attempt to get in the field.

Rookie Bill Cheesbourg had just been bumped. He lined up another ride with help from Jimmy Bryan.  Cheesbourg bumped Parsons from the field.  Later in his career Cheesbourgh became adept at putting cars in the field at the last minute or hanging on to the last spot.

In an attempt to get back in the race, Parsons turned some practice laps in the Jones and Maley Special. He pulled into the pits and said he wasn’t comfortable in the car. Parsons suggested Bob Christie try to qualify it. Christie had been bumped by Chuck Weyant.

He went out with just a little time left and made the field as the gun sounded. Christie had bumped Billy Garrett by 0.43 seconds. Garrett was driving one of three federal engineering Special cars. The team, managed by former driver Russ Snowberger had both cars bumped on this Sunday. they would be the first and second alternates. The third car had been badly damaged earlier in the week and was not repaired.

Sunday ended with a former winner on the sidelines in a wild day of action. But there were more strange happenings to come before the race the following Thursday.  It was almost as wild as Bump Day.

Race Week Drama Begins

On Sunday night the Speedway ruled that with the new pit configuration, the alternates would not be allowed to be on pit lane Race Day morning unless something happened to one of the starters before Thursday. If the 33 qualifiers presented themselves to their pit stalls on race morning, the alternates would not be allowed to start.

Monday night Dick Rathmann, who qualified 17th, was attacked by a group of teen agers who threw rocks at him. He was examined by track doctors Thursday morning and not cleared to race.  Johnnie Parsons got the ride. In a strange ruling the car stayed in its original grid spot. I’m not sure why. I will have to research that more. Parsons finished the race in 16th place, three laps behind the leader.

Race Day

The command was given and the cars started rolling on what was not the first of two laps before the green flag.  Elmer George hit the tail of Eddie Russo’s car, ending the day for both before the green flag. George had qualified 9th and Russo 26th. Why they were near each other on the parade lap is curious.

The race finally started. Sam Hanks got to the lead on lap 36 from his 13th starting position. He led 136 laps en route to a then record  average at 135.601 mph. In an emotional Victory Lane interview, Hanks retired from racing. Some thought he might become Speedway president.  Tony Hulman had done a decent job after Wilbur Shaw’s death,  but some believed a former driver would be better suited for the task.  Hanks became Director of Competition for USAC instead.

End of story? No. The Federal Engineering team filed a protest stating that because of the George/Russo incident their cars should have been allowed to start the race. The protest was denied. The Speedway had made clear in their Sunday ruling that the alternates would not run if the qualifiers presented their cars race morning.

Another note about 1957: Wednesday, the night before the race, the first 500 Festival Parade was held in downtown Indianapolis.

Look for my Grand Prix Preview on Wildfire Sports tomorrow. I’ll be back later today with some developments that made me say “Hmmmm.”


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