1958 – Foyt’s Rookie Year

Most people remember 1958 for just one thing- the first lap accident in which popular driver Pat O’Connor lost his life. An overlooked aspect of the 42nd Indianapolis 500 is that it is the first 500 in which both a Foyt and an Unser started the race. Both were rookies.  A. J. Foyt started 12th and Jerry Unser started started 24th.  Neither would finish the race. It would be five more years before the names Foyt and Unser again appeared in the same 500.

I purchased a 1958 program at the Legends Day memorabilia show this past May. It seems odd to say I was disappointed, but this was one of the few programs I have bought there that does not contain a starting lineup sheet or notes by the original owner. The program is in good condition with just some minor wear and tear. Nevertheless, I found it fascinating.

Two photos caught my attention. The first one below shows a young Bill Vukovich, Jr. talking with 1949 winner Bill Holland. Vukovich had to be in his mid teens at the time. The second photo below shows Tom Carnegie in an ad for Genatt Photo, a local photo store which filmed the 1958 500.

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Raise your hand if you recall Tom Carnegie looking like this.

An ad in the program is for Casite, a product that looks similar to STP. It was produced by Hastings Manufacturing, which manufactured piston rings. Otehr companies no longer in business that bought ad space in 1958 were Eastern Airlines, Bear, which performed wheel balancing and alignment for the cars in the race; Stark & Wetzel, a local meat company; and L. Strauss & Company. Strauss presented a trophy to the winner of the race.

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The program contains several feature articles written by local sportswriters. One is about the Speedway museum, which was celebrating its second year. One thing I had forgotten is that admission was free at that time. It wqas a small space with just a few cars and lots of photos and trophies. Besides the Borg-Warner Trophy, the Wheeler-Schebler trophy also had a place of honor.

Another story looks back on the 1928 race. It was the first of Louis Meyer’s three victories. Echoes of today’s racing world were evident even in 1928.  Meyer drove a car that wilbur Shaw had hoped to race. Shaw couldn’t get enough money to buy the. Alden Sampson put up the money to get Meyer the ride.  Shaw started on the last row. He qualified on race morning in a car Pete DePaolo had wrecked attempting to qualify.

The 1958 race got off to a horrific start. There was some confusion among the front row drivers, mainly between  pole sitter Dick Rathmann and second place starter Ed Elisian. each accused the other of starting the accident. From what I have read, Elisian tried to jump the start. Five of the six cars in the first two rows were out on the first lap. O’Connor was killed instantly when his rolled over. Three cars from the last three rows also became involved.  Unser went over the wall in what would be his only 500 appearance.

Jimmy Bryan, who started seventh, led 139 laps and won by 27 seconds over rookie George Amick.  Foyt finished 16th after spinning out on lap 148. he went on to have a decent career. Unser, out after the first lap melee, died of injuries suffered in a practice crash at the Speedway the following May.  The total purse for the race was a record at the time- $304,000. Bryan won a third of the total.

 

 

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