1961: The Foyt Legend Begins on the Race’s Golden Anniversary

1960 was going to be a tough act to follow. The Indianapolis 500  had featured a record 23 lead changes as Rodger Ward and eventual winner Jim Rathmann swapped the lead back and forth for the last 50 laps. Ward slowed late in the race as tire  began to wear.  The USAC championship went down to the wire as defending champion Ward tried in vain to hold off A. J. Foyt. Foyt didn’t win a race until Labor Day, but won four races in the last two months of the season to take the series title.

The 1961 program cover was gold in honor of the 50th anniversary 500. From 1955 until 1960, the covers were white. Program covers returned to white in 1962 and continued that way through 1974. Unlike previous covers, this one did not have the race number on it. Instead it proclaimed the 50th anniversary 500. For the record, it was the 45th race.

For the first time in the program the Speedway had a story about a race 50 years ago, something that is standard in the program today. In place of the usual greeting page which showed the front stretch on race day and a photo of track president Tony Hulman, a two page spread of the grid for the first race replaced it. Photos of the Speedway founders and previous track presidents also appear.



One full page ad that caught my attention was one for Meyer & Drake Engineering Corp.  Three time winner Louis Meyer and partner Dale Drake built the Offenhauser engines that supplied nearly the entire field.



The records page shows the qualifying record Jim Hurtubise set the previous, at the time a mind boggling 149.601 single lap and an average of 149.056 for the four lap run. The Top Ten page depicting the 1960 finishers is one of the last ones featuring all front engine cars. Several pages are devoted to the 1911 race and the track’s first decade.

The pace car was a gold Ford Thunderbird. To me it is one of the most iconic pace cars in the race’s history.

The 1961 race featured the first rear engine car to make the race. Jack Brabham qualified 13th in a Cooper-Climax. The car looked tiny compared to the large roadsters. Brabham drove at a steady pace to a ninth place finish, completing all 200 laps.  When he first arrived, the car was considered a novelty. His result, however, saw more rear engine cars enter in the following years.

The starting grid had eight rookies, led by Parnelli Jones and Bobby Marshman, who would become co Rookies of the Year. Roger McCluskey also drove in his first 500.


The race developed into a duel between A. J. Foyt and Eddie Sachs. From lap 95 until the end of the race, the two led all but seven laps. On what was to supposed to be Foyt’s last pit stop, a problem with the fuel hose didn’t allow him to get the full amount. He led until he had to stop for more fuel 0n lap 183.  Sachs took the lead, but made a surprise stop on lap 196 to replace a tire which wore down during his battle with Foyt. Foyt zoomed  past Sachs while he was in the pits and took the checkered flag.

The victory for Foyt was the first of his four 500 wins. It was Foyt’s fourth 500 mile race. he would go on to compete in 35. Parnelli Jones was the only future winner in the field that year. 1961 was when the stars of the golden first began to emerge. several more would come to the speedway over the next four years.

Foyt’s second win in 1964 would be the last time a front engine car saw Victory Lane. Brabham’s Cooper -Climax opened the door for the rear engine cars. The tiny crack in the door burst open five years later.





2 thoughts on “1961: The Foyt Legend Begins on the Race’s Golden Anniversary

  1. Though it was ultimately a novelty for its time (even though it qualified 6th), a rear-engine Gulf-Miller made the 1939 race with George Bailey at the wheel.
    Interestingly, 1939 was the first 500 where all but the front straight bricks had been paved over with asphalt and 1961 was the final race for that brick front straight.


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