500 facts: the beginning of the Hulman/George era under USAC 

Through the late '50s

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285. USAC became the Indy 500 sanctioning body in 1956.

The United States Auto Club — founded by Tony Hulman — became the arbiter of rules for the United States National Championship and the Indy 500.

286. Pat Flaherty was the last driver to pull into Victory Lane without a firesuit.

Flaherty, dressed in pants and a dirty t-shirt, won the '56 500. Although they wouldn't be mandatory for three more races, the 500 field all wore fire-resistant coveralls in '57.

287. A backup driver died in practice in '57.

Keith Andrews was the sub for Giuseppe Farina. Andrews was killed after losing control in turn four.

288. Pat O'Connor died during the opening lap in 1958.

O'Connor was part of a 15-car wreck in Turn Three on lap number one.


289. Qualifying for the '58 race is A.J. Foyt's sweetest memory.

"Ever since I was a kid, I always listened to the Indy 500 on the radio, and I was just hoping I'd someday be good enough to qualify for the Indy 500. My first race meant an awful lot to me." — A.J. Foyt on WIBC, May 2011.

290. The engine in Smokey Yunick's ran clockwise in 1959.

Most engines run counterclockwise, but Yunick's "Reverse Torque Special" was flipped. Yunick explained the thought process in his autobiography, Best Damn Garage in Town:

Look, if you've got a front engine car with rear wheel drive, open the door and leave it wide open, and then start engine without putting it into gear, goose the motor good. Notice how driver's door raises up and right side of car goes down (this conversation is for circle track left hand turns only). With conventional engine rotation, you're transferring weight to the right side of the car—when you turn left the weight goes there anyway. The idea of reverse rotation is, when you accelerate hard the weight comes to the left front and left rear, and pulls weight off of the right front. This more evenly distributes weight across the chassis, increases your lateral traction on the front and back end. You go faster.

Duane Carter ran Yunick's car to a seventh-place finish in '59.

291. Practice for the 1959 race proved deadly for two men — including an Unser.

Jerry Unser, Jr. crashed and burned on May 2, and Unser died two weeks after the accident. On May 19, rookie Bob Cortner lost the car in a crosswind and died from his injuries that same evening.


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Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck

Ed Wenck has been writing for NUVO (as well as several other Indiana publications) for nearly 20 years while moonlighting as a radio host. He became Managing Editor of NUVO in 2013. He's authored four books and also reports for WISH-TV's Boomer TV program.

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