In May of 1967 I had just graduated from the University of Michigan and to celebrate I went down for a weekend of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. I recently got out the negatives from that trip and I want to share some of the memories I have with you. Here is the car of Bob Harkey, one of the many that would not qualify for the 1967 race. The photo, however conveys the atmosphere. Crowds were huge in those days as qualifying took place over two weekends. For the story and some interesing images, read on.
As you can see from these photos, the crowds were not only large but boisterous. Qualifying action is intermittent as each car is on the track for only a few laps and then sometimes there is a long wait for the next contestant. So...in the meantime, the crowd looks for something to do. Judging by the fact that I have many shots of people - both young men and women - being tossed in the air, this was a common way of passing the time. Life in the infield is quite different from being in the stands and in the 60's you can imagine what people were using to alter their consciousness. As I remember it, though, everyone was in very good spirits and friendly.
The pagentry surrounding qualifying weekend included marching bands and a number of celebrities. I am not sure what marching band this is but here they are on the front stretch at the start of the day. My guess is that it's the Purdue University Marching Band since there are some photos of what look like Purdue Golden Girls here too.
Actor James Garner nearly falls off the back of a pace car just as he was about to take a lap to wave at the crowd. The pace car in 1967 was the top-of-the-line SS396 version of the Chevy Camaro. Chevrolet had just added the Camaro muscle car to its line-up that year. There were dozens of replicas but only three cars were actually prepared to serve to start the race. On race day, the pace car was driven by 1947 winner Mauri Rose who had spent much of his early career in the Detroit area.
First out to qualify on Day One, May 13, 1967 was Detroit native and Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame member Ronnie Duman in JC Agajanian's Shrike Offy. Ordinarily, Parnelli Jones would be in #98 but that year Jones was in the STP Turbocar. Duman started 17th but finished 23rd after going out with fuel trouble on lap 154. Ronnie had survived burns suffered in the fatal Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald crash in 1964. Duman was killed June 8, 1968 at the Rex Mays Classic in Milwaukee. Ronnie Duman drove midgets for another great former driver, Carl Forberg in the Michigan area. You can see Duman and Forberg at Mt. Clemens Race Track elsewhere on this site.
Dan Bolton has a nice article on the turbo that you can read here. Parnelli dominated the race leading for 171 of 200 laps but coasted to a stop with three laps to go when a $6 tansmission bearing failed.
Granitelli was a prolific and flambouyant car builder and owner. The STP car was rumored to have cost $600,000 which was a lot in 1967. You can see that everything about the car and the crew were about the STP brand. Notice how the offset turbo engine places the driver on the right side of the car. The turbo was so threatening that it was basically legislated out of competition after this race.
A.J. Foyt was the eventual winner in 1967 when Parnelli's car failed. It was Foyt's third of his four Indy victories and he had to earn it. He took the lead with only four laps to go and then avoided a four-car crash to take the checkered flag. Larry Swartz writing for ESPN.com described Foyt this way, "A. J. Foyt has always believed in God, America and himself -- and not necessarily in that order. A man of conviction, he is loyal to his friends and indifferent to his enemies. He is brash and blunt. He expected no quarter on the racetrack, and gave none himself. He knew only one speed -- pedal to the floor." Among his many, many records, A.J. had the distinction of starting 35 consecutive 500 mile races.
Jim Hurtubise was a colorful driver that excited fans every time he took the track. "Herk" first appeared at the Brickyard on May 22, 1960. Kim Chapin, in a 1978 Sports Illustrated article describes what happened. "Hurtubise, a 27-year-old rookie whose exploits in sprint cars had earned him the nickname Herk (for Hercules), charged out of the pits in the garish, lavender-and-purple Travelon Trailer Special, hoping only to make the race. Four laps and 4:01.52 later, he had become a Brickyard hero. His four-lap average speed of 149.056 mph was 2.4 mph faster than that of pole-sitter Eddie Sachs; his fastest lap, the third, missed being the first one-minute lap (150 mph) in Indy history by only .16 of a second."
Hurtubise was a staunch champion for the Offy roadster after rear-engne Fords had taken control at Indy. On this day, Jim was trying to qualify his #56 but was waved off because he was too slow. (Note, the head shot of Hurtubise above was taken by my friend Vicente Alvarez in 1961. I saw and spent time with Vicente in 1967 also.)
New Zealander Denis Hulme turned in perhaps the most spectacular but unnoticed achievement of the 1967 Indianapolis 500 leaping from his 24th starting position in the 8th row to finish 4th. Hulme was a Formula One driver primarily and would go on to become the 1967 Formula One World Champion for the Brabham team. Hulme retired from Formula One at the end of the 1974 season but continued to race Australian Touring Cars. Hulme's death, caused by a heart attack whilst driving a BMW M3 during the Bathurst 1000, made him the first former Formula One champion to die of natural causes.
In an earlier version of this post I had mentioned the wheel covers on Hulme's car. Very stylish, I observed, but how did they change tires? Well, the answer came in a comment from reader Randall Cook of Indianapolis. He replied, "And one of your photo captions caught my attention when you asked how the tires were changed on the Smokey Yunick entry with "hubcaps". The answer is that they weren't changed. In fact, probably no car changed tires in 1967. Starting in 1964 both Firestone and Goodyear went to great lengths to produce racing tires that could run the entire 500 miles without a tire change for advertising purposes. The 500 winning cars from 1964 through 1970 all went the distance on a single set of tires. Tire changing on pitstops became a lost art for many years and it wasn't done on the rest of the Championship Trail at all. And because of this air jacks came off of the older roadsters and the rear engined cars of that era never had them at all. Air jacks didn't make a comeback at the Speedway until around 1976 when Penske (and a couple of other big teams) gave them a try again." Thanks for the addition, Randall.
I wasn't the only one taking photos, of course. I like the contrast between these two guys with their telephoto lenses and the young man behind the fence with his Kodak Instamatic.
There were all kinds of people watching too. On the left we see one way to get a better view from the infield at turn one. At right is the distinguished Duane "Pappy" Carter. Carter was a fine driver in midgets, sprint cars and at Indianapolis where he raced in 11 May Classics between 1948 and 1963. Carter was a founder of the United States Auto Club (USAC) when AAA bowed out of racing in 1955 and served as its first director. He is the father of another famous racer, Pancho Carter. I remember Carter from my youth because he was a favorite in midgets at Motor City Speedway in Detroit where he was track champion in 1940.
I have lots of photos from this special weekend but I need to stop. Let me leave you with this image of fans pressed up against the fence waiting for the next car to take the track in hopes of making the Big Show. There were 63 qualifying attempts made over the two weekends in May 1967. That means that 30 cars and 30 drivers went home without a chance to strap in and hear the famous words, "Gentlemen, Start Your Engines.