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Past Indy 500 top rookie Jim McElreath dies at 89

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The 1962 Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year, Jim McElreath, has died at age 89. The full release is from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and is linked below:

Auto Racing Hall of Fame inductee Jim McElreath, the 1962 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and a veteran of 15 starts in the “500” between 1962 and 1980, passed away Thursday, May 18 in his hometown of Arlington, Texas. He was 89.

One of the last eight surviving drivers who could claim to have driven a front-engined car in the “500,” McElreath was 34 years old and had been racing on short tracks for 16 years when he burst on the scene at Indianapolis in 1962.

Driving a 6-year-old Kurtis-Kraft Offenhauser-powered “roadster,” once owned and driven by Ray Crawford, McElreath qualified seventh and went on to cause quite a stir by passing A.J. Foyt and Rodger Ward in the early stages to run second by Lap 20. He ended up finishing sixth, many observers suggesting he was hampered by pit stops that were performed less rapidly than those by the contestants ahead of him.

McElreath eventually scored a half-dozen finishes of sixth or higher in the “500,” topped by a third-place finish in 1966 behind Grand Prix drivers Graham Hill and Jim Clark. He finished fifth in 1967 and 1970, and sixth in 1962, 1963 and 1974.

McElreath won a total of five United States Auto Club National Championship races, most notably the inaugural Ontario (California) 500 in 1970 after a late-race, topsy-turvy duel with Art Pollard. He also won the Phoenix 150, which opened the 1966 season, after posting three wins in 1965, at Trenton, New Jersey in April and the first two races at the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, circuit after its dirt surface was paved over with asphalt.

A steady and reliable finisher, McElreath piled up enough points to rank second behind Mario Andretti in the 1966 USAC National Championship standings while also finishing third in 1963, 1965 and 1970. He started 167 National Championship events between 1961 and 1980 and finished in the top five 47 times.

In 1971, the first year in which dirt track races no longer counted towards the USAC National Championship and instead were moved to form a brand-new series, McElreath won the inaugural event, a 100-miler at Nazareth, Pennsylvania, when it was still a 1 1/8th-mile dirt track.

A pure racer who did much of his mechanical work on the dirt cars and sprint cars he drove, McElreath made history in 1977 by being joined by his son James to become the first father and son ever to attempt to qualify for the same Indianapolis 500. Jimmy, as he preferred to be called, succeeded, but the spirited last-minute, four-lap qualifying run by young James came up just a little short.

Sadly, young James lost his life in a sprint car accident before the season could be completed, perishing in early October at Winchester, Indiana.

Two great racing families came together when Jimmy and Shirley McElreath’s daughter, also Shirley, married Tony Bettenhausen, son of the late two-time National Champion and younger brother of Gary and Merle. Jimmy even named Tony as his chief mechanic in 1979, just as Tony was about to embark upon his Indianapolis 500 driving career.

But further tragedy struck the families Feb. 14, 2000 – several years after Tony had retired as a driver to become a noted team owner – when Tony and Shirley were among those lost when their private aircraft went down near Leesburg, Kentucky.

McElreath is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Vicky Thornton; granddaughters Bryn and Taryn Bettenhausen; and great granddaughter, Kendyl Bettenhausen. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas in honor of McElreath. Checks can be sent to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas, 3545 Lone Star Circle, Fort Worth, TX 76177.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”