INDIANAPOLIS, May 31st.
A STARTLING series of mechanical breakdowns was the outstanding feature of this year’s 500-mile race. Of the 33 starters, only eight were on the track when Lee Wallard, the winner, got the chequered flag at the record speed of 126.244 m.p.h.
The post-race consensus was that the cars—31 of them equipped with four-cylinder Offenhauser engines—were being run beyond their capacity. Lou Moore, builder of four previous Indianapolis winners, declared “it was a miracle that anyone finished.” Louis Meyer, president, of Meyer and Drake, builders of the Offenhanser engines, said that if mechanics persisted in combining low gear ratios with high speed, soon there would be a 500-mile race with no finishers whatever.
All records from 25 to 500 miles were broken on one of the hottest May 30ths in years. A new high of 58 pit stops was required, as rubber fairly melted off tyres. The six front-drives in the race particularly suffered from tyre trouble, several of them coming in to change as early as 100 miles. Thus Firestone’s much-heralded new “contour” rating tyres which embody a new rubber compound in the tread were forced to make an inauspicious debut in the blazing heat. (Cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway use Firestones exclusively.)
The total of eight cars still running at the end of the race was the lowest in history. Twice before—in 1921 and 1946—nine cars finished, but the usual average has been from twelve to fifteen. Typical of the day was the fact that Wallard, the winner, ran his last twenty laps (fifty miles) with no brakes whatever. The victory of Wallard’s Belanger Special was especially notable because it carried one of the smallest engines in the race, with 241 cu. in. piston displacement. The bore and stroke are each 4.250. Dimensions for practically all other Offenhausers in the race were 270 cu. in. piston displacement, 4.3125 bore and 4.625 stroke.
Once again the Novi Specials, originally designed by the late E. C. (“Bud”) Winfield and hailed as America’s fastest cars sine 1947, failed dismally. Driven by Duke Natoli and Chet Miller, both qualified at more than 135 m.p.h., and both stalled during the race because of a multitude of troubles, mostly fuel ailments.
The almost complete monopoly of Meyer and Drake engines and Kurtis. Kraft chassis continued in 1951. Three cars appeared at the track with modified stock engines, but they had no chance of making the required qualification speed, rarely if ever exceeding 122 m.p.h. in practice. The slowest car in the starting field qualified at 131 5 m.p.h.
Hilborn fuel injection has virtually replaced the carburetter in most cars, especially when alcohol is used as fuel. Lou Moore’s front drivers, winners of three previous races here, use Riley carburetters and run on aviation fuel. This provides less power, but fuel consumption is much better.
Almost half the cars used Goodyear Hawley disc brakes, completely exposed. The brake lining area is very small, but time cooling obviously is good. The main virtue is lightness as compared to the rest of the cars using the conventional drum brake. However, many cars in the race experienced brake trouble and the overall performance was not noteworthy.
Magnesium disc wheels are increasing in popularity at Indianapolis; half the cars used them this year, with the remainder staying with wire wheels. One of the latter collapsed on Mauri Rose’s Howard Heck Special while the three-time winner was starting a bid for the lead. The car was wrecked but Rose escaped with a minor scratch.
The old-style dirt-track chassis with transverse springs remained much in evidence this year. In fact, 27 of the 33 starters were built primarily to race in championship dirt races throughout the summer. No car with a serious chance of qualifying this year had independent rear suspension.
Many complaints have been heard that Indianapolis is turning into “an all-Offenlususer show.” Foreign competition is badly needed, but meanwhile the Offys continue to send every record higher and still higher. Walt Faulkner once again set. sin all-time qualifying mark of 136.872 in his little Grant Piston Ring Special. The fastest.of his four laps was just over 138. The true peak of the h.p. curve of a 270 Offy running on alcohol comes at. 6,200 r.p.m., and Faulkner deliberately turned that to set his record. At 6,200 r.p.m. critical bearing loads are some 20 per tient higher than at 5,500 r.p.m. Approximately 360 b.h.p. is developed.
As in every year since 1937, entry regulations remained the same for the “500.” A few maximum body regulations were adopted to “bar freak super-streamlined monsters.” Enclosing of wheels was barred. The Indianapolis Speedway still does not comply with International Formula I and gives no signs of doing so.
Wallard’s victory was worth approximately $58,000 to him.