The enduring photo of Lloyd Ruby, who has died in Texas aged 81, is a painful one that encapsulates his career. It’s 1969 and he’s standing in the pits while fuel gushes out of his car. Leading the Indianapolis 500, he’d pitted and then took off before the fuel hose was disconnected – splitting the tank and breaking his heart yet again. There he is, slowly removing his helmet and staring at the remains of another Indy that got away.
“Lloyd should be remembered as the greatest driver never to have won Indianapolis,” said three-time Indy king Johnny Rutherford. “He was like Mario in that he could have won it many times but something always seemed to happen.”
But at least Andretti made it to victory lane once. Despite qualifying for 18 consecutive Indy 500s from 1960-1977 and being one of the fastest drivers for two decades, the quiet fellow from Wichita Falls never got to drink the milk.
‘Ol’ Rube was breezing towards the chequered flag in 1966 with a huge lead and 34 laps left when he burned a piston, and at least two other opportunities went up in smoked engines.
“Lloyd should have won that race two or three times but he was really cursed at that place,” said Parnelli Jones, whose excellence only netted him one Indy triumph.
A whizz-kid on motorcycles and then midgets before getting his start in USAC’s Big Cars, Ruby won seven Indycar races on the racy ovals of Milwaukee, Trenton, Phoenix and Langhorne, but was equally adept at road racing. He teamed with Ken Miles to win Daytona’s 24 Hours and Sebring.
“Lloyd could run anything but he was an excellent road racer,” said Mario Andretti. “He and Ken Miles were great in the endurance races and he had quite a feel for turning left and right.”
His former rivals always marvelled at just how quick Ruby could go with so little practice and so little understanding of chassis.
“He drove soooo hard, and he knew where the throttle was,” said Bobby Unser, another three-timer at Indy. “You always used Rube’s times as your guideline to see how you stacked up.”
Yet his easy-going manner and reputation for running hard and clean is what A J Foyt remembers most about his fellow Texan.
“He was a helluva race car driver who should have won a lot more races than he did,” said Indy’s first four-time winner. “He was clean and fair and you could run next to him all day. And he was a man. He never complained about his bad luck.”
Only a month after our story about him came the news that race mechanic and designer Peter Bryant had died suddenly at home in Las Vegas, aged 71. He had just returned from a gathering of racers at Riverside’s new museum, the sort of event this enthusiastic story-teller revelled in.
A Cockney by birth, he worked at Lotus, went to the Bowmaker F1 team as mechanic and looked after John Surtees’ Ferrari 250P before in 1964 shifting to the USA where he worked with Mickey Thompson, Carroll Shelby, Peter Revson and the Carl Haas Lola Can-Am team.
But Bryant is best known for the innovative titanium-chassis Ti22 Can-Am device he built and ran as part of the Autocoast effort in 1969-70, and for the Can-Am cars he created in 1971-2 for Don Nichols’ Shadow team. Often driven by Jackie Oliver (see Lunch With… on p74), Bryant’s machines scored more points than any other US Can-Am team, including Chaparral.
An ebullient character, Peter continued as an engineering consultant right to the end, also writing for US race magazines and recently publishing his racing memoirs as Can-Am Challenger. At the time of his death he was collaborating with collector Craig Pence on building a new Ti22, due out at Monterey in August.
South African racer Jackie Pretorius has died at the age of 74. One of the men behind Doug Serrurier’s LDS single-seaters in the early 1960s, he moved on from being a race mechanic to taking the wheel himself in Formula Junior and as a performer in the Dunlop Hell Drivers stunt circus.
But it was in big-engined Lola V8s, both sports and single-seaters, that he made his mark, before moving on to victories in Team Gunston’s Brabham BT26A. He entered four South African Grands Prix, without success, including driving the Iso-Williams in 1973, but did well in South African F1, F5000 and sports car series. He was the victim of a violent robbery at his home outside Johannesburg.