Great racing cars: 1964 sprint car



A series taken from the 164-page Motor Sport special Great Racing Carswhich is available to buy here

From the editor Damien Smith

How would you define a ‘great’ racing car? Race wins and championship titles are an obvious place to start – and admittedly, when we began the process of rounding up the ‘voices’ to fill this special magazine, published by the team behind Motor Sport, we had in mind the likes of the Lotus 72, Ferrari F2004, Porsche 917, Audi R10 and so on.

But as the interviews of familiar racing figures began, we realised greatness is often a very personal thing. Naturally, most – but not all – would pick cars they had experienced first-hand, as a driver, designer, engineer or team boss. And on occasion the cars that stood out in their minds as ‘great’ weren’t necessarily so in the grand scheme of history. That’s why you’ll find a Minardi here among Formula 1 cars from Lotus, Williams and McLaren.

Unexpected? Certainly. Wrong? Not to the man who chose it.

As the interviews accumulated, our magazine took on a life of its own, full of personal anecdotes about the myriad cars that made careers. Some of those we spoke to, such as Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney, couldn’t be tied to a single choice from multi-faceted lives at the wheel. Such heroes have earned the right to choose an F1, sports and Indycar, so we allowed them more than one bite.

Others refused to be confined by category. Hence the short ‘Odd ’n Sods’ chapter on cars that, by and large, are mere footnotes in lower divisions of racing lore.

Thus there is nothing definitive about the selection listed herein. Then again, there’s no claim that this compilation offers the ‘Greatest Racing Cars’ of history. It’s much more personal than that, much more quirky – and all the better for it.

AJ Foyt 
Four-time Indy 500 winner, 1967 Le Mans winner, Daytona 500 and 24 Hours winner

I loved to run sprint cars on half-mile dirt tracks like Allentown, Pennsylvania and also Reading and Williams Grove in Pennsylvania, plus Terre Haute, Indiana. I think my favourite car was a sprint car I bought from Elmer George [and Mari Hulman George] in 1964. I took the Offy out and put a Chevrolet in it. It handled real well and really was unbeatable.

Jud Larson drove it at New Bremen (Ohio) and won the race. It was the day after I won Indy [in 64] and he said that if I won the 500, he was gonna drive the sprinter at New Bremen. I said no, and towed it over there to race it. I think Jud was there in Paul Leffler’s sprint car and he got out and came over and said, ‘I told you I was gonna drive it.’ So I let him drive it and he won the race.

From the Motor Sport archive: an excerpt from Lunch with AJ Foyt (February 2015).

By the end of 1964 AJ had already scored the most USAC championship wins in history, at 28. But he was still racing in Sprint cars and even Midgets when he could fit them in – and an incident in a Sprint car race at Terre Haute briefly got him banned. “I was going around Johnny White and he put me in the fence. I told him: Quit flying up inside me to get me into trouble. Next race, at Williams Grove, I’m on the outside and he swerves in front of me, I get into the wall a little bit, so I wind up second. Afterwards I went over, he gave me some sauce, so I hit him.” But AJ’s licence was returned after fellow racer Roger McCluskey said in his evidence that AJ had manhandled White but hadn’t actually hit him. “If he had,” said McCluskey, “he’d have tore his head off.”

AJ and White had made up their differences by the next race, at Terre Haute again, when AJ broke the track record in qualifying. “Johnny went out after me, wanted to beat my time, and flipped over the wall. He was paralysed from the neck down after that. They used to wheel him around to my pit so I could say ‘Hi’.” White died a few years later from his injuries.

To read the rest of this article click here.

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