Eddie O'Donnell

Full Name:
Edward Francis O'Donnell
Born:
22nd June 1887
Whitewater, Wisconsin
Died:
26th November 1920 (Aged 33)
Los Angeles, California, from injuries inflicted in the previous day's Indycar race
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

A member of the successful Duesenberg team of the 1910s, this Irish American lost his life in the accident that also claimed Gaston Chevrolet.

Eddie O’Donnell’s major league career began in 1914 on Kalamazoo’s dirt oval and it was a successful affair. His Duesenberg led for 23 laps and was second behind Bob Burman’s Peugeot at the finish. He was a top-four finisher in his remaining three races that year and so it was no surprise that he was retained for 1915.

AAA race winner in 1915

He started the season in fine form in California – winning the Tropico Race on the streets of Glendale and then beating team-mate Tom Alley on the Ascot dirt oval. The next two major races were held on a tight circuit in San Francisco’s Panama-Pacific Exposition. O’Donnell was one of many to withdraw from the American Grand Prize due to the heavy rain and he crashed both in practice and the Vanderbilt Cup itself a week later. He won again at Galesburg in a Duesenberg 1-2-3 and finished 10 of his 17 races that fine season in the top three.

That was the height of his racing career and 1916 included disappointment (not starting at Indianapolis when his car was damaged before the race) and injury – breaking his arm after crashing at Kansas City. Those injuries never fully healed and O’Donnell was often forced to drive one-handed thereafter.

Return to racing after World War I

Not that he was thinking about racing at the time for O’Donnell served in the United States Forces during World War I. He returned to racing and Duesenberg at the 1919 Indianapolis 500 when Jimmy Murphy was his riding mechanic. Second at Uniontown was his best result that year and O’Donnell qualified on pole position at Fresno in 1920. He could not match team-mate Murphy in the race as he finished second once more.

Tragic final race

The next, and final, race of the year was on the Beverly Hills board track in November 1920 but it proved to be a tragic affair. Delayed by a succession of unscheduled stops, O’Donnell exited from the pits once more behind the dicing cars of Joe Thomas and champion-elect Gaston Chevrolet. Chevrolet swerved to pass into Turn 1 but did not see O’Donnell running in the high groove. Their cars collided and both rolled to a halt at the bottom of the banking. O’Donnell’s mechanic Lyall Jolls was thrown over the outside wall and killed instantly. Chevrolet was also dead but rescuers freed O’Donnell’s body from the wreckage.

O’Donnell had fractured his skull and both arms and he died in hospital on the following day. Only Chevrolet’s mechanic Johnnie Bresnahan survived the accident.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1920 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
9 1 2 0
0% win rate
12th 110
1919 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
7 0 1 0
0% win rate
65
1916 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
Hoskins
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 185
1915 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
17 1 10 3
18% win rate
2285
1914 AAA National Championship
Duesenberg Bros
4 0 3 0
0% win rate
375