Freddie Agabashian was a popular racer of the immediate post-war years who started the 1952 Indianapolis 500 from a surprise pole position. Respected as a test driver, he was nicknamed “Doc” for his uncanny ability to diagnose what was wrong with a sick car. Only a regular in the AAA National Championship (now Indycar) for two seasons, he earned a comfortable living racing midgets instead.
Family background and midget champion
The eldest son of Armenian émigrés, Agabashian started racing those small cars during the mid-1930s and won the 1937 Northern California Racing Association title. He was the class of the field in BCRA midgets after World War II – winning the 1946 championship for Jack London and repeating that success for the next two years having switched to George Bignotti’s stable.
That prompted Agabashian to make his Indycar debut in the 1947 Indianapolis 500 when he finished ninth with a Ross Page Kurtis-Duray. He retired from the race for the next two years but scored his only Indycar victory in what was only his fourth start in the National Championship. His J.C.Agajanian Kurtis-Offenhauser started from pole position on Sacramento’s California State Fair dirt oval in October 1949 and Agabashian led all but two laps that day to win at an average speed of 84.486mph.
He was a fulltime Indycar driver in 1950 – qualifying the Wynn’s Friction Proofing Kurtis-Offy on the front row at Indy and scoring two top-five finishes. Although he reduced his commitments in the National Championship from 1952, Agabashian remained a regular at Indianapolis for another seven years. The highlight was his 1952 pole position when he averaged a then record 138.010mph in the low-lying Cummins Diesel Special. That was the first turbocharged engine to run at Indy, but the turbo clogged with rubber and he retired after 71 laps.
He qualified Andy Granatelli’s Elgin Piston Pin Kurtis KK500B-Offy on the front row again in 1953 and finished fourth in the hottest race in history with Paul Russo driving as his relief from lap 105. Sixth at the finish in 1954, fourth on the grid in 1955 and 1957 – Agabashian retired from the sport after failing to qualify for the 1958 Indy 500.
He then joined the Champion Spark Plug company and worked as an analyst on radio broadcasts of the Indianapolis 500 for many years to come.