I was at the very first NASCAR race ever run at MIS, back in June of 1969. It was a 500-miler then. It was a dominate year for FoMoCo in NASCAR, the most serious challenge to the Ford Torinos coming from the Mercury Cyclones. Even Richard Petty had jumped over to the Blue Oval for the season. (Ironic that going into Michigan this year the hot rumor is Richard Petty Motorsports will jump from Ford to Dodge.)
Donnie Allison was on the pole in the orange No. 27 Torino of Banjo Mathews but left early with a blown engine. Engine failures happened a lot back in those days. David Pearson led some in the No. 17 Holman & Moody Ford.
But it came down to a battle between Cale Yarborough in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Cyclone and LeeRoy Yarbrough in Junior Johnson’s No. 98 Cyclone. LeeRoy had won the Daytona 500 earlier in the year and several other races, but I was a Cale fan. I even used masking tape to put a “21” on my dad’s Cyclone for the drive to the track (he didn’t think much of that when he saw it later).
Yarborough and Yarbrough banged against each lap after lap. Coming to the white flag, LeeRoy hit the outside wall and stayed glued to it, Cale going on for the win. I remember LeeRoy running nearly a full lap grinding against the wall, before coming to stop right in front of our seats. He climbed out and walked away. Nothing more was said by either driver. A far cry from what would happen today.
My Milwaukee memory dates back to 1964. I wasn't at the race and there was no live television. The memory comes mostly from newspaper reports of the day. In those years the Rex Mays Classic took place the first weekend after the Indianapolis 500. The 500 in ’64 was marred by a fiery second-lap accident that took the lives of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald. Fireball Roberts had been badly burned at Charlotte a couple of weeks earlier (he would eventually die from complications) and Joe Weatherly had been killed earlier in the year at Riverside. The sport of auto racing was under attack.
A. J. Foyt had won the ‘64 Indy 500 in what would be the last 500 victory for a roadster, turning back the challenges of rear-engine Lotus-Fords. At Milwaukee, Rodger Ward put his rear-engine Watson Ford on the pole with Foyt second and Jim Hurturbise third.
But the real story of that Milwaukee race is what happened afterwards. Hurtubise was badly burned with second- and third-degree burns over 40 percent of his body and he was flown by military aircraft to the Brooke Army Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. No one expected him to live.
Hurtubise was a fan favorite, known as “Herk” for Hercules, and there is a very real chance his death could have altered the future of auto racing. Several major papers were already calling for an end to the Indy 500. But he hung on day-after-day as the newspapers reported his progress. Finally Herk seemed to turn the corner and doctors began rebuilding his body with skin grafts. They asked how he wanted his hands shaped, the grafts allowing for little movement once the hands were formed. "Just make 'em so I can hold a steering wheel," he said.
Herk would somehow be back to start the ’65 Champ Car season with a fourth at Phoenix and would qualify for the Indy 500. But he would never win another Indy car race. He did, however, win the Atlanta 500 in 1966.
|RICHIE GINTHER IN THE FORD GT40|