1955 Indianapolis 500
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1955 Indianapolis 500
1955 Indianapolis 500
Winning car of the 1955 Indianapolis 500
Winning car of the 1955 Indianapolis 500
Race details
Date 30 May 1955 (1955-05-30)
Official name 39th International 500-Mile Sweepstakes
Location Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Course Permanent racing facility
Course length 4.023 km (2.5 mi)
Distance 200 laps, 804.672 km (500 mi)
Weather Cool and windy
Attendance 150,000[1]
Pole position
Driver Jim Robbins
Time 1:04.27
First John Zink
Second H. A. Chapman
Third Pat Clancy

The 39th International 500-Mile Sweepstakes was held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday, May 30, 1955. The event was part of the 1955 AAA National Championship Trail and was race 3 of 7 in the 1955 World Championship of Drivers.

The race is notable to many as the race in which Bill Vukovich was killed in a crash while seemingly on his way to an unprecedented third consecutive Indy 500.

Time trials

Time trials was scheduled for four days.

Saturday May 14 - Pole Day time trials

Gusty winds, as well as the threat of rain, was observed on pole day, therefore nearly all of the competitors stayed off the track. Around the garage area, the drivers and teams agreed amongst themselves to sit out time trials for the afternoon, and instead qualify together in better conditions on Sunday. However, in the final 20 minutes, Jerry Hoyt, who had not been informed about the agreement, suddenly put his car in line, and pulled away for an unexpected qualifying attempt. His speed of 140.045 mph was not spectacular, but as the fastest (and only) car thus far of the day, he sat on the pole position. Without hesitation, Tony Bettenhausen, Sr. took to the track moments later. After two fast laps, he was slowed by a gust of wind, and qualified second. Sam Hanks and Pat O'Connor got their cars ready, but neither were able to complete attempts. The day closed with only two cars in the field, and Hoyt the surprising pole winner - to the dismay of several in the garage area.

Sunday May 15 - Second day time trials

Qualifying resumed in better conditions, and most of the drivers who stayed off the track Saturday took to the track on Sunday. Jack McGrath (142.580 mph) was the fastest qualifier, and lined up third. Hoyt's pole-winning speed from the day before ended up being only the 8th-fastest overall in the field - a record slowest ranked pole speed.

Near the end of the day, Manny Ayulo crashed due to a possible steering fault and died the following day.

Saturday May 21 - Third day time trials

Sunday May 22 - Fourth day time trials

Starting grid

 R  = Indianapolis 500 rookie;  W  = Former Indianapolis 500 winner


Failed to qualify

Race recap

Jack McGrath, starting from the outside despite the fastest qualifying time, grabbed the initial lead, but was quickly challenged by Bill Vukovich, who was looking for his third consecutive win. Vukovich took the lead on lap four, surrendering it back to McGrath on lap 15 but regaining it on lap 16. Fred Agabashian, who had finished in the top ten the previous two years spun on lap 39 and could not continue. McGrath chased Vukovich until lap 54, when he pulled over with mechanical problems. Despite getting out of the car and attempting to repair it himself, he was forced to drop out with a magneto issue. With Vukovich having a considerable lead on lap 56, Rodger Ward, several laps down, flipped over twice, either due to a problem with the wind, oil, or breaking an axle. Although he landed on his wheels, the car was facing the wrong way.[4] Al Keller, attempting to avoid Ward, turned to the inside, going close to or on to the grass, before turning hard to the right and coming quickly back up the track and contacting Johnny Boyd. Boyd's car careened into Vukovich, who appeared to be attempting to also go to the left of Ward. Vukovich made a last second attempt to avoid Boyd to the right, but Boyd's car sent Vukovich hard into the outside barrier. Vukovich's front end also lifted into the air, causing the front to clear the barrier and the car to contact it with the rear, sending the car into a cartwheel, during which it hit several vehicles parked outside the track, and possibly a pole. The car burst into flames after it came to rest, and Vukovich died from injuries from the crash. Boyd's car also flipped but he and the other drivers escaped major injury.[5] Driver Ed Elisian stopped his car on the infield and ran across the track in an attempt to help Vukovich.

After 27 minutes of running under caution, Jimmy Bryan took over the lead of the race, but was forced to retire after ninety laps with a fuel pump issue, when the lead was taken over by Bob Sweikert. The only other driver to retire due to contact for the remainder of the race was Cal Niday on lap 170.[6] Art Cross led the race from laps 133 to 156, but after surrendering the lead to Don Freeland was forced to retire due to mechanical trouble on lap 168. Freeland similarly was passed by Sweikert on lap 160, and retired on lap 178. Sweikert led the remainder of the race. Sweikert stated that the winds made racing difficult, and perhaps led to a decision of racing cautiously and taking advantage of other's difficulty.[7]


The two deaths in the 500 were part of a particularly deadly year for motorsports, which also included four other Indy drivers dying in other races, Alberto Ascari being killed while testing a sports car at Monza, and a horrific accident at the 24 Hours of Le Mans which saw nearly 100 fatalities including Pierre Levegh who was driving at the time of the accident. Following the year the American Automobile Association ceased sanctioning auto races (including the Indy 500) and the United States Auto Club (USAC) was formed to handle sanctioning duties.[8] It would take until 1959 for fire suits to be made mandatory for all drivers and roll bars for all cars after Jerry Unser's fatal accident at the 1959 Indianapolis 500.[9]


Pos Grid No Driver Constructor Qual Rank Laps Led Time/Retired Points1
1 14 6 United States Bob Sweikert KK500D-Offenhauser 139.99 11 200 86 3:53:59.53 8
2 2 10 United States Tony Bettenhausen
(Relieved by Paul Russo; 77 laps)
KK500C-Offenhauser 139.98 13 200 0 +2:43.56 3
3 10 15 United States Jimmy Davies KK500B-Offenhauser 140.27 5 200 0 +3:32.36 4
4 33 44 United States Johnny Thomson Kuzma-Offenhauser 134.11 33 200 0 +3:38.91 3
5 7 77 United States Walt Faulkner
(Relieved by Bill Homeier; 24 laps)
KK500C-Offenhauser 139.76 16 200 0 +5:17.17 1
6 8 19 United States Andy Linden KK4000-Offenhauser 139.09 22 200 0 +5:57.94
7 16 71 United States Al Herman  R  Silnes-Offenhauser 139.81 15 200 0 +6:24.24
8 19 29 United States Pat O'Connor KK500D-Offenhauser 139.19 21 200 0 +6:41.60
9 17 48 United States Jimmy Daywalt Kurtis-Offenhauser 139.41 18 200 0 +7:09.81
10 12 89 United States Pat Flaherty KK50B-Offenhauser 140.14 7 200 0 +7:46.54
11 18 98 United States Duane Carter Kuzma-Offenhauser 139.33 19 197 0 +3 Laps
12 25 41 United States Chuck Weyant  R  KK3000-Offenhauser 138.06 25 196 0 +4 Laps
13 32 83 United States Eddie Johnson Trevis-Offenhauser 134.44 32 196 0 +4 Laps
14 20 33 United States Jim Rathmann Epperly-Offenhauser 138.7 24 191 0 +9 Laps
15 21 12 United States Don Freeland Phillips-Offenhauser 139.86 14 178 3 Transmission
16 9 22 United States Cal Niday KK500B-Offenhauser 140.3 4 170 0 Accident
17 24 99 United States Art Cross KK500D-Offenhauser 138.75 23 168 24 Engine
18 31 81 United States Shorty Templeman  R  Trevis-Offenhauser 135.01 31 142 0 Transmission
19 6 8 United States Sam Hanks KK500C-Offenhauser 140 10 134 0 Transmission
20 28 31 United States Keith Andrews  R  Schroeder-Offenhauser 136.04 28 120 0 Fuel Pump
21 27 16 United States Johnnie Parsons  W  KK500D-Offenhauser 136.8 27 119 0 Magneto
22 13 37 United States Eddie Russo  R  Allen-Offenhauser 140.11 8 112 0 Ignition
23 23 49 United States Ray Crawford  R  KK500B-Offenhauser 139.2 20 111 0 Engine
24 11 1 United States Jimmy Bryan Kuzma-Offenhauser 140.16 6 90 31 Fuel Pump
25 5 4 United States Bill Vukovich  W ? KK500C-Offenhauser 141.07 3 56 50 Died in crash 12
26 3 3 United States Jack McGrath KK500C-Offenhauser 142.58 1 54 6 Magneto
27 22 42 United States Al Keller  R  KK2000-Offenhauser 139.55 17 54 0 Accident
28 30 27 United States Rodger Ward Kuzma-Offenhauser 135.04 30 53 0 Accident
29 26 39 United States Johnny Boyd  R  KK500C-Offenhauser 136.98 26 53 0 Accident
30 29 68 United States Ed Elisian KK4000-Offenhauser 135.33 29 53 0 Retirement
31 1 23 United States Jerry Hoyt Stevens-Offenhauser 140.04 9 40 0 Oil Leak
32 4 14 United States Fred Agabashian KK500D-Offenhauser 141.93 2 39 0 Spun Off
33 15 5 United States Jimmy Reece Pankratz-Offenhauser 139.99 12 10 0 Engine

Additional stats

  • Pole position: Jerry Hoyt - 1:04.27 (while Hoyt started on the pole, Jack McGrath set the fastest time but started on the outside of the first row)
  • Fastest Lead Lap: Bill Vukovich - 1:03.67
  • Shared Drives:
  • While in the lead, Bill Vukovich hit the 3-car pileup of Al Keller, Johnny Boyd, and Rodger Ward. He was killed (by fracture to the skull) when his car became airborne and went out of the course on the back long straightaway, landing upside down and on fire. His death concluded a streak of three straight years leading the most laps in the race (likely to have been four straight, 1955 inclusive), a feat unequaled since.
  • Formula 1 championship debut for Keith Andrews, Johnny Boyd, Ray Crawford, Al Herman, Al Keller, Eddie Russo, Shorty Templeman and Chuck Weyant



The race was carried live on the IMS Radio Network. Sid Collins served as chief announcer. The broadcast was carried by 237 affiliates in all 48 states, as well as Armed Forces Radio. The broadcast was dedicated to the memory of Wilbur Shaw, who was killed in a plane crash in October.

Luke Walton reported from the north pits for the third year. Charlie Brockman, in his fourth appearance on the network, conducted the winner's interview in victory lane.

All five of the major radio stations in the Indianapolis area carried the broadcast. The broadcast was notable as it reported the fatal crash of Bill Vukovich.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network
Booth Announcers Turn Reporters Pit/garage reporters

Chief Announcer: Sid Collins
Analyst: Gordon Graham
Driver Expert: Mauri Rose
Statistician: Charlie Brockman

South Turns: Bill Frosch
Backstretch: Jack Shapiro
North Turns: Jim Shelton

Luke Walton (north)
Greg Smith (south)
Charlie Brockman (victory lane)

Championship standings after the race

World Drivers' Championship standings
Pos Driver Points
1rightarrow blue.svg 1 France Maurice Trintignant 11 13
1rightarrow blue.svg 2 Argentina Juan Manuel Fangio 10
1uparrow green.svg 31 3 United States Bob Sweikert 8
1downarrow red.svg 1 4 Italy Nino Farina 6 13
1downarrow red.svg 1 5 Italy Eugenio Castellotti 6
Source: [10]
  • Note: Only the top five positions are included.

See also


  1. ^ Cadou Jr., Jep (May 31, 1955). "Vukovich Killed In Pileup". The Indianapolis Star. p. 18. Retrieved 2017 – via Newspapers.com.open access
  2. ^ The Talk of Gasoline Alley - 1070-AM WIBC, May 14, 2004
  3. ^ "1955 International 500 Mile Sweepstakes". ChampCarStats.com. Retrieved 2015.
  4. ^ Goldstein, Richard (July 7, 2004) Rodger Ward, 83, Two-Time Indianapolis 500 Winner (obituary). New York Times. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  5. ^ The Rex Dean Accident Report: The Race and Accident. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  6. ^ Box Scores - Indianapolis 500 - 1955[permanent dead link] Indianapolis 500 Historical Stats from website of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  7. ^ Burgess, Dale (May 31, 1955) "Bob Sweikert Wins 500 Mile Race" Associated Press. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  8. ^ Oreovicz, John (May 23, 2016) Indy at 100: The '50s golden era ESPN.com. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  9. ^ Wren, Adam (May 25, 2016) Driving Forces: Danger and Safety at the Indy 500 Indianapolis Monthly. Retrieved May 26, 2018.
  10. ^ "Indianapolis 1955 - Championship o STATS F1". www.statsf1.com. Retrieved 2019.

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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