Racing news from the Indiana motorsports scene

The Year Pole Day Almost Fizzled Due to a Gentlemens Agreement

Front row starters Jack McGrath (bottom), Tony Bettenhausen, and Jerry Hoyt (right) share a laugh at a photo shoot with the Borg-Warner trophy before the 1955 Indianapolis 500. [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

Front row starters Jack McGrath (bottom), Tony Bettenhausen, and Jerry Hoyt (right) share a laugh at a photo shoot with the Borg-Warner trophy before the 1955 Indianapolis 500. [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

SPEEDWAY, IN: At one time in history, Pole Day for the Indianapolis 500 was the second most heavily attended sporting event in the country, behind only the Race itself. But, in 1955, Pole Day almost didn’t happen and, strangely enough, it had nothing to do with weather issues!

The opening of time trials for the Memorial Day Classic in 1955 dawned sunny and breezy. Very breezy. An enormous crowd was on hand, as usual, to witness the run for the Pole, featuring favorites such as Jack McGrath, Bill Vukovich, the Rathmann brothers and Tony Bettenhausen. But, as the hour for qualification runs begin to approach, something unusual was noticed by the assembled throng: the sun was shinning, but no one was in the qualification line!

As the track opened for practice, rather than qualifications at appointed hour, a rumor began to spread through the grandstands and pits. Apparently the drivers had decided among themselves that the conditions were too windy to put their collective lives on the line in a balls-out run for the Pole, and had agreed to remain in the pits until conditions improved, even if it meant waiting until the next day!

As the sunny afternoon wore on with only occasional practice runs taking place, the the crowd stirred restlessly. At least, they reasoned, if no-one qualified, the rain stubs on their admission tickets would be honored the next day.

Was it possible that the makeshift driver’s “strike” would actually hold water and no time trials would take place, in spite of the sunny, dry conditions?

Yeah, right.

At approximately 5:25PM, with about a half hour to go before qualification runs would have to cease for the day, lightly regarded sprint car racer Jerry Hoyt and crew began pushing their Jim Robbins Special toward the qualification line in a determined manner. Reportedly, Pole favorite Jack McGrath quietly approached Hoyt.

“Jerry, what the hell are you doing?”, McGrath asked.

“I’m gonna qualify this pig”, Hoyt replied innocently.

“Yeah? What about our agreement?”

A wide eyed Hoyt asked McGrath, “What agreement?”

And then the dam broke. But, it was almost to late.

History shows that Hoyt ran the four fastest laps of his life that afternoon, taking the Pole Position with a 140.04 average speed, just edging out favorite Tony Bettenhausen, the only other racer that had time to make a run prior to the 6PM deadline on that strange afternoon.

And, since two cars actually qualified, no rain checks were honored the next day!

Needless to say, when time qualifications resumed for the 31 remaining spots in the starting line-up on Sunday, there was no more fiddling about, and things returned to normal; wind or no wind!

Share Button