RETRO: Jack Conely’s Milwaukee miracle

RETRO: Jack Conely’s Milwaukee miracle

IndyCar

RETRO: Jack Conely’s Milwaukee miracle

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Unless you were in attendance back in June of 1963 at Milwaukee, there is no video or written documentation of Jack Conely’s wildly entertaining IndyCar run in the Rex Mays Classic.

A successful super modified racer from Brighton, Mich. who earned the nickname “Brighton Bandit” because he would blow into Oswego or Toledo and steal a big race win, Conely made his IndyCar debut the year before at Milwaukee and shown quite well, qualifying fifth out of 35 cars in his homemade roadster but only last 10 laps before blowing up.

In 1963, he had attempted to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 the month but fell three spots shy with his one-off car and a worn-out engine. But he wanted another shot at USAC’s Big Cars so they took Harry Dunn’s homemade Offy to the Milwaukee Mile.

Back then the 18th fastest qualifiers automatically made the show and the other four starters advancing from the “hooligan” race comprised the starting line-up. That day Indy winner Parnelli Jones blew up in practice and was a spectator while Johnny Boyd and Jim Hurtubise owned the front row.

A total of 33 cars meant that 15 would be in the 20-lap “suitcase” race to decide the grid.

Bobby Grim Jr. was 13 at the time and in the grandstands watching his dad qualify 15th but got to witness quite a show.

“Conely was in this one-of-a-kind car and nobody expected much, but he took off and was leading the hooligan when he spun out,” recalled Grim. “So he had to go to the rear of the pack and in about six laps he was leading again when he spun out again.

“They restarted and here he comes, storming through the pack, and taking the lead again — the fans were going berserk. Of course he looped it, and then fought his way back to second place to make the feature and got a standing ovation. It’s still one of the loudest reactions I’ve ever heard.”

In the feature race, Conely charged from 22nd to finish ninth, one lap behind winner Rodger Ward. He made two more starts at Milwaukee in that old roadster but never came close to duplicating his success. Conely was lined up to try Indy again in 1966 before being DQ’d for running an outlaw race.

A veteran of the Korean War who also was known for his engine expertise, Conely opened free housing for cancer patients in addition to running his speed shop until his death in 2017 at the age of 87. He won over 500 features and was elected into the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame, but that day in Milwaukee ranked as one of his finest.

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