RETRO: The day the big guns misfired at Milwaukee

Foyt, Ward and George Bignotti. Robin Miller Collection

RETRO: The day the big guns misfired at Milwaukee


RETRO: The day the big guns misfired at Milwaukee


Considering the economy, purses and affect the pandemic has had on spectator sports, the fact 22-24 cars have started every IndyCar race outside of Indianapolis is pretty damn impressive.

But there was an anomaly 60 years ago at Milwaukee that left Indy 500 winners on the sidelines, and more cars on the trailer than in the Rex Mays Classic.

A week after the great duel between Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward at Indianapolis, the USAC championship trail pitched its tent at State Fair Park for the first of two annual 100-mile shows with an entry list that was hard to comprehend.

Forty-seven cars showed up to compete for 22 spots, and the drivers that wound up missing the show were almost as accomplished as the starting lineup.

While Lloyd Ruby nipped Johnny Thomson for the pole position, A.J. Foyt qualified fourth-fastest, Jim Hurtubise was seventh, Tony Bettenhausen eighth, Ward 11th and a new kid named Parnelli Jones was 13th. But Jimmy Bryan, Troy Ruttman and Rathmann weren’t fast enough, and neither were Eddie Sachs, Dick Rathmann, Roger McCluskey, Duane Carter, Bud Tinglestad, Jimmy Davies and Jim Packard. Yet stock car veteran Nelson Stacy somehow managed to secure the last automatic berth (20th).

Promoter Tom Marchese added a 20-lap consolation race so two of the 27 would transfer into the main event, and Milwaukee historian Steve Zautke documents what happened in the ‘Hooligan’:

“Packard was on the pole in Lindsey Hopkins’ dirt car and midget champ Davies was outside of Row 1 in Harry Turner’s roadster. Sachs started sixth in the Dean Van Lines Special but was in the lead by lap 14, and Dick Rathmann slotted into second at the same time. That’s how they finished with Ruttman fifth, Bryan sixth and Rathmann seventh in the Ken-Paul Special that was a week removed from Victory Lane.

“Sachs earned $200 for his efforts while the younger Rathmann, who earned $110,000 at Indy for his team, pocketed a $20 bill.”

In the race, Ward took the lead from Foyt held off the soon-to-be national champion for the final 19 laps.

“Making the show back then was a bear, especially at a dirt track where there might be 30-35 cars going for 18 spots and if you drew a bad number forget it,” recalled Super Tex, who joins Jones as the only surviving participants in that 1960 Milwaukee race. “But I remember Milwaukee and all those great drivers that missed the race. They talk about the competition today; well I got news for you, it was damn tough back then too, and a lot of guys got sent home.”