Ask Donald Davidson: ‘My Dad was a riding mechanic …’

Published On October 28, 2014 » 2893 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

Do you have a question for Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson? Ask via Twitter with the hashtag #AskDonald or on Facebook. For previous editions of “Ask Donald Davidson”, click here.

Louis Tomei and riding mechanic Jack Beck drove to a 10th-place finish in 1937.

Louis Tomei and riding mechanic Jack Peck drove to a 10th-place finish in 1937.

My dad was a riding mechanic and finished 10th in 1937 in a Studebaker, No. 53. Could this be the same Studebaker Indy car in the museum?—John Peck, via Facebook

One never knows who we might hear from! Your dad was obviously Jack Peck and we believe the answer to your question is “yes.” Although five of those Rigling & Henning-bodied cars were built for Studebaker in 1932, the understanding has always been that the 10th-place finisher in 1937 was the same one Cliff Bergere had driven to third in its debut. Four of the five were re-bodied for 1933 and then all sold off when Studebaker elected to stop racing at the end of that year. The Bergere car apparently remained pretty close to home because it was still South Bend-owned when the S.S. Engineering Co. entered it as the Sobonite Plastics Special for the very colorful Louis Tomei in 1937. Tomei, who drove in 10 races (eight starts and two more as a relief driver) was a longtime Hollywood stuntman who died in a speedboat accident in 1955 during the filming of “Hell On Frisco Bay”, starring Alan Ladd.

Ideas for a road course at IMS date to 1909.

Ideas for a road course at IMS date to 1909.

Can you elaborate on the proposed road course that was part of the original plans for the Speedway when it was first constructed?—Mike Zoeller, via Facebook

Indeed, a road course was part of the original plans but it was never completed (if even started), mainly due to the problems with the laying down of the 2½-mile oval section. There seems to have been two or three versions proposed, the most commonly known one depicted on a postcard, which in spite of being well over 100 years old still surfaces from time to time and is known to be in a number of private collections. In fact, there was a period about a dozen years ago when eight or 10 per year would surface in various states around the country, although that rate has since slowed way down.

The proposal was that the infield section would commence with a left-hand turn a short way down the backstretch and then wind back and forth a couple of times through the infield, rejoining the backstretch just a few yards north of where the infield excursion had begun. The inclusion of this would increase the distance of a full lap to five miles.

Track founder Carl Fisher, whose brain was always leaping from one grand idea to the next, fantasized about landing both the Vanderbilt Cup and the American Grand Prize events for this circuit, envisioning the spectators on the main straight entertained throughout the day by having cars whiz by in front of them as well as behind. All of this was soon to be forgotten, however, with the trials and tribulations of laying the oval and it was not until around Christmas 1998 that an infield road course finally began to take shape.

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Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.
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