Ask Donald Davidson: Relief drivers and the first flagman

Published On November 5, 2014 » 4310 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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There has been a spirited discussion going on regarding the number of drivers requiring relief in the 1953 race. Various sources are cited but none agree. – Charles Fawcett, via Facebook

A spirited discussion? Really? Wonder what those various sources might be? We believe the correct version to be: Sam Hanks (third) by Duane Carter; Fred Agabashian (fourth) by Paul Russo; Jim Rathmann (seventh) by Eddie Johnson; Tony Bettenhausen (ninth) by Chuck Stevenson and Gene Hartley; Carl Scarborough (12th) by Bob Scott; Bill Holland (15th) by Jim Rathmann; Rodger Ward (16th) by Andy Linden and Duke Dinsmore; Walt Faulkner (17th) by Johnny Mantz; Spider Webb (19th) by Johnny Thomson and Jackie Holmes; and Jerry Hoyt (23rd) by Chuck Stevenson and Andy Linden.

The six drivers among the first 10 finishers who went it alone were Bill Vukovich (first), Art Cross (second), Jack McGrath (fifth), Jimmy Daywalt (sixth), Ernie McCoy (eighth) and Jimmy Davies (10th).

Among the relief drivers, Carter, Russo, Rathmann, Stevenson, Hartley, Scott, Linden, and Thomson had each started the race in another car, while Johnson, Dinsmore, Mantz and Holmes served in relief roles only. Stevenson and Linden were in three different cars each during the day, Linden and Hartley both having the distinction of being taken to the hospital twice. Hartley had wall contact with his original car, and then again while relieving Bettenhausen within sight of the finish. Linden hit the wall once and was told by the doctors not to drive again that day, only to be brought back in after ignoring that plea and being overcome by heat in Ward’s car.

One other footnote is that Cal Niday climbed in to relieve Marshall Teague, but the car was already in the process of being retired and the engine was never re-fired. Another really odd situation occurred with Scarborough being rushed to the infield hospital in serious condition, suffering from heat prostration and a possible whiff of CO2 from a fire extinguisher, and having died by the time relief driver Bob Scott was flagged off in 12th position.

Art Cross finished second in 1953 without a relief driver, then had a record four relievers in 1954 when piloting this car to an 11th-place finish.

Art Cross finished second in 1953 without a relief driver, then had a record four relievers in 1954 when piloting this car to an 11th-place finish.

Having answered this, some of my friends are now telling me that the discussion concerns 1954, rather than 1953. So, here we go again!

This one is a little more complicated, and I am guessing that the discussions may be over whether or not Bill Holland drove relief for Duane Carter, and whether or not Jimmy Daywalt drove the Johnny Thomson car, also driven by Andy Linden. It appears that while Holland did wear a uniform on race morning, he never actually drove a car, while the third driver on the Thomson/Linden car was Bill Homeier rather than Daywalt who was shaken up when he hit the wall with his front-row-starting car and was out for the day.

The complete rundown is: Troy Ruttman (fourth) by Duane Carter; Paul Russo (eighth) by Jerry Hoyt; Art Cross (11th) by Johnnie Parsons, Sam Hanks, Andy Linden and Jimmy Davies; Chuck Stevenson (12th) by Walt Faulkner; Duane Carter (15th) by Marshall Teague, Jimmy Jackson and Tony Bettenhausen; Ed Elisian (18th) by Bob Scott; Frank Armi (19th) by George Fonder; Sam Hanks (20th) by Jimmy Davies and Jim Rathmann; Rodger Ward (22nd) by Eddie Johnson; Gene Hartley (23rd) by Marshall Teague; Johnny Thomson (24th) by Andy Linden and Bill Homeier; Andy Linden (25th) by Bob Scott; Jim Rathmann (28th) by Pat Flaherty; Spider Webb (30th) by Danny Kladis, and Len Duncan (31st) by George Fonder.

The relief drivers who had started in other cars were Carter, Hoyt, Parsons, Hanks, Linden, Bettenhausen, Rathmann and Homeier, while those who drove relief only were Davies, Faulkner, Teague, Jackson, Scott, Fonder, Johnson, Flaherty and Kladis. Scott, one of several who drove two cars, had originally climbed into the Johnnie Parsons car but the transmission was shot and he could do no more than lurch forward a foot or so on a couple of spirited tries to leave the pits.

There are several more “off-on-a-tangent” stories here, but the final observation for now is that the 11th-place finisher of Art Cross was driven by a record five different drivers.


Who was the first flagman for the “500” and who has flagged the most races ever?—James Pyle, via Facebook

The 1911 and 1912 races were both flagged by Fred “Pop” Wagner, while the record is 18 consecutive by Pat Vidan, chief starter between 1962 and 1979.

Fred "Pop" Wagner flagged the first two Indianapolis 500s -- and did so in style.

Fred “Pop” Wagner flagged the first two Indianapolis 500s — and did so in style.


About The Author

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.