George Bailey – Have Tie, Will Drive

George Bailey in the ill-fated 1935 Miller-Ford at Indianapolis. [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

George Bailey in the ill-fated 1935 Miller-Ford at Indianapolis. [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]/em>

Mention the name “George Bailey” most folks think of the Jimmy Stewart character in the 1946 movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” However this article is about George Bailey the race car driver from Cleveland, Ohio. Bailey could be considered a journeyman driver. A respected driver, he drove in five Indianapolis 500’s (from 1934-1939) while missing the field for two others in 1936 and 1938. A bachelor who lived with his mother Mrs. Harriet Bailey, in Detroit, Michigan, he was like many proper drivers back in the 1920’s and 1930’s by giving himself a studious image by wearing a tie when driving a racecar. Known mostly for his Indianapolis participation, Bailey also drove in several AAA (American Automobile Association) sanctioned races on the circuit such as on the dirt at Syracuse, Springfield and Langhorne. Over nine years, he is shown to have attempted to qualify for only 12 AAA races.

Designer and builder Harry Miller looks over his rear-engine Miller race car with driver, George Bailey.  [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

Designer and builder Harry Miller looks over his rear-engine Miller race car with driver, George Bailey. [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

Bailey failed to qualify quick enough to make the field at the old Detroit dirt oval in 1932. However he made the “500” line-up for the first time in 1934, then again had the misfortune of going over the turn three wall in his rookie run at the Brickyard on lap 12 while driving his Studebaker powered Snowberger car. During his career Bailey mostly found himself in a variety of Miller-powered cars and drove the rear-engine Miller on three occasions. Bailey drove the unique RE4 Miller in 1938, missing the race. However the following year, Bailey qualified the supercharged RE4D on the outside of the second row, his best qualifying effort of his career.

In 1935, Bailey was one of many who drove the front-drive Miller-Fords. Like many others that day, his steering gear overheated and froze up, ending up 26th in the box score. Later that summer, Bailey drove the Martz Hudson car at Springfield and Langhorne dropping up with mechanical problems in both races.

Bailey who also moonlighted as a test driver for Hudson Motor Company, attempted to make the “500” the following May in the Hudson-powered Martz Special now known as the Zauer & Martz Special. Bailey missed the show as he could not get the car up to speed. 1937 saw Bailey in the sharp Duray-Sims Special, a Stevens chassis, powered by a supercharged Miller. Once again, mechanical gremlins haunted Bailey in the race as he had to drop out after completing 107 laps due to problems with the clutch.

For the 1938 Indianapolis 500, Bailey was entered to drive one of three Harry Miller built rear-engine RE4’s. Unable to get the rear-engine Miller up to speed, Bailey moved over to the supercharged Barbasol Special and qualified for the 29th starting spot. In the race, the hard luck Bailey dropped out after 166 laps to once again clutch trouble. Looking for improved horsepower, Bailey upgraded to the supercharged RE4D rear-engine Miller for the 1939 race. Unfortunately a valve spring caused Bailey yet again to drop out of the lucrative race in 26th place.

For the opening of practice for the 1940 Indianapolis 500, Bailey was again in the rear-engine RE4D. On May 7th, after completing the fastest lap of the month at that point at 128.5 mph, Bailey spun out of the second turn and hit the inside fence with enough force for a rail to pierce the left-side pontoon type fuel tank bursting into flames. The car spun, staying upright impacting the fence a second time piercing the right fuel tank causing it to erupt. Bailey dove from the blazing car on fire. Photographer Eddie Hoff who witnessed the carnage unveiling in front of him ran to assist Bailey, who had received third degree burns, broken hip and a badly injured leg in the accident. Taken by ambulance to the hospital, shortly after his arrival Bailey succumbed to his burns. Onlookers thought that Bailey had taken the southeast turn too high, getting into some dirt and sand near the wall, causing him to spin. The stout driver with the pleasant smile never received the luck or the breaks to reach the winners circle at Indianapolis. Unfortunately George Bailey is a footnote in its history as the 37th driver to perish at the Brickyard since 1911.

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Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1960’s and 1970’s Steve’s first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked for the Milwaukee Mile as videographer, in media relations and historian (1993-2011). Steve also has worked as a reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS) and has written features for ‘Vintage Oval Racing’ and ‘Victory Lane’ magazines. Most recently, Steve has written a book on Road America for Arcadia Publishing. ( ) Steve co-hosts “Sparky’s Final Inspection” a motorsports-based radio show with hosts, Steve “Sparky” Fifer and “NASCAR Girl” Summer Santana on Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and is also available on the internet at A member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Committee, Steve follows all types of racing from the dirt tracks to Formula One.