The exploits of Jim Hurtubise at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are legendary. [Photo courtesy IMS]
The Legendary Jim Hurtubise Provided Thrills On Bump Day; 1962
by John Atlas
SPEEDWAY, IN: These days, it's almost hard to believe that someone like Jim Hurtubise ever existed. His exploites at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are the stuff of legends; especially early in his career.
Most long time Indy 500 followers are familiar with the amazing saga of Herk's rookie year at the Speedway in 1960. On the third day of time trials that year, the almost unknown 27 year old newcomer from North Tonawanda, NY set the motorsports world on it's collective ear by shattering the existing track record by nearly three MPH, almost breaking the long-sought 150 MPH barrier in the process. Even pole winner Eddie Sachs, who had set a new track record the previous weekend, was suitably impressed.
During practice prior to time trails, Jim Hurtubise lost control of the Demler Special and crashed coming off turn one. [Photo courtesy IMS]
"Boy, I would have probably been mad if you had broken my record by just a little bit, but you smashed it all to pieces, and I'm glad I was here to see it!", exclaimed the always excitable Sachs.
Herk's Speedway legend was born that day, and continued to grow through the years as he tried to accomplish his goal of an Indy 500 victory. Sadly, he was never able to accomplish his life's mission but, never the less, he was extremely successful in creating countless endearing memories for several generations of Indy 500 fans.
Such was the case in Herk's third attempt at the Speedway in 1962.
The previous year, driving for New York neighbor Norm Demler, Hurtubise had been a serious contender; qualifying on the front row and leading the opening 35 laps of the 1961 "500" before the Offy blew up just past the 100 mile mark. In 1962, Herk was entered in the same car, and the team's confidence was high. But, as would happen so often as his Indy career rolled on, bad luck would prevent Herk from realizing his dream.
A few days before time trials began, Herk lost control of the Demler Special while attempting to match his previous years speed, crashing coming off turn one. Damage to the car was repaired, but the team was unable to regain the form needed for a successful qualifying attempt, and the Demler Special found the wall for a second time. After breaking the track record only two years previously, Herk suddenly found himself in danger of not even making the Race!
As Bump Day arrived, Jim Hurtubise found himself on the outside looking in. Demler put together a last-minute deal to purchase the Joe Hunt Magneto Watson-Offy, but Herk was unable to get comfortable in the new ride after tweaking the car for most of the day. With only an hour or so left before the final gun would end time trials for the year, Hurtubise was wandering down the row of cars lined up to make last-minute qualification attempts, hoping to find a magic combination.
One of the available cars was considered an "old nail". It had been a new Watson-Trevis Offy four years previously, when the very brave Dick Rathmann had won the Pole Position with it, only to be swept up in the huge first lap crash that had cost popular Hoosier Pat O'Conner his life. By 1962 the car was no longer considered to be a contender. Several other drivers, including veterans Chuck Weyant and Bill Cheesebourg, had tried and abandoned the Old Girl during the month. But now, with time running out, Jim Hurtubise was just about out of options.
Jumping in the cockpit for the very first time prior to a do-or-die last minute attempt, Herk had only two question for his new crew:
Question One: "What gear are you guys running in this thing?"
Question Two: "Anybody have a block of wood I can tape to my right foot? I can't reach the throttle!"
Even now, 50 years later, it's hard to believe that Jim Hurtubise actually slammed the old Jim Robbins car into the 1962 Indy 500 starting field, bumping Ronnie Duman at a speed that would have made the fifth row had he done it earlier! Once again, Herk had proven himself to be something very special at the Old Brickyard.
Happily walking out of the Speedway when qualifications ended a few minutes later, I can still remember an ice cream vendor, who had obviously been paying attention to the events of the day, hawking his products:
"Get your ice-cold HURTUBISE milkshakes here: the bravest milkshake at the Speedway!"
You KNOW I bought one!