In 1960, Bob Christie qualified for the "500" in the Federal Engineering Special. [Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway]
Bob "Caveman" Christie - One of Racing's Nice Guys
by Steve Zautke
Bob "Caveman" Christie is just one of many drivers that made 1950's and 1960's Indy Car racing remarkable. Hailing from Grants Pass, Oregon, Christie was not a perennial frontrunner but was a respected driver who made the best of the equipment he was given.
One of the interesting notes on his career was he made at least one departure from the qualifying line at Indianapolis every year from 1954 through to 1967 and earned a starting position for the eight consecutive "500s" from 1956-63. Christie finished tenth in 1960 and 13th in three other years. His best opportunity at Indy was in 1958, where he lost out on a potential eighth-place finish when taken out by another driver with only 11 laps to go.
Known as "one of the nice guys" Christie drove not only sleek front-engine roadsters of the 1950's but was equally at home racing stock cars on the dirt and pavement. Christie even made headlines in 1953 when he broke the track record during qualifying at Milwaukee in a stubby looking Nash. Christie would eventually finish third in the AAA National Stock Car point standings.
One of Christie's best performances came in the ultra fast 100-mile race which was the first event held at the new Daytona International Raceway on April 4, 1959. Christie, who was driving the Federal Engineering Kurtis 500-D, finished an impressive third behind Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward. Many new to the sport are surprised to realize the speeds they drove. Rathmann won the race in just over 35 minutes at the extraordinary average speed of 170.261 mph.
Although he only drove in fourteen National Championship Car races, much of Christie's racing came in AAA and USAC stock cars, where he placed in the top 10 in point standings three times. One of his biggest wins occurred in 1954, when he held off the legendary Marshall Teague to win a grueling 300-lap marathon at Emmet Malloy's Carrell Speedway in Los Angeles. He also placed second in four others, including a 150-miler in 1953 in the aforementioned Nash on the dirt at Milwaukee and the 250-mile event in September 1956 at Milwaukee behind Jimmy Bryan's winning Mercury.
His driving career ended in 1967 at Indy in an A.J. Foyt back-up car, hitting the wall while trying to get the car up to speed.
I remember meeting Bob at an event in Indianapolis in 2006 and my friend handed him a photo of the early model rear-engine Gerhardt-Offy he drove at Milwaukee in 1964. Christie looked at the photo and shook his head, "that car tried to kill me " Christie initially refused to autograph it, but politely reconsidered.
Christie, who was member of Champion Spark Plug 100-Mile-A-Hour Club, was a gifted public speaker and usually could be seen in the garage area greeting fans in Indianapolis in May. Christie, who had recently turned 85, passed away on June 1st, 2009.