A Jigger Of Golden Cheer

Jigger Sirois [photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

Jigger Sirois [photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway]

by Allan Brewer

It was an unbelievable, you gotta be kidding me story, the first time he told it to me. But he was indeed serious, and I think of his anguish and the life-lesson learned from its telling every year at this time.

Jigger Sirois never turned a wheel in anger at Indianapolis Motor Speedway; but what he did is remarkable, heartbreaking, and victorious in all ways at once. He is every bit as much a legend as Mario Andretti, whose fiftieth anniversary of winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing we celebrate this year.

It was fifty years ago that Jigger Sirois, on a “cloudy with showers” day in Indianapolis, climbed aboard his turbocharged Offenhauser-powered Gerhardt and moved from “first in line” to qualify for the 500 onto the Speedway proper.

On the dried-out track Jigger was comfortable running three consecutive laps at over 160 mph, a respectable but not excessively fast speed for the age. He drove the car out of Turn 4 at Indy, ready for the checkered flag to fall that would put him in the race—but instead he got a yellow flag, an “abort, bring the car in” message, from his car owner standing in the pit lane.

Immediately, raindrops began to fall; and in precious seconds, the track was officially closed. For the day . . . .

It turns out the owner felt Jigger’s speed over four laps (an approximate average of 161 mph) would not be fast enough to hold up versus the rest of the field, but according to the rules at the time, if Sirois’ car qualified as the only car that day, Sirois would be the pole-sitter for the race.

As it turns out, no one did bump Sirois’ time out of the field. He indeed had just surrendered the pole at Indy, or rather his owner had.

“Immediately, as I came off the fourth corner (on the fourth lap),” Jigger recounted, “I envisioned seeing the starter raise the checkered flag and that I was going to be qualified for the race. Then I saw the yellow flag out of the corner of my left eye.”

Today, Sirois is retired and is part of the history that makes the Speedway so great. In time, Sirois went on to become an influential spokesperson for persons with echolalia (stuttering speech), shepherding hundreds if not thousands of afflicted people to effective therapy and relief. In time, Jigger found solace in his sympathetic and humane embrace of others, like himself, who were embarrassed and stunted socially and professionally by this common speech anomaly.

Jigger’s Golden Anniversary is a golden moment to celebrate persistence and victory over cruel, unreasoned defeat—no matter the circumstance—and keep on trying.

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