Indy’s Happy Hour Doesn’t Always Produce Happy Results

Happy Hour speeds during the week(s) leading up to Pole Day are usually a good indication of what to expect; but not always. The best example would probably be 1961, when neither of the two “Happy Hour Hot Dogs” of the month even made the field! This strange scenario involved not only the most popular driver of his day, but the all-time favorite car as well.

For his fourteenth try at victory, 44 year old Tony Bettenhausen finally had a “hot” car. Never known as a super qualifier at the Speedway, Tony’s Hopkins Autolite Epperly lay-down appeared to be just the tool he had been searching for his entire career. From the start of practice, Tony began challenging the long-sought one minute lap…the 150 MPH barrier that had been approached by rookie Jim Hurtubise the year before. Bettenhausen fans rejoiced; this would finally be his year…

At the same time, the crowd-pleasing NOVI was making an amazing comeback from near oblivion. The original owner, Lew Welch, had finally given up on his dream, and sold the NOVI-in-a-basket to Andy Granatelli. Fighting the clock, the Granatelli’s had just enough time to prepare one car, and got it entered with no driver assigned.

As practice began, Andy asked veteran Dick Rathmann to shake down the Paxton Products NOVI as a favor. Even though “the braver Rathmann” was assigned to qualify the Pole-winning 1958 Watson Offy entered by Jim Robbins, he agreed to try the NOVI…….and promptly fell in love.

Nearly every Happy Hour, Bettenhausen and Rathmann battled head-to-head for top speed of the day honors. With both practicing in the 149 MPH range, it seemed obvious that the Pole would be between them, and the 150 MPH lap would finally become a reality. But then, Fate stepped in…………

First, when push came to shove, Jim Robbins refused to release Rathmann to drive the NOVI. At almost the same time, Tony took his ill-fated test ride in buddy Paul Russo’s car as a favor….and never came back. The much anticipated battle for the Pole between the two fastest drivers of the month was over before it started.

Some years, Happy Hour” isn’t all that “happy”.

Share Button