Lloyd Ruby – More Than Just A Hardluck Driver

One of the icons of auto racing died yesterday. Lloyd Ruby, who raced in the Indianapolis 500 for 18 straight years passed away after suffering intermittently the last few year with cancer, he was 81. Ruby is best known for not winning the Indy 500 even though he was a perennial contender. The popular driver He led the Greatest Spectacle in Racing five out of six starts between 1966 and 1971, seemingly to have something either break, snap or blow while up front. However, his greatest wins ocuured in 1966 co-driving with English road racing driver Ken Miles in a GT40. Ruby and Miles won the 24 Hours at Daytona as well as the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1966. He swept both Indy Car races at the Milwaukee Mile in 1968. He ended up winning seven times on the USAC National Championship Trail, winning three times at Milwaukee, two at Phoenix, and single wins at Trenton and Langhorne. Ruby’s best finish at the “500” was third in 1964.

Ruby cut his racing teeth on the dirt bullrings in Texas and Oklahoma after World War II. However if you ever met the man, few would have guess he was an International racing driver. The soft-spoken driver could flat drive anything. In 1959, Ruby finished second in the fledgling USAC Road Racing series, and in 1961 he drove a privately entered Lotus in the Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. He was the first driver to win a pole in a rear-engine car at an Indy Car race. Ruby drove Frank Harrison’s Lotus 18 to the pole at Trenton in April of 1963. As a member of Ford Motor Company’s major international effort, he shared the winning car in the Daytona Continental in 1965 as well as the aforementioned Daytona and Sebring.

Ruby had the utmost respect from his peers, champion drivers such as Al and Bobby Unser, Parnelli Jone and Johnny Rutherford all basically echoed the same thought. When Ruby was in the race, it wasn’t going to be easy. Perhaps three-time Formula One Champion and 1966 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Sir Jackie Stewart said it best, “He was a very special man, dignified, well mannered and quiet,” Stewart said, “Not shy, but quiet, and completely out of context with what one would expect a race driver to be. A modest man. Nobody who saw him, if they didn’t know, would ever imagine he was a driver until he stepped into the cockpit. And he was very versatile on the track.”

One example of Ruby’s popularity surprisingly is a local radio morning show in Milwaukee. Seemingly, they would mention Ruby’s name every May when the topic of the Indy 500 comes up. Interesting since neither one could guess who won it the last couple of years.

The first time I met Ruby was at Milwaukee in 1974. Bored as a youngster at the track, my father sent me after Ruby who had just walked past. I protested saying he was mean, which I figured he was looking at his stoic face. However I gathered up the courage and ran up to him, glancing down at me he smiled and was gracious as he signed my program. I was a fan for life.


In the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s release today on Ruby, they related Ruby’s near miss at LeMans in ’66.

His unlikely co-driver in all three of those victories was the expatriate, duffel-coat-wearing Englishman Ken Miles. Although they were eons apart in their upbringing, and seemingly would have had nothing in common, they bonded like brothers. Ruby was to have partnered Miles in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966 but was forced out when the light plane in which he was riding crashed on takeoff from an Indianapolis airport on its way to Milwaukee just a few days before.

Eventual Formula One World Champion Denis Hulme replaced the injured Ruby, and the Miles/Hulme combination was leading in the late stages when it was decided, for public relations reasons, to “slow down” the leading car and have the twin sister car of Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon, running second, catch up to have them take the checkered flag in a side-by-side salute. Le Mans officials subsequently ruled that, because of the order in which the cars had lined up for the “run across the main straight, jump in and take off” start, the McLaren/Amon car had covered a greater distance.

By the time Ruby shared the second-place-finishing Ford with A. J. Foyt in the 1967 Sebring race, Miles had died, lost in a testing accident at Riverside, Calif. Decades later, whenever the Le Mans incident or Miles was brought up, tears would well in Ruby’s eyes.

Normally so even-tempered and easygoing, Ruby felt quite passionately that Miles was the moral winner, not only because he had been leading by a comfortable margin and had slowed down in response to team orders, but that over a period of many months, he had performed virtually all of the development work on the cars. It was something Ruby never got over.

Nobody outside of racing could ever possibly have guessed Ruby’s occupation. He was casual beyond belief; red-flag situations at race tracks and the inevitable rain delays never seeming to bother him – because they didn’t bother him.


Another Ruby moment came in 1969 at Indianapolis. Leading at the halfway point Ruby came in to pit. Chief mechanic Dave Laycock was refueling the car, Ruby thought he had pulled out the refueling hose and crept forward. However the hose was not disconnected. Ruby had let off the clutch inching the car forward. The movement pulled the buckeye from the fuel tank causing the methanol to pour from the tank ending his race. Climbing from the yellow and red car, Ruby glanced at the damage. He walked to the track side of the car and was as distraught as he was ever seen at a race. 1969 was his race. Fittingly, Mario Andretti the other hard luck “500” driver won his only race at Indianapolis that day.

In 2005, Ruby was given the Bruton Smith Legends Award at the Texas Motor Sports Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. At a special ceremony in September 2006 in Wichita Falls, friends arranged for an overpass named in Ruby’s honor, the surprising thing being that nothing in that town had previously carried the name of the individual most associated with it. He was also a member of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

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