New Belond #9 Model From Carousel Stirs Old Memories

HAMMOND, IN: Just after Christmas, I opened a box
containing the latest and greatest model from the
Carousel Indy Roadster series: the 1957 Belond Exhaust
#9 driven to victory by Sam Hanks. Wow…talk about a
time machine…at least for me.

My first Indy 500 was in 1956, at the age of ten.
Prior to that, I had been fortunate enough to have
attended plenty of races in the Chicagoland area. I
loved the midgets, and had seen them run at venues
like Soldiers Field, Raceway Park in Blue Island, 87th
Street Speedway (Gill Stadium), and Santa Fe Park. But
none of this fully prepared me for my first visit to
the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

My Dad and I spent the night before the 1956 Race in
Terre Haute and, in spite of a speeding ticket and
dire weather forecasts, including possible
postponement due to flooding, we made it to our seats
in time. Pop had gotten us two tickets in old
Grandstand “D”, located on the outside between turns 1
& 2.

Even though it was gray and threatening, my ten year
old “frame of reference” and been totally tweaked.
“Man”, I remember thinking, “this place is a little
bigger than Raceway Park!” Then, as the 33 starters
came by on their single pace lap, my next thought was,
“Awww, they’re just big midgets!”

What happened next changed me forever.

As the Race unfolded, I just got more and more into
it. My first memory was seeing the end of leader Paul
Russo’s crash as the beautiful red NOVI ground to a
stop near the exit of turn one. Later in the event,
Tony Bettenhausen’s big hit took place directly in
front of us. Unlike Russo, who had scampered away from
the NOVI, Tony was obvious hurting, and was carried to
the ambulance.

Finally Pat Flaherty, hiking his left front wheel in
the air through the turns (just like the midgets I was
familiar with), held off Sam Hanks for victory. AS we
filed out of the Speedway that day, I vowed to learn
as much about the Indianapolis 500 as I could before
we would return next year.

All I wanted for birthday, Christmas, etc. that year
were Floyd Clymer Indy Yearbooks, and I totally
absorbed each page. Slowly, I began to learn the
history of the Speedway, and how much it meant.

The thing that seemed to catch my attention was the
story of the veterans, who had raced the longest at
the Speedway without a victory. In that category, the
three names that stood out were Sam Hanks, Tony
Bettenhausen and Fred Agabashian. I really liked what
I read about Hanks and, with eleven year old logic on
my side, I decided he was going to win the 1957 Indy

For the first time before of since, I wrote a fan
letter. I addressed it simply, “Sam Hanks, Race Car
Driver, Pacific Palisades, California, having no idea
if would even be delivered. However, a few weeks
later, I received a small, black & white postcard from
Sam, showing his 1956 Jones & Maley Kurtis. Mr. Hanks
answered all my dumb questions with good humor and,
suddenly, I had a race driver pal. I know I wrote him
once more that winter of 1956-57, telling him it was
“his turn” next May at the Speedway. Again he
answered, mentioning that he would be driving a new
car being built by his mechanic, George Salih. I
didn’t know it at the time, but that was an important

In May, 1957, I subscribed to the all three Indy
newspapers(Star, News and the Times) and kept track of
the daily activities as best I could, just waiting for
raceday. I even found a radio show on WIBC, the “Fox’s
Den” with sportswriter Bill Fox, which would give
daily track wrap-ups every evening at 6:15 PM. Even
though I was 150 miles north of Indianapolis, I could
get it most nights…barely…on my Dad’s car radio!

The night before the 1957 500, we went to the midget
races at the wonderful old 16th Street Speedway across
the road from the “big joint”. I clearly remember that
there were a bunch of happy guys sitting in front of
us, drinking beer and discussing tomorrow’s big race.
I kept hearing them mention Jimmy Bryan, Pat O’Conner
and Paul Russo as potential winners.

Finally, one of them turned to me and asked, “Who do
you think is gonna win the 500, sonny?” With no
hesitation, I looked him in the eye and said, “Sam
Hanks is gonna do it tomorrow”. He shook his head and
smiled. I don’t believe he patted me on the head, by
he might have. He replied, “Sure sonny, sure. You have
fun tomorrow”. Then, he and his buddies had a good

As history shows us, Sam Hanks WAS ready to win. After
first staking and passing Russo in the mighty NOVI for
the lead, Hanks later recovered from a slow pit stop
to catch and pass a charging Jim Rathmann to assume a
lead he would hold until the end. Believe me, Sam
Hanks wasn’t the only one crying as pulled the Belond
Exhaust #9 into Victory Lane on that beautiful Spring
afternoon some 50 years ago.

A month or so after the race, I wrote Sam Hanks one
final letter of congratulations. He promptly wrote
back, this time on a larger color postcard, featured
the Belond #9. He said that I was his “#1 fan”, and
had been the only one who picked him hands down to

Fast forward to the early ’90’s. By now, I was just
another old, bald guy roaming the pits at the Speedway
each May. Suddenly, there he was…my old
hero…talking to a group of guys that I remember
included Duke Nalon.

I waited until he paused in his conversation, and
said, “Sam…can I ask you a quick question?”

“Why sure”, he replied

“Do you happen to remember a kid from Northern Indiana
who wrote to you during the winter of 1956, convinced
that you were going to win the 1957 Race?”

Mr. Hanks looked startled for several seconds…then
said, “YOU?”

“Yup” I grinned, holding out my hand.

We must have B.S.ed there on the pit wall for 20
minutes. He totally remembered “the kid from Indiana
who knew he was going to win”, and said he always
wondered what became of me. It was easily one of the
special moments of my life, and he seemed pretty
happy, too!

Finally, we shook hands and wished each other luck. I
knew I might never see him again and, sadly, I was
right. On June 27, 1994, Sam Hanks passed away near
his beloved Pacific Ocean after a very full and
rewarding life.

Isn’t it amazing what a new race car model can do for

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