Thursday, April 16, 2009

Midwest Racing Archives salutes; Mel Kenyon


Mel Kenyon is known as the "King of the Midgets" Many consider him to be midget car racing's greatest driver ever.

He attended his first auto race in 1946. Kenyon began his racing career in 1954 racing a 1937 Chevy Coupe. He totaled the car when a tire blew out. He raced modified stocks in 1955. In 1958, Mel began his career in the midgets.

Kenyon's first championship was in
NASCAR's Florida midget series in 1962, but he changed to USAC in the middle of the season and finished fifth in the USAC National Midget championship points.

Kenyon won the 1963
Turkey Night Grand Prix. He finished second in the 1963 USAC championship points, and won his first USAC National Midget championship in 1964.Kenyon failed to qualify for his first Indianapolis 500 in 1965.

Kenyon's tenth career race in a
USAC IndyCar was at Langhorne Speedway in Langhorne, Penn., in June 20, 1965. Mel's engine blew up sending oil all over the car, his fire suit, and the track. He lost control of the car, hit the wall, and was knocked unconscious. Jim Hurtubise and Ralph Ligouri slid in the oily track, and ran straight into Mel's fuel tank. Kenyon suffered severe burns. Kenyon went through multiple operations at the San Antonio Burn Center, and he lost nearly all of his fingers on his left hand.

Mel, his brother
Don, and their father Everett designed a special glove with a rubber grommet sewn into the palm. The glove fit on Mel's hand and hooked in to the steering wheel. The trio formed a racing team called 3-K Racing, with Don as the crew chief.

Kenyon returned to racing in 1966. He had twelve first or second place finishes, and finished second in the National Midget points. He qualified for his first
Indianapolis 500 just eleven months after his fiery crash, and finished fifth.

He won 17 of 49 features to claim the National midget title in 1967. Kenyon finished third in the
1968 Indianapolis 500 in a car sponsored by his hometown of Lebanon, Indiana. He did most of the work on the engine despite his hand. He routinely tore down and reassembled the Offenhauser engine by himself. He won the 1968 National Midget crown.

Kenyon took fourth in the
1969 Indianapolis 500. He nearly won his first Champ car event at Michigan International Speedway on July 16, 1972. Kenyon was leading as he approached the white flag, but his Foyt powered Eagle ran out of fuel. Mel coasted around the track and finished third.

He finished fourth in his last of eight
Indianapolis 500s in 1973. He had four top-five finishes in the classic race. He had over 100 victories in midget cars by the time he was inducted in the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1984. He won the 1985 National Midget championship a year after his induction.

Kenyon won the
Indianapolis Speedrome midget car track title in 1993.Kenyon stopped racing on the national tour in 1995 after his wife Marieanne became virtually comatose after suffering a major head injury in a bicycle accident. Kenyon won the Midwest based NAMARS championships in 1995, 1996, and 1997 while in his sixties. Kenyon continued racing after his 70th birthday in 2003.

His son, Brice Kenyon, won the 2004
Indianapolis Speedrome midget track championship at the 1/5-mile track.

Kenyon competed in the full schedule at the
Indianapolis Speedrome in 2005 against his son. Kenyon has seven USAC National Midget championships, eight runner ups in the season point’s standings, and top-five point finishes in 21 of 27 seasons between 1966 and 1988.

1 comment:

  1. Love this picture it looks like Rockford

    ReplyDelete