Tuesday, August 20, 2019

1966 – Branson Wins Tragedy-Marred Springfield Race

Don Branson

Springfield, Ill. (August 20, 1966) - Don Branson, Champaign, Ill., led all the way Saturday to capture his first big car auto race of the year—the 100-mile dirt track event at the Illinois State Fair.

Branson toured the one-mile oval in 1:02:59.79 in a race run for a time under the yellow caution flag when two cars spun out. 

Branson was chased across the finish line by Mario Andretti, Nazareth, Penn., who lagged only five-car-lengths behind.

A.J. Foyt, Houston, Tex., was third; Joe Leonard, San Jose, Calif., was fourth; and Bobby Unser, Albuquerque, N.M., was fifth.

“I’m about the happiest man in the world,” Branson said in victory lane.

Twenty-three of the 27 cars in the field finished the race. Two spun out and two dropped out with mechanical trouble.

Branson’s winning speed was 95.40 miles per hour.

Branson's moment of glory was dimmed by a horrible accident that occurred during qualifying runs, but not on the racetracks proper. A section tore loose from a photographer's platform located on the extreme top of the grandstand and came crashing into the front row of the crowded stands.

Two photographers were killed in the 100-foot fall and an Illinois State Fair official was struck and killed by the falling section. State police estimated about 30 people were injured, some critically.

Fair workmen were in the process of tightening a large rope with one end fastened to the platform and the other end secured to a truck located across the track in the infield.

The rope was to be used in a pre-race demonstration of removing critically injured people from inaccessible places. When the truck was moved to tighten the rope, the photographer's platform, to which the other end of the rope was fastened, gave way.

The catastrophe delayed the start of the race approximately one hour.

When qualifying action was resumed, Branson ended up with his Offenhauser-powered dirt car on the pole for the start of the race with a time of 33.04 seconds for his trip around the one-mile dirt oval.

Branson led the race from beginning to end with Mario Andretti and Foyt giving chase.

Foyt held second place until Andretti caught him in traffic going into number one turn on the 73rd lap and took over the runner-up spot.

Rookie Dick Atkins appeared to be a shoo-in for fourth place . . . until an empty fuel tank on the 91st lap of the 100-lap race sidelined him with a 12th-place finish.

George Snyder, Bud Tinglestad, Ralph Liguori, Larry Dixon and Carl Williams rounded out the top-10.

Results –

1. Don Branson
2. Marion Andretti
3. A.J. Foyt
4. Joe Leonard
5. Bobby Unser
6. George Snider
7. Bud Tinglestad
8. Ralph Liguori
9. Larry Dickson
10.Carl Williams
11.Jim McElreath
12.Dick Atkins
13.Bob Harkey
14.Roger McCluskey
15.Gary Congdon
16.Bob Tattersall
17.Ronnie Duman
18.Chuck Hulse

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