Thursday, May 30, 2024

1952 – Hard Luck Strikes Vuky; Ruttman Wins Speed Classic

Troy Ruttman and car owner J.C. Agajanian wave to the crowd from victory lane after winning the Indianapolis 500. The 22-year-old Ruttman became the youngest winner in the event’s history.

Indianapolis, Ind. (May 30, 1952) – Bill Vukovich of Fresno, Calif., moved into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway history books alongside Ralph DePalma and Louis Meyer as the hard luck losers in the 500-mile Memorial Day classic.

Troy Ruttman of Lynwood, Calif., and his car owner, J.C. Agajanian of San Pedro, Calif., the winning combination, picked up a check for about $65,000.

Vukovich and his car owner, Howard Keck of Los Angeles, credited with finishing 17th, will receive $18,000 and $15,000 of that will represent Vukovich’s earnings for leading 150 of 200 laps.

Vukovich apparently had the race won when his steering shaft broke on the 192nd lap and his car brushed the northwest outer wall.

That left the 250-pound Ruttman far ahead of his nearest opponent and he won easily.

DePalma led in 1912 with less than two laps to go when his Mercedes engine failed, and Joe Dawson crossed the finish line while DePalma and his riding mechanic pushed their racer.

Meyer was leading the 1939 race, trying for the fourth victory that no one has ever won, when he lost a tire on the 197th lap. Wilbur Shaw passed him by to take the victory.

Vukovich, a former national midget champion, was 26 seconds ahead of Ruttman when the mechanical breakdown occurred, in what was the fastest “500” ever run.

Ruttman’s winning speed of 128.922 miles per hour erased Lee Wallard’s 1951 mark of 126.244 miles per hour, a mark many old-timers had predicted would stand for years. Ruttman covered the 500 miles in 3 hours, 43 minutes, and 41.88 seconds.

Jack McGrath of Glendale, Calif., made certain at the start that there would be no staid running against time. He passed Fred Agabashian of Albany, Calif., and Andy Linden of Los Angeles before the first turn.

McGrath led for six laps before Vukovich whipped past him in his Fuel Injection Special. Ruttman led on the 12th lap and then the lead shifted between him and Vukovich when they made two pit stops apiece for tires and fuel. Vukovich went ahead for the last time on the 148th circuit.

Ruttman was gaining about two seconds on the leader but that wouldn’t have been enough. Then the leader crashed.

While a dejected Vukovich, nicknamed “The Mad Russian,” cried unashamedly and groaned, “What a dirty, lousy, no-good break,” the 22-year-old Ruttman, the youngest driver in the race, was elated.

Jim Rathmann of Chicago, only 23-years-old himself, finished second in the Grancor Wynn’s Special and his speed of 126.733 miles per hour would have been a new record if Ruttman hadn’t been in front.

Veteran Sam Hanks of Glendale, Calif., was third and Duane Carter of Culver city, Calif., was fourth.

Art Cross of Brunswick, N.J., the 1951 AAA national midget driving champion, led three first-time Memorial Day contenders across the finish line. Cross finished fifth while Jimmy Bryan of Phoenix, Ariz., was sixth and Corporal Jimmy Reece of the air Corps and Oklahoma City took seventh.

Results –

1. Troy Ruttman
2. Jim Rathmann
3. Sam Hanks
4. Duane Carter
5. Art Cross
6. Jimmy Bryan
7. Jimmy Reece
8. George Conner
9. Cliff Griffith
10.Johnnie Parsons
11.Jack McGrath
12.Jim Rigsby
13.Joe James
14.Bill Schindler
15.George Fonder
16.Eddie Johnson
17.Bill Vukovich
18.Chuck Stevenson
19.Henry Banks
20.Manuel Ayulo
21.Johnny McDowell
22.Spider Webb
23.Rodger Ward
24.Tony Bettenhausen
25.Duke Nalon
26.Bob Sweikert
27.Fred Agabashian
28.Gene Hartley
29.Bob Scott
30.Chet Miller
31.Alberto Ascari
32.Bobby Ball
33.Andy Linden

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