In the motorsports world, no one is more of an authority on the long and storied history of the Indianapolis 500 than the chief historian of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Donald Davidson.
The International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen, whose mission is to preserve the history of all genres and eras of motorsports, invited Davidson to be a guest speaker on Saturday.
Davidson spoke about three deceased Western New Yorkers who he felt were key to the history of the Indy 500: Jim Hurtubise of North Tonawanda, Dick Hammond of Orchard Park and Norm Demler of Niagara Falls.
Hurtubise drove Indianapolis-type cars, which often included USAC Champ Cars. He also won in both stock cars and sprint car competition. Hurtubise died of a heart attack in 1989.
Davidson said that some people perceive Hurtubise as a driver who wasn’t serious enough about his racing. Nothing could be further from the truth, the historian said.
“He’s famous for certain pranks,” Davidson said. “Some people think that he was a comedian and a clown and they don’t give him credit for being a serious racer. He was a serious racer and a contender.
“His main thing was that he still felt that a lightweight front engine car could still do the job. But sadly, after the years went by, and it hadn’t worked out he still kept bringing back a front engine car.
“He was the rookie of the year in 1960 at Indianapolis and he was the fastest qualifier. But he was not on the pole because he qualified on the final day,” Davidson. “He started in the back. But he broke the one- and the four-lap track record. Then in 1961, he was on the outside front row and led much of the first 100 miles and ran into problems, kept running and had to drop out about the halfway mark.
“Then he led the first lap of the 1963 race so he led two different years. But his greater success was in stock cars and then also sprint cars. He won the Atlanta 500 stock car race in 1966 driving a Norm Nelson Plymouth and that was a day when Fred Lorenzen, Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett – all of the top drivers – were there. Hurtubise won the race and yet you never hear anything about it.”
Hammond owned and sponsored various type of open-wheel cars, including many in the Indy 500 before he died in 1996.
“Dick Hammond was a pure sportsman and very low key and so not only did he do Indianapolis cars but sprint cars, championship dirt cars and there were several years where you saw a Miller High Life Special. Well, that wasn’t Miller factory. That was Dick Hammond,” Davidson said.
“Dick was a great supporter of racing but doesn’t really get a lot of credit, but that’s OK because he often preferred to stand in the background.”
Demler was an Indy 500 car owner who hailed from Niagara Falls.
“Norm owned cars from 1958 through about 1966,” Davidson said. “His car was second in 1958 with driver George Amick. Then he was third in 1960 with Paul Goldsmith driving. Then later on Hurtubise drove for him and led the race in 1961 but didn’t finish.”
The Research Center will present a final conversation event for 2012 on Oct. 13 featuring Tom Schultz, the chief historian for Road America in Wisconsin.
• Erick Rudolph won his first career 358 Modified feature race Friday night at Ransomville Speedway. Heading into this Friday night’s 50-lap 358 Modified season finale at Ransomville, 358 Modified defending champion and point leader Chad Brachmann is tied with Pete Bicknell for the 2012 championship.
• Little Valley Speedway will showcase the World of Outlaws Late Model Series at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. The BRP Dart Challenge Series and the E-Mods are also on the card. The World of Outlaws will run a $10,000-to-win 50-lap A-Main headliner. The rain date is Thursday, also at 6:30 p.m.