Rufus Parnell “Parnelli” Jones came to the Speedway in 1961 and drove for legendary car owner J.C. Agajanian in the #98 Agajanian Willard Battery Spl., affectionately named “Ol’ Calhoun”. He would qualify 5th and had moved into the race lead when the car suffered magneto trouble causing him to fall back where he eventually placed 12th. A.J. Foyt and Eddie Sachs would put on a great duel with Sachs pitting just three laps from the end to change a tire with Foyt going on to the win. Another rookie driver in 1961 was Australian Grand Prix driver Sir Jack Brabham who brought a funny looking car to the Speedway which had the engine in the rear. Little did anyone one know that the funny car, the Cooper-Climax, would usher in the modern rear engine revolution.
In 1962, Parnelli broke the magic 150 MPH barrier with Ol’ Calhoun and had the race well in hand when failing brakes caused by a worn brake line once again forced him to fall back where he wound up 7th. With Jones and Foyt on the sidelines, Rodger Ward went on to win his second ‘500’. That same year, rookie Speedway driver Dan Gurney invited Lotus car founder and builder Colin Chapman to the Speedway to witness his first ‘500’. What Dan had in mind was for Chapman to investigate the possibility of a rear engine car the could be built which might be competitive with the conventional roadster for the following year. Gurney would drive the only rear engined car to make the 1962 field, the #34 Buick powered Thompson Enterprises Spl., where he started a respectable 8th but rear end gear failure after only 92 laps placed him a disappointing 20th.
Over the months leading up to May 1963, Chapman and company designed the Lotus 29 which would be powered by a Ford Fairlane based engine with Gurney and Formula One star Jim Clark slated as drivers. Parnelli was back with Ol’Calhoun for another try at the brass ring along with Foyt, Sachs, Ward, Hurtubise, Branson, Sutton and others. Along with the two Lotus cars, several other rear engined cars were entered including five by Mickey Thompson, of which two qualified, Kjell Ovale, who entered an Aston-Martin powered car which failed to qualify, and James Kimberly who entered two cars both of which failed to qualify. Most roadster fans weren’t too happy to see the rear engine cars as the roadster was king in their eyes. Most didn’t think the rear engine cars wouldn’t fair very well but then the Lotus team raised some eye brows by turning competitive speeds. The roadster fans began to wonder about those funny looking rear engine cars, but the drivers knew it was just a matter of time.
Parnelli would steal the show in Ol’ Calhoun as he won the pole again with an average speed of over 150 MPH. Jim Hurtubise qualified in the middle of the front row to give the famous Novi its best start since Duke Nalon won the pole in 1951. Don Branson would start third to make it an all front engine car front row. The Lotus team had the best showing of the rear engine cars with Clark qualifying 5th and Gurney 12th after a morning practice crash forced him to qualify a back up car. Only four rear engine cars were in the field so the question was, would the new breed of rear engine cars stand up to the test of 500 miles against Ol Calhoun and the other 28 roadsters?
Color – Approx. 60 minutes + cars that missed the race & B&W bonus footage