|The Indianapolis Motor Speedway
|Jerry Unser - driver
Bob Cortner - driver
Bob Cortner, a resident of Redlands, California, was a
ten-year veteran of midget car racing.
He came to race in the Indy 500 in 1959. He passed his
rookie test at the Indy Speedway on Monday, May 18th.
The next day winds at the speedway were 19-29 mph.
Cortner entered the track to practice in his #51
Offenhauser Cornis Engineering Special. He got the car
up to 128 mph.
On the next lap, after only 3 minutes on the track, the car
careened out of control in turn 3. It flew 276 feet to the
white line on the inside of the track, then slid 189 feet in
the dirt, then shot 138 feet across the track to crash
head-on into the outside wall and finally spun for an
additional 171 feet.
The crash either threw the car out of gear or broke the
differential; the engine was racing wildly until another
driver, Buddy Cagle, switched it off.
It is thought that perhaps he got caught in a cross wind
which made him lose control.
Cornter, unconscious, was wearing a safety belt but no
shoulder harness. His face had struck the steering wheel
with such impact that the wheel was bent into an L-shape.
Year Car No. Car Laps Completed Start Finish
1958 93 McKay Building Failed to Qualify
1959 51 Thompson-Sears Turn 3, died
Jerry Unser, Jr. is part of the famous Unser racing family.
He had a fraternal twin named Louie who worked as his
mechanic. His two younger brothers, Al, Sr. and Bobby, are
both multiple Indy 500 winners. However, Jerry was the first
Unser to race at Indy.
Jerry was born in Colorado Springs in 1932. He began
racing in 1949 when he moved to Albuquerque.
Jerry won the USAC stock car championship in 1957.
In his only start, in 1958, Jerry was caught up in a 15-car
pileup on the first lap thus ending his race before it barely
Jerry returned to Indy the following year.
He went out to practice in the afternoon of May 2, 1959.
After turning several laps at 133 mph. the car went out of
control on the 4th turn, wobbled below the
white safety line for 50 feet, then returned to the track,
went into a 580-foot half-spin, hit the inside wall and
punctured the gas tank, dashed 144 fee across the
track, and struck the wall broadside on the right side.
Burning fuel had sloshed into the cockpit and Jerry's
uniform had not been fireproofed, though the officials
strongly advised it for all drivers. Some drivers at the time
only wore tee-shirts!
The steering wheel and the car itself were bent. Firemen
extinguished the flames; Ralph Little of the Herbrand Tool
Co gave every fireman and crash crew member a tool to
unbend and strip the body from the car to remove Jerry,
A bone was broken in his neck and he was burned severely.
(It was this crash that finally prompted USAC to require that
all drivers wear long-sleeved, flame-proofed uniforms.)
Jerry developed uremia and failed to respond to artificial
kidney treatment. Third-degee burns covered 35 percent
of his body. A few days after the accident he was moved
from Methodist Hospital to Robert Long Hospital at the
Indiana University Medical Center, where he was put on
the kidney machine and, subsequently, placed in an
oxygen tent. He died on May 17th.
(The car he wrecked was repaired and driven in the 500 by
Al Keller, who finished 18th.)
Survivors were his wife Jeanne, two sons - Jerry (3) and
Johnny(1), his mother and his brothers.
Year Car # Car Laps Start Finish
1958 48 Sumar DNQ
1958 52 Duncan DNQ
1958 92 McKay 0 - accident 24 31
1959 57 Helse Died in practice
He had a fractured skull, crushed facial bones, and a
broken jaw. His hlmet was shattered.
At Methodist Hospital he had a tracheotomy and was put
in an iron lung, for the had lost a large amount of blood
before he was removed from his car. He died seven
hours afthe crash. He was 32-years-old.
He was survived by his wife Marilyn (Mandy), his parents
and one brother.
|Sunset Memorial Park, Albuquerque, NM