The Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Fatalities - May 1973

Art Pollard - driver
Swede Savage - driver (died later),
Armando Moreno Teran - STP pit crewman

May 5, 1927 - May 12, 1973
Art in 1973
Art Pollard in 1973

Art Pollard lived in Medford Oregon during the 1960s and early 70s and was killed during the Indianapolis 500 time trials on May 12, 1973.

Kind, generous, friendly, outgoing, persistent, honest, gentlemanly, optismistic, competitive, even-tempered, vibrant - these words describe a few of the qualities of this exceptional person who was also a great race driver. He liked and understood people, and he gave of himself to his fans and friends - some of whom called him "Roberto" because of his dark heavy-bearded complexion. He made speeches at schools and churches and visited the troops in Vietnam, but his pet project was the LaRueCarter Memorial Hospital for retarded children in Indianapolis.

Pollard raced at Indy seven times, finishing eighth in the 1967 race. The following year, while driving one of the celebrated STP-Turbo cars, he qualified 11th and was running fourth with just a few laps to go when a fuel pump drive shaft broke and forced him from the competition.

That same year, 1968, he won the pole position at the Milwaukee 200 and led the race for the first 135 miles, when his brakes failed.

1969 Art Pollard
Art Pollard 1969

Art shook down a pushrod Plymouth V8 in one of last year's wedge-shaped Loutus cars that wears new aero features. The car was uncompetitive and Art switched to a new Lotus Offy. He qualified 12th, but due to mechanical trouble on lap 7, he finished 31st.

Art qualified in 6th spot in 1970. Car trouble ends his day early on lap 28.

He qualified in 31st spot in 1971. Car trouble ends his day early on lap 45.

He didn't get to race in 1972 although he qualfied his STP Lola in 10th spot. During a subsequent practice lap, a wheel came off in the NE corner and he crashed, breaking his leg. Jim Malloy had crashed in this same turn 2 days before and would die 2 days later.

For the 1973 race Art Pollard had a new Eagle, two good mechanics, and a new sponsor. All during practice he was saying that this might be his best year. The car was running smoothly. In the Saturday morning practice session on May 12th, Pollard was running 191.4 mph when he lost control of his Dan Gurney Eagle car and smashed into the outside retaining wall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The car careened off the wall, burst into flames and spun into the infield, where it rolled several times. He was unconscious until his death an hour later at Methodist Hospital of flame inhalation. He had burns, broken bones, and a severe spinal cord injury.

Art was buried in McMinnville Oregon. Survivors were his widow, Patricia; a son Michael; a daughter, Judy Dipple of Speedway; and his mother, Mrs. Artie Pollard of McMinnville.

Pollard dominated racing on the super modified circuit on the West Coast in the late '50s and early '60s. During one period in 1961, he won 22 of 28 main events.

A race in his name has been held in the Rogue Valley and in Roseburg, where he lived for several years prior to moving to Medford. He graduated from Roseburg High School in 1945.

Pollard was born in Dragon, Utah, but spent much of his youth in and around Los Angeles.

Art Pollard's Indy 500 Record

Year Car# Car Laps completed Start Finish
1967 16 Thermo-King 195 13 8
1968 20 STP 188 - fuel shaft 11 13
1969 40 STP 7 - driveline 12 31
1970 10 Car Wash Systems 28 - piston 6 30
1971 64 Gilmore 45 - valve 31 26

Looking back: Tragedy of '73 burns in Indy history

By Dave Kallmann
of the Journal Sentinel staff

Indianapolis -- Twenty-five years later, some of the memories return like yesterday, many have faded like dusty photographs and still others evoke unimaginable pain.

The 1973 Indianapolis 500 remains one of the lowest points in American motor sports history.

"It was just a race that everybody wanted to get over with and go home and forget about it," winner Gordon Johncock said.

It was as if a message were being sent with the relentless rain that delayed, interrupted and shortened the race. The message was stressed in the costliest of terms with crashes that killed drivers Art Pollard and Swede Savage and crewman Armando Teran while injuring a dozen spectators.

Were it not for the lessons taught by tragedy, the race would be better forgotten.

May 1973 arrived at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with even more hype than usual, because the 200 mph barrier was within the sights of drivers and on the minds of trackside observers.

Reality set in quickly when, in a windy practice before pole qualifying, Pollard crashed in the first turn. His car rolled over and was engulfed in a fireball. Pollard was pronounced dead an hour later.

The death drew notice, but the loss of one more driver wasn't all that unexpected.

"We used to average a death a year out here," recalled track announcer Tom Carnegie, who will call his 53rd Indy 500 today.

Johnny Rutherford, who had been one of the first drivers on the scene of Pollard's crash, ended up on the pole at 198.413 mph, including one lap in the 199s. Rutherford admitted that seeing an old friend's accident kept him on the safe side of 200.

With Memorial Day came gloomy skies and intermittent showers that interrupted preparations four times. Finally the green flag waved at 3 p.m.

Antsy drivers made for a haphazard field, with four cars across the narrow track in what should have been the sixth row. Only a couple of hundred yards past the flag stand, the blue McLaren-Offy of rookie David "Salt" Walther drifted to the right, squeezing Jerry Grant against the wall.

Walther clipped Grant's left front tire, and the car jumped violently into the fence, catching its nose and twirling like a propeller a half-dozen times while also overturning.

More than 70 gallons of burning fuel sprayed into the grandstand and puddled on the track as cars scattered down the front stretch.

"I was down by the pit wall, steering left, and . . . remember very vividly driving through a river of flaming methanol," recalled David Hobbs, now a Milwaukee-area auto dealer.

"I pulled up right at the end of pit road and remember telling the radio announcer, 'We're supposed to have 33 of the best drivers in the world and they can't even get down the bloody straightaway.' "

Walther's fate might have been worse; had the tank stayed with the car he surely would have been incinerated. Instead, he survived with multiple burns, particularly to his hands.

Wally Dallenbach, who started behind Walther in the middle of the seventh row, was momentarily blinded by the fuel spray and ended up in the infield grass.

Walther's overturned, flaming car came to rest right in front of Dallenbach, who helped firefighters rescue Walther.

"I had the gloves on, so I grabbed the hottest thing, the turbocharger, which was one of the corners that was grabable," said Dallenbach, who is now the chief steward for Championship Auto Racing Teams.

"We flipped it over and I didn't want to see him because I knew I had to race. So I just walked away."

Reports on the number of spectators injured ranged from 11 to 13. As they were being placed in ambulances, driving rain hit again.

Not a single lap was complete when the race was halted.

Tuesday was wet, as well, and the drivers saw the red flag while on their parade lap.

Meanwhile, the infield continued its metamorphosis into a bog of mud and stinking garbage, and half the 350,000 fans went home.

Again on Wednesday, after another rain delay, the teams tried again. The start was clean this time, with Bobby Unser getting a jump on Rutherford, who missed a gear change.

Early attrition knocked out Mario Andretti, stock-car regular Bobby Allison and A.J. Foyt, although Foyt then took to teammate George Snider's car.

By Lap 42, Savage, the 26-year-old charger from California, had taken the lead, a position he would hold until pitting.

Savage was moving toward the front again on Lap 59 when he lost control of his STP red Eagle-Offy.

The rear of the car slipped out in Turn 4, and when Savage caught the car it was pointed for the inside wall. He hit it head-on with enough force to rip the machine in two and trigger another explosion of fuel and car parts.

Video Clip

Swede Savage 1973
Swede Savage

Swede Savage's Indy 500 Record

Year Car# Car Laps completed Start Finish
1972 42 Michner 5 - rod 9 32
1973 40 STP 57 - wreck 4 22

"They had everybody stopped there in Turn 4," Johncock said. "I think Foyt had already went up that way and had walked back and grabbed a hold of me and said, 'You don't want to go up there.' "

Meanwhile in the pits, Teran, an STP crewman, headed toward the accident scene. [Armando Moreno Teran was a 22 y/o from Culver City Ca. He was a truck driver who was elated when asked to become an STP crewman.]

A safety truck, speeding up pit road in the opposite direction of normal traffic, hit Teran from behind at 60 mph and killed him.

After the delay, Johncock moved into the lead and dominated until the race was interrupted again by rain, which, mercifully, caused it to be stopped at Lap 133 of the scheduled 200 laps.

"Seldom have so many things that potentially could go wrong actually gone wrong," said Dan Gurney, himself a driver until 1970 and later an owner and car builder who was credited with discovering Savage.

Johncock's celebration wasn't much of a party. The traditional post-race banquet was canceled and he and many others on the team went instead to Methodist Hospital to check on the condition of Savage.

A month later, after Savage's kidneys had failed, he died of pneumonia.

Dallenbach also talked to Savage in the hospital, because he was hired to replace him.

"He was kind of cheering me on and was happy I was in a car, because we were friends . . . as good of friends as you can be when you race against each other," Dallenbach said.

"I tried to keep an upbeat conversation: 'The seat's here for you, Swede, I'm just keeping it warm.' Just didn't go that way."

Johncock's victory gave owner Pat Patrick the first of his three triumphs at Indy, and he also had the rookie of the year, Graham McRae, who finished 16th.

But Patrick also lost a crewman, Teran, and a driver, Savage. To this day, he respectfully declines requests to talk about the race.

"It's probably the lowest point in my life," said Patrick, who continues as a car owner in Champ car.

"I think it was because of things like that that I really never got that close to another driver," Johncock said. "I would do my racing, get in an airplane and go home."

If there is anything good that came about from the 1973 Indianapolis, it was a new emphasis on safety.

Before the next race, significant changes were made to the cars to keep speeds in check and reduce the possibility of fire.

On-board fuel capacity was cut from 75 gallons to 40, turbocharger boost pressure limits were instituted and the rear wings were clipped from 64 inches in width to 55.

At Indy, the closest grandstand seats were moved back from the fence, and the wall Savage hit was moved.

(Just last week, the wall was fitted with an innovative series of plastic cylinders and covering plates designed to minimize the force of impact.)

"If you really stop and think about it and you follow racing, it seems like before they take serious or drastic measures, somebody always has to get hurt or killed," Johncock said. "It's a sad thing to say, but it is."

Over the course of time, speeds have continued to increase but safety measures have improved even more.

Now engineers design and redesign cars and seats and helmets to minimize the effect on a driver's body of accidents, some of which have a force of 70 or 100 times that of gravity.

Drivers who survived an earlier era now openly wonder how they did.

"Back then, it was like me sitting on this stool with a seat belt," Foyt said. "Well, you were running 150 mph, you're not running 250. But, hell, that 150 was a hell of a lot harder than that 250, you know what I mean?

"Probably after me and you are dead and gone, that stuff they'll be racing will be that much more safe."

Since 1973, three competitors have been killed at Indy -- Gordon Smiley in '82, Jovy Marcelo in '92 and Scott Brayton in '96 -- along with two spectators and a trespasser driving on the track.

Although the tragic '73 race left the whole sport in a sour mood, nobody recalls having doubts about going back in '74.

Qualifying speeds were down nearly 10 mph, with Foyt winning the pole and Rutherford collecting the first of his three victories.

"I thought, my goodness, we're never going to recover from this," said the speedway's Carnegie.

"It was amazing to come back the next year and it was as if people had not forgotten about it, but cleansed it from their minds and were ready for another 500-mile race."

What Salt Walther had to say about it:

1973 Salt Walther
Salt Walther - 1973

"What happened - what people saw - was my car hit a tire on Jerry Grant's Eagle and flip high into the air. For a moment it was up in the air and then it spun sideways and came down on fire. It was like a blanket of fire on the track. Other cars were losing parts. Some of the pieces flew up in the stands. My car hit another and then spun down the track with the wheels off it.

"That's what people saw. A lot of fans - and drivers too - said that Walther blew it. They said it was my fault. I remember, though,that when they pulled me out of the car right after it happened, they asked me first, what was my name? Second, where was I? And third, what happened? I told 'em I was at the Indy 500. My name was Salt Walther. I was a helluva mess at the time but still conscious. And I told 'em: "Goddammit, somebody hit me from behind."

"I've seen the movies of that start hundreds of times since. Andy Granatelli gave me the film of the race. It came out in the papers that i said that maybe I didn't get bumped. Plain and simple. You slow down the film and there's no other conclusion you can come to.

"In that crash forty percent of my body was burned. Parts of my kneecap were smashed. My left hand was burned so bad that the tips of all the fingers were amputated. My other hand - the fingers are at different angles to each other, which you don't really notice most of the time 'cause the hand's not spread open in ordinary circumstances. Over the left hand I wear a glove, a black glove.

"When I finally did come back to racing, the other drivers didn't coddle me about what I'd been through. One driver, when he saw me, made a claw of his hand and with that warped fist, waved and said, "Hi, how are you?" Billy Vukovich called me after I'd been out of the hospital a while and said "We just want to tell you we just inducted you into the Crispy Critter Club."

"By then, I could laugh about it. For a while though, it was touch and go. I was in the Michigan Burn Center for two and a half months. They were going to cut off the left hand at first, but the doctor felt he could save it. I had a lot of skin grafts on it.

"When somebody's hurt, he goes through a helluva rehabilitation process. I had to learn to walk again. When they got me up to walk, I'd get dizzy and go sit back down. Then they had two big fellas, two great big fellas, come in and lift me up and hold me up in the air and let me try and move my legs. But I didn't have enough muscles to do anything. I couldn't walk at all.

"I remember the first time I saw what I looked like. This was after I'd begun to walk on my own. There was a mirror over the sink in the bathroom. And I looked in it. And I saw myself and , honest to God, didn't believe it was me. I couldn't believe it was that bad. I had no brows and almost like a burr haircut. And I was wasted. I'd lost fifty pounds or so.

"I was astounded. I didn't cry 'til I got back to the bed. I think I cried for about two minutes. Then I thought: Well, shit. This isn't going to do any good either. But for a while I was very depressed.

"When I finally got out, I was still weak. And I set to work to build myself up. For my hands I got a box of sand. I'd splash on the alcohol and take a handful of sand and squeeze and squeese it. Then I progressed to hand grips.

"When I first got out, I remember I put on my nice-looking crepe slacks and my good-looking shirts. And I looked like a skeleton walking in them because they didn't come close to fitting. I mean, I was skinny. Eventually I began to work with the weights.

"See, that's where I was so fortunate. I've been lifting weights since I was sixteen years old. And you know, hell, I was a damn good athlete. One of the top athletes probably in the country. But after the wreck, I looked like I was fifteen years old again. A scarecrow."

Salt miraculously made it back the next year, qualifying in 14th position for the 1974 Indy 500. He made every race from then on until 1979 with a best finish of 9th in 1976.

Large Picture of 1973 500 Start

Art Pollard Tribute

Swede Savage Fan site - articles and pictures

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