LONDON: The Racing Journal
VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. — This year’s Indy 500 will be the first in more than 60 years without A.J. Watson.
Watson, long time chief mechanic and successful car builder during the roadster era, died this month, the week of his 90th birthday.
He was part of the post-war racing boom in Southern California, living in Glendale. Like most others, his goal was Indianapolis, which he met in 1950. He built his own chassis on the cheap as he was low on funds. The rest of the car came from borrowed, used and other sources.
A bunch of friends chipped in so he could pay the entry fee. Rookie Dick Rathmann was his driver of the “City of Glendale” special.
The car had so many sources for parts, it was dubbed the “Pots and Pans Special.” Needless the say, the entry was given little chance to make the race.
Rathmann qualified handily at almost 131 mph to start 18th. He was knocking off some rivals but on the 25th lap the crankshaft broke.
Watson used to laugh when saying, “It was the only thing we didn’t borrow.”
Watson took the car to Milwaukee the next week and Rathmann finished sixth. With purses so low, Watson was broke. He sold the car to Bob Estes and stayed on as its mechanic.
In 1954, Watson and Jud Phillips built a new roadster for Estes. Don Freeland drove it to seventh. He was in the hunt for the lead in 1955 when the transmission failed and drove it to third in 1956.
In 1955, Watson started working for Oklahoman John Zink. He wrenched the new Kurtis Roadster for Bob Sweikert who promptly won the Indy 500. He was national champion, the last for AAA. Sweikert and the rather difficult Zink were at loggerheads most of the year despite their success. Sweikert quit Zink at the end of the season.