Granatelli’s Plymouth Wins First Dover Indy-Car Race
Plymouth is not a name often associated with Indy-car racing. On Aug. 24, 1969, however, not only did a Plymouth-powered car win an Indy-car race, it did so at the Dover, Del., famed Monster Mile.
The story began when flamboyant car owner Andy Granatelli decided to run three teams in 1969. Clint Brawner headed one team, winning Indy with Mario Andretti. Andy’s brothers, Vince and Joe, had another. And Grant King led the third.
King helped build a Gerhardt wedge-shaped chassis for his team. This car eventually used the Plymouth, but was fitted with an Offy for its debut at Hanford, Calif.
Tragedy delayed its debut.
During practice at Hanford there was a pit fire. King received serious burns. His helper, Red Stanton, was struck and killed by Mario Andretti’s car while fleeing the inferno.
The car was readied for Indy where Carl Williams drove it to 25th. At Milwaukee a week later, Art Pollard, with the Granatelli brothers’ team, was eliminated in a 10-car, first-lap melee.
Pollard took over King’s car from Greg Weld, started in the rear, drove through the field and won. With that he inherited the ride with King’s team for the remainder of the season.
Realizing that King’s Gerhardt was strong, Andy Granatelli gave the Plymouth, which he had experimented with in his Lotuses, to King to prep for the USAC Indy-car race at the new track in Dover.
The Indy cars drew a huge crowd there, and fans were treated to awe-inspiring speeds on the 24-degree banking.
Pollard qualified 10th and immediately demonstrated the stock-block Plymouth’s potential with a powerful run to the front. He took the lead for good on lap 144 and steadily pulled away from second-place finisher Gordon Johncock, winning by 7.48 seconds.
After the 1969 season, Granatelli, as he was wont to do, lost interest in the Plymouth, moving to more challenging projects. King bought and campaigned the car, but the historic engine remained in the hands of Vince Granatelli until he was finally persuaded to sell it in the late 1980s to Bill Smith, who had restored King’s Gerhardt.
The Monster Mile earned its name during that visit by the Indy cars, devouring the fragile machines if they tiptoed anywhere near the imposing concrete walls.
After an impact, the light cars stuck to the top of the banking, unlike the stock cars that would slide to the bottom after a crash.
That complicated rescue efforts. In fact, Lloyd Ruby suffered serious burns because of the difficulty the rescue team had getting to him on the banking.
Because of safety considerations, Dover wasn’t on the schedule in 1970, and the Indy cars didn’t return until 1998-99 with the IRL.
A Plymouth engine has yet to win another Indy-car race.