Indy 500 Racers Made Their Mark In USAC Stock Cars
With Indianapolis 500 drivers competing, the United States Auto Club stock-car division was on an even keel with its Southern counterpart — NASCAR — in the 1950s, ’60s and into the ’70s.
Drivers like A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Roger McCluskey and Tony Bettenhausen were among USAC stock-car competitors, sometimes only on a part-time basis, but their connection to the Indy 500 — the Greatest Spectacle in Racing — brought the series a lot of recognition.
With the American Automobile Ass’n dropping its sanctioning of automobile racing at the end of 1955, USAC picked up where AAA left off, including the officiating of stock-car racing. The first year saw a number of early-season events held in California before the tour moved to the Midwest.
On July 15, 1956, the USAC stock cars visited The Milwaukee Mile at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds for their first appearance on the paved oval. Troy Ruttman, who won Indy in 1952, won the 150-mile chase followed by Indianapolis veterans Chuck Stevenson, Johnny Mantz and Jimmy Bryan. Milwaukee became the hub of the USAC stock-car circuit for years to come, hosting its last USAC stock-car race in 1983.
Mantz was USAC’s first stock-car national champion in 1956 with Jerry Unser crowned champ in 1957 and Chicagoland’s Fred Lorenzen claiming the title in 1958 and 1959.
Norm Nelson won his first of three USAC stock-car titles in 1960, besting Paul Goldsmith in the standings. Goldsmith, a former motorcycle racer-turned NASCAR stock-car driver, claimed back-to-back USAC titles in 1961 and 1962. Don White, a longtime front-runner on the USAC trail, garnered the title in 1963 and was champion again in 1967. White became USAC’s all-time stock-car winner with 53 victories.
Winning at Indy in 1963, Parnelli Jones was USAC’s stock-car champion in 1964, winning an impressive three out of four races held at Milwaukee. Nelson won consecutive USAC crowns in 1965 and 1966 with Foyt taking home the season honors in 1968. Foyt earned three championships (1978 and 1979) and won 41 races. McCluskey took back-to-to-back stock-car titles in 1969 and 1970 before winning the IndyCar championship in 1973.
Butch Hartman became the dominant force in the USAC stock-car ranks in the early ’70s. He won five titles, including four in a row (1971-1974). Ramo Stott interrupted Hartman’s winning streak in 1975. Paul Feldner was the champion in 1977.
Year in and year out, the series was made up of events at Milwaukee, and events on one-mile dirt tracks, various Midwestern short tracks and a few road courses. As speedways became more prevalent, USAC held a number of “twin features” at these venues — one for its Indy cars and one for the stocks.
Entering the 1980s, CART became the Indy-car sanctioning body and the USAC stock-car circuit lost its luster. Joe Ruttman and Dean Roper, with three championships in a row, were early 1980s USAC titlists with David Goldsberry winning the final 1984 championship after only two dirt-track races were held.