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Why Didn’t Juan Manuel Fangio Drive At Indy?

fangio-nurgburgring-57-associated-press-collection-watkins-glennArguably one of the world’s greatest race car drivers, Juan Manuel Fangio, winner of five world championships never raced at Indianapolis.

He wanted to, it just didn’t quite happen. He did drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but he never raced. Fangio once said, “My desire to participate at Indianapolis is an aspiration which I have had for a long time.”

In 1958, also the year of his retirement, Fangio accepted an offer by American Floyd Clymer, himself a successful motorcycle racer, cycle dealership owner and automotive publisher. Apparently the offer was $2,500 if Fangio finished better than fifth in an American built car or $5,000 for the same result in a foreign car. He accepted, promising to donate the prize to charity.

Early on foreign cars had winning results at the Indianapolis 500, though clearly the odds in 1958 were on an American built or at least a car with American power.

  • Peugeot wins 1913 and ’16
  • Delage wins 1914
  • Mercedes wins 1915
  • Maserati wins 1939 and ’40

Having been a team driver for both Mercedes and Maserati, one would have thought the $5,000 was well within reach. In 1957 Fangio won four World Championship races in a Maserati, but the cars don’t perform the same on an oval track.

On May 4th, Fangio completed his rookie test in a Kurtis Kraft Offenhauser Dayton Steel Foundry Special, he topped 142 mph on a May 8th practice. On May 15th he withdrew, according to a spokesman, “the car is not in the optimum condition to permit Mr. Fangio to uphold his reputation as a world champion race driver.”

jm_fangio_-_cuba_1957__c__robert_pauley_grandeCan you blame him? He’d already achieved more than any driver in motorsports history. There is no shame in going out when one is on top.

If you’d like to read more about Fangio at Indy, a reprint of an article from the 1958 Indianapolis Star offers an interesting account. IMS has a good photo gallery also.

Photos via Suixtil Archives: 1957 Nurburging  ©Associated Press Archive – Watkins Glenn, 2 – Cuba 1957 ©Robert Pauley



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