The Racing Driver who works his way up to the big cars on the AAA National Championship circuit becomes, in the words of veteran Wilbur Shaw, "an integral part of a tornado." Of late, this tornado has swirled into the big time more and more younger drivers who have crowded its fringes and are now pacing the competition to record after record. None has driven faster, farther or more boldly this year than a tall, relaxed, cigar-smoking 28-year-old from Phoenix, Ariz. named Jim Bryan, the insurmountable champion of speed as the 1954 season draws to its close.
Last Sunday at this one-mile dirt track, Bryan moved even further ahead in the AAA point standings (see next page) when he paced the eleventh big race of the year to a typical Bryan victory. With his 350 hp, white "Dean Van Lines Special" running like a Swiss watch, he took the lead in the eighth lap from Jack McGrath and Manuel Ayulo, second and fourth in national point standings. By the time he passed the checkered flag he had lapped everyone but McGrath, whom he led by three-quarters of a mile. He averaged 87 mph for the 100 miles over the dirt surface, and he made it look easy.
But, as usual, it wasn't as easy as it looked. For the last 20 laps, Bryan was wrestling a steering gear so severely strained that it was almost frozen. Blood clotted in his gloves from hands rubbed raw. It was almost like that other race five months ago at Indianapolis, where Jim Bryan showed the kind of stuff that racing drivers must be made of:
October 25, 1954
He had qualified for a front starting position, out of the suction that drags the field behind the leaders "like newspapers whirling along behind a train." At 200 miles, he was still in front and held the track record for the distance.
He drove with the kind of determination that forces car and driver to the utmost limits of their endurance—a pace that often gives his mechanic and home-town friend Clint Brawner the worried willies. And with 150 miles still to go his car suddenly bucked and lurched nearly out of control. His front spring had snapped; the shock absorbers went a little later and then there was nothing between Bryan and the brick-and-asphalt pavement of the track but screaming tires and bouncing, jarring steel.
He held the car for mile after mile. The loose front end slammed up and down with pile-driver force. The front wheel bearings were ground to powder. The steering froze. Once the car ran clear off the track but Bryan wrestled it back on. Blood ran down his arms from his shredded hands. The throttle spring broke, and he worked it with his foot. At the end of the race he was barely conscious in the cockpit, his body so battered that most of it was numb. But his average speed had slowed only a few miles per hour to 130 mph since the spring snapped, and he came in second.
Of that nightmarish 150 miles, Bryan will only say that he had all he could do to keep the car under control. He had no time to think of himself; the best drivers never do. "The bricks," he recalls, "were smooth at 150 miles per hour."