The fastest race in the world

April 13, 1959
April 13, 1959

Table of Contents
April 13, 1959

Ask Him Anything
Wondrous Wall
Florida Derby
Wonderful World Of Sport
They Call It Baseball
  • HERE, beginning with a few ideas on what one can expect in 1959, Sports Illustrated presents its fifth annual preview of the major league season, with pictures in both color and black and white, scouting reports, schedules, statistics and features

The Umpire
Scouting Reports
  • Even in an inflationary economy there is no safer and better return on your money than the 40¢ profit you get in the fall from the dollar you bet in the spring that the Yankees will win the pennant. New York will win again in 1959

  • The White Sox feel that this is the year the Yankees can be beaten. If such a feat is possible, this is the team that can do it, if only someone would start hitting home runs. The rest of the pennant-winning ingredients are all there

  • Let the small letter i represent the American League. The Yankees, of course, are the dot, so the best the Boston Red Sox can hope for is a place near the top of the stem. Much depends on whether life truly begins at 40 for Ted Williams

  • Colavito, Minoso, Piersall, Power and Martin are about as colorful a crew as you will find in baseball. The team as a whole isn't nearly as good as the perpetual second-place finishers of a few years ago, but it's going to be more fun to watch

  • Every spring the Tigers promise much, but when summer rolls around they deliver little. This year they are keeping quiet, hoping that this team of many stars can finally do what everyone feels it should do—contend for the pennant

  • The Orioles' outstanding pitching and good defense should guarantee a fight for any opponent. Last season they finished sixth, but a good sixth, just three games out of the first division. To finish in fourth place, then, is their goal for 1959

  • The fury of mass trading is just about over, and the Athletics are a lot closer to that glorious day when they will be able to boast 25 major leaguers on the roster. Nevertheless, a .500 season for Kansas City is still a remote possibility

  • The road to the American League cellar is paved with the good intentions of the Washington Senators. Baseball magnates feel it needs a major league club in the national capital, but Cal Griffith provides only the palest imitation of one

  • An original statistical report

  • The Braves are not too blasé to appreciate those fat World Series checks every fall. With a well-rounded band of seasoned players and the richest pitching resources in the league, Milwaukee will not be easily beaten. But it can be

  • The Pirates will be a stimulating team to watch this summer as they throw strong pitching, superior defense, sharp hitting and fast legs onto the field. They'll be nearly everyone's sentimental favorite and might just win it all

  • Talented young players with great arms, blazing speed, sure instincts in the field and powerful bats in their hands are the trademark of the 1959 Giants. Sophisticated San Franciscans are in for excitement if the pitching holds up

  • The great power teams of 1956 and '57 are gone, but so is the bad pitching that wrecked them. Changed also is last year's squad, which was unbalanced in the opposite sense. Now the Reds plan to field a ball club with a smoother blend

  • Bad days have fallen upon the St. Louis Cardinals, and the bright promise of two years ago has been faithless. The effects on the club of uncertain, divided direction and erratic trading policies are now being felt. Busch has a loser here

  • Heavy trading during the past two seasons and a thorough search of the farm system produced last year a hard-hitting lineup that gave the Cubs the best team they've had in a long time. There is, however, still lots of work to be done

  • Walter O'Malley made all the money he expected to last year. Now it's time for the Dodgers to start playing ball. This is too good a team to be fooling around down in the second division. It should be a more pleasant season for Los Angeles

  • The good old days for the Phillies were in 1950, when Manager Eddie Sawyer led the club to its first pennant in 35 years. Those days are gone, and the Phillies are back in eighth place. Once again it's Sawyer's job to take them on and up

Horse Racing
Motor Sports
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over
Pat On The Back

The fastest race in the world

It brought new fame to Jim Rathmann but cost a life at Daytona's new speedway

The big, violent Offenhauser-powered Indianapolis cars came south to the Daytona International Speedway last week and, in a program sadly marred by the death of one of racing's best drivers, the world's fastest race was run on the imposing new track west of town.

This is an article from the April 13, 1959 issue Original Layout

George Amick, 34, the chubby little scrapper who finished second in the Indianapolis "500" last year and who earlier in the week snapped around the banked track to a one-lap American course record of 176.887 mph, was killed Saturday on the last lap of a 100-mile race for the big speedway cars. Amick, a bold driver bidding for a third-place finish, apparently attempted to turn down and gain speed as he shot out of the west bank. He lost control of his new Bowes Seal Fast Special, drifted into the guardrail and somersaulted pell-mell down into the infield. It was a vicious accident; both front wheels and their axle were torn from the car. Amick was dead on arrival at the track hospital. The precise cause of Amick's trouble is unknown. It is likely he either fouled in the turbulent air wake of Driver Bob Christie's roadster, which was some 50 feet ahead, was sideswiped by the troublesome cross wind, or, to put it in race terms, simply "lost it."

The accident came only seconds after Jim Rathmann, a slender 30-year-old Miamian, famous for his grit and savvy, fled under the winner's flag for the first time that day, setting a new world competitive race record of 170.261 mph. Rathmann himself had established the old record, with his blistering 166.722 last summer on the high banks of Monza. Running beside his brother Dick as the field exploded past the yellow starting line, Rathmann tromped on the gas of his blue- and red-spotted Simoniz Special and seized the lead as they bent into the first turn. Rathmann, probably the driver most familiar with the track because of several practice runs he had made there in February, found his groove early and he drove it with urgent pressure. He was challenged only by a white Leader Card Special, driven by Rodger Ward, who was to survive a harrowing spin in the day's second race. For five laps Ward held the lead, but he couldn't escape, and on the 12th lap yielded, finally and for good, to the redoubtable Rathmann. Practically speaking, the race was over; Rathmann racked up 28 more lap purses on his way to a total of $10,350 for the day's work.

The second race, scheduled as a 100-mile event, with no limit set on engine sizes, was cropped to 50 miles, due to unexpected driver fatigue and time spent in cleaning up after the wreck. Here again brave Jim Rathmann jumped into the lead at the outset, and Ward, who started in the second row, was again to make a battle of it. He overtook his rival on the second lap and was hell-bent to get away when, suddenly, on the west turn, he spun out and floated lazily about a thousand feet to the exit of the chute—the spot where Amick began his sickening tumble. Rathmann, riding his tail, streaked past unperturbed, but Bob Christie was quickly forced to brake and nimbly guide himself past Ward's car. At that moment Christie lost his place to Dick Rathmann, and the brothers Rathmann ran one-two to the finish line.

Scarcely noticed in all the excitement was the expert driving of young Jim Packard, a slender and grinning former midget racer. In a dirt track car, Packard finished ninth in the first race and fifth in the second. Also scarcely noticed was a slightly unusual entry. This was a Wolcott Special, featuring a positive displacement-type supercharger being perfected by Mechanic Herb Porter, which inhaled too much grime and came muttering into the pits after six laps of the first race.

On the following day, the tight whine of 27 sports cars traced around the big 2½-mile track and dropped down through the 1.3-mile infield loop in a six-hour international professional race for slices of a $20,000 pie. When most of the big cars buckled under the torture, a pair of quick, silver Porsches purred in for first and second places. The winning co-drivers, Count Antonio Von Dory and Roberto Mieres, averaged 93.345 mph. Runners-up Art Bunker and Bob Said followed slightly more than a lap behind.

The track appears to be a true one, though unlearned and frightfully fast. Two drivers have been killed in its first nine weeks of operation; others have walked away from heart-stopping skids and wrecks. In practice last week three spectacular mishaps occurred. Bob Veith, coming off that west turn, struck the rail, slipped and skidded top-down for some 300 yards. He escaped with a banged shoulder and a chewed-up helmet. The cause: a mechanic had left a starter shaft in the nose of the car, upsetting the steering. Al Keller, roaring at 180 mph into the grandstand dogleg, hit what seems to have been a phantom bump and made four complete turns as he skidded 1,250 feet, the longest slide of the week. No injury. Then Jerry Unser hit the apron below the east turn, went up to smash twice into the guardrail, and got out with a sprained back.

After its second major race program the speedway has begun to show its own deceptively complex personality. "It's hard to realize your enormous speed and it's exhausting," says the 1956 "500" winner, Pat Flaherty. "Its winds are the trickiest, and it must be driven with great caution," says Veteran Tony Bettenhausen. Rodger Ward feels it might be attacked with cars of a longer wheel base. Old Pro Johnny Thomson will drive it as long as a purse is up. Jim Rathmann is convinced it's a great track. But all of them would agree with a comment George Amick made before the race.

"If you lose it here," he said soberly, "your rump is a grape."