Former Indy Car Owner Vollstedt Passes Away

| , RacinToday.com Monday, October 23 2017

Pioneering Indy car team owner Rolla Vollstedt passed away on Sunday.


Team-owner Rolla Vollstedt _ best remembered for bringing Janet Guthrie to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1976 as first female entrant for the Indianapolis 500 _ passed away Sunday, Oct. 22, in Portland, Ore. He was 99.

Passionate, articulate, outspoken and persuasive, Vollstedt was a high-profile member of the board of directors for the United States Auto Club who served as USAC’s car entrant representative from the late 1960s until the 1980s.

Although he had fielded a National Championship car (now IndyCar) in some late-season dirt track events with driver Len Sutton in 1955-56, it was not until the summer of 1963 that Vollstedt first brought a car to Indianapolis. This was one of the first American-built, rear-engine cars to house a normally aspirated Offenhauser engine. With Sutton driving in summer tire tests, the car kept exceeding the official track record, eventually flirting with an unofficial 155-mph run in March 1964. 

Sutton qualified the car for the 1964 Indy 500 and was running fourth when a magneto failed after 140 of 200 laps.

After a dozen years of fielding drivers like Billy Foster, Cale Yarborough, Dick Simon, Tom Bigelow, Arnie Knepper, Larry Dickson, Denny Zimmerman and others, Vollstedt made headlines in 1976 by providing a car for Guthrie. Plagued by mechanical issues, the team was forced to withdraw the car without Guthrie having an opportunity to make a qualifying attempt. But the following year she was back, qualifying on the fourth and final day with the 18th-fastest speed overall and fastest of the entire final weekend.

While Guthrie managed only 27 laps during the race before a timing gear broke, history had been made at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” during a time when women were only beginning to be accepted participants along pit road and in Gasoline Alley.

Vollstedt often was the first to file an entry for an upcoming 500, and invariably, a car of his was the first to take a “shakedown lap” once the track had been opened for practice at the beginning of the Month of May. He learned these most effective publicity-grabbing “stunts” from the very colorful Bryant Heating & Cooling dealer, Phil Hedback, with whom he was often associated. In turn, Vollstedt passed those ideas onto Simon, another longtime partner.

While Vollstedt’s under-financed cars were never among the fastest qualifiers or in the winner’s circle at Indianapolis or in other championship events, they occasionally posted a solid run. Perhaps the one that delights trivia buffs most is that a Vollstedt entry did once actually qualify second. The venue was Riverside, Calif., and the occasion was the 300-mile road race which closed the 1967 USAC season. The car ran second for the first 23 laps behind Dan Gurney, who went on to win, and it passed Gurney for the lead for a single lap before breaking a valve.

Vollstedt’s driver on that day was 1965 Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time Formula One World Driving Champion Jim Clark of Scotland.

Vollstedt was one of the great characters of the Speedway and a mentor to countless mechanics and engineers over the years, including Grant King, Hal Sperb and numerous others. He was a pure motorsports enthusiast who, even when he wasn’t an official entrant, seemed to be aligned with a team in some sort of advisory capacity _ official or unofficial.

| , RacinToday.com Monday, October 23 2017
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