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Let baseball have its M squad. As the Indianapolis "500" revealed last week, auto racing has its own wonder-working W corps. Despite the incalculable odds, the Messrs. Wilke, Watson and Ward, aided by a junior varsity consisting of the Messrs. Hirashima and Sutton, swept Indy's first two places and collected $169,000 of the record-breaking $426,202 purse.
The assault had its origin back in 1952 when Bob Wilke, a Milwaukee paper manufacturer and racing enthusiast, first decided to give the "500" a whirl. Wilke is not an impulsive, man. He wanted A. J. Watson, Indy's top builder-mechanic, and none other to design his racers and manage his Leader Card team, and he waited seven years for Watson to become available.
It was in 1959 that Wilke made his first start, with the smooth, plucky veteran, Rodger Ward, driving a Watson roadster and A. J. himself bossing the pit work—and that year the three Ws won. In 1960 Ward was second; last year, third. For 1962 Wilke ordered a new Watson racer for Ward. He had already hired Takao (Chickie) Hirashima, a Nisei renowned for his meticulous engine work, to assist A. J. and take charge of a back-up car to be driven by Oregon's Len Sutton.
No fewer than 17 Watson roadsters were in the 33-car starting field last week as a typically huge Indianapolis crowd—numbering perhaps 250,000—looked on. When the engines were silent again, 3� hours later, the W corps added up its amazing score:
1) A flawless performance by the 41-year-old Ward in his 12th "500," which he led from the 126th to the 200th and final lap (except briefly during a pit stop) to establish a new speed record of 140.293 mph and earn his customary 40%, or nearly $50,000, of the $124,515 winner's prize.
2) An equally sure drive by Sutton, who was content to finish 11 seconds behind Ward without ever risking Wilke's ire by attempting to dice with him.
3) Errorless pit work by A. J.'s polished crews, which expended just one minute, all told, on Ward's three stops and only 61 seconds on Sutton's.
4) Additional testimony to Watson's master touch as a builder, as Watson cars placed one-two-three and took three other positions in the first 10.
5) A choice $68,969 share of the purse for Wilke as his owner's dividend.
Plaudits for Rodger