- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Everybody's made a big deal about Foyt winning the 500 four times," says Hurtubise. "Hell, I keep telling A.J. that with the equipment he's had, he should have won it six times by now. Drives him crazy." Erk, erk, erk.
But down south in NASCAR country, says Hurtubise, speaking to Carrillo earnestly now, the little guy still has a ghost of a chance. "With your connections you can get the parts," Herk says. "I can set up the car, and for $50,000 or so we can win Daytona, have fun doing it and then make some money on the rest of the circuit as well."
A day or so later over dinner, a friend asks Hurtubise a question: "If the Devil came to you and said, 'Jim, tell you what. Suppose you play the game. Next May you put the decals on your car and wear a Goodyear hat straight on your head and all the rest—and on the night of May 28, you'll go to bed the winner of the Indianapolis 500.' Would you do it?"
Hurtubise plays with his food for a while, twisting this proposition in his mind. "No," he finally says. "I'd tell him to get lost. Because I'm doing what I want to do and I'm having fun. I've built winning cars, I've qualified fastest, I've led the race, I've had fame—I've done all that. I tried like hell to win that race, but I don't care now whether I do or not."
Jim Hurtubise was born and raised in North Tonawanda, N.Y., an industrial city just outside Buffalo whose drumbeat name is so hard to forget that many of Herk's casual friends across the country think he still lives there. His father Ernie ran a service station and garage, a modest enterprise that came to include Jim, his younger brother Pete, and his mother—in part so the elder Hurtubise could satisfy his passion for hunting and fishing by making frequent trips to the family cabin on the Canadian side of Lake Huron. In time Pete became a mechanic; in 1951 Jim joined the Coast Guard and became a race driver.
Jim is not precisely sure how it happened, but he liked to tinker with things and had a lot of free time when he wasn't pulling duty aboard the Nemesis, a rescue ship based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Before long he built himself a modified stock car—a jalopy—and began racing it. After several years of banging around East Coast tracks, in 1956 Hurtubise left for California. He quickly became a mainstay of the United States Auto Club sprint-car circuit, and of the California Racing Association sprint-car circuit as well. In both arenas he and another brash upstart by the name of Parnelli Jones conducted a series of ding-dong battles that brought to both drivers great acclaim and not a little notoriety.
By 1959 Hurtubise was also racing the devious sprint cars in the Midwest, as well as midgets and anything else he could get his hands on, zeroing in on the big show, the 500. His break came late that year when he was offered a ride in the Travelon Trailer car after the regular driver, Johnny Thompson, was seriously injured in a crash. In only his second start in an Indy car, Hurtubise won a race at Sacramento, which should have meant automatic entry into the Brickyard.
It didn't. Hurtubise's belligerent style of driving may have been a hit in the hinterlands, but all it did in Indianapolis was put the conservative rulers of USAC and the Speedway on their guard. They were reluctant even to allow Hurtubise through their hallowed gates—until fellow driver Jud Larson pointed out to USAC Competition Director Henry Banks that "Johnny Thompson ain't in the hospital because he's got the mumps."
Hurtubise passed his rookie test on May 13, 1960—a Friday—made his fabulous qualifying run nine days later and in his first 500 lasted 185 laps before retiring with a broken connecting rod. In 1961 Hurtubise qualified on the outside of the first row and led the race for 35 laps before falling out with a burned piston. Just before his qualifying run in 1962, Herk brashly announced, "I'm either gonna put it on the front row or hang it on the wall." He hung it on the wall, but later made the field in the next to last row and completed the 500 miles for the first, and only, time.
In 1963 Hurtubise drove one of the awesome, beloved and jinxed Novis. In one of these 700-hp supercharged monsters, which had often led the race but rarely run for the full 200 laps because of their mechanical intricacy, Herk qualified second fastest and led the first lap at a record pace, but the car lasted barely half the race. The following year he brought a roadster of his own creation to the Speedway, was ahead of Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald when their cars turned Indy's fourth turn into a gigantic funeral pyre on the first lap, and ran among the leaders until an oil leak retired him after 141 laps. One week later he towed his car to Milwaukee for the 100-miler that traditionally follows Indy.