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?"
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
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.
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."
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