Whitman County Gazette - Serving Whitman County since 1877

By Jerry Jones
Gazette Editor 

Two Indy drivers 60 years apart: Danica Patrick never met Ed Elisian

My Two Cents

 

August 16, 2018 | View PDF



A pre-season lull in the high school sports action provides a little space to revive topics which went rolling past without time or space when they were on the table. One of those topics was the retirement of Danica Patrick who raced in the Indianapolis 500 for the last time.

The news scribes again cranked up about Patrick’s career at Indianapolis, and later in Nascar. More than one of the writers took her to task for never really getting the job done.

Patrick has been criticized for making millions off self promotion and endorsements as a woman race car driver, but never bringing home the trophy. She logged one win in Indy car class, in the Japan 300 race in 2008. From her debut in 2005 until 2011, she was among the top 10 finishers in six races, according to an article by James Peltz of the Los Angels Times.

Patrick this year made her eighth and final entry. She crashed before the midway point of the race to depart “a little disheartened” into retirement.

Peltz in his pre-race article pointed out that Patrick, possibly as a role model, left a hotly debated legacy.

Well, not so much.

The history of Indianapolis dates back 102 years, and among the ranks of drivers who raced in one era or another include many who didn’t do as well for the years they were on the track.

The race has 33 starting slots and that times 102 races equals 3,366 driver starts over the years. Because of the lineup of multiple winners, the number of people who actually won at Indy is less than 102, so Patrick’s race record, without the big win, is still substantial.

That points to a lot of entrants over the years who left more than “a little disheartened” after giving it their best during the height of their racing careers.

Danica Patrick never had an opportunity to meet Ed Elisian who marked his last Indy race in 1958, 60 years before she said goodbye.

A listing in pages of classified ads in the June edition of Hemmings Motor News included a mention of Elisian. The ad listed the Kurtis Kraft roadster that Elisian drove in the 1955 Indy 500 race.

Elisian, who was born in Oakland in 1926, was a very hot competitor and very skilled, but he never finished that 1955 race. He didn’t crash, and the car didn’t break. He stopped.

Elisian, a World War II Navy veteran, pulled over and stopped in a futile attempt to see if he could save one of his long-time California racing friends who died in a horrible crash.

The friend was Bill Vukovich, then the top name in Indy racing who was attempting to win his third straight 500. Vukovich was killed when he was caught in a multi-car accident. His race car went over the back stretch wall and while flying through the air hit a pedestrian bridge. Like many of the roadster design models in those years it ignited when it finally landed.

Elisian at that time was only the second driver known to intentionally stop a race car during the race. Maybe that was an added auction feature listed when the car went on the auction block this year.

His Indy career lasted for five years. His best, worst and last entry came in 1958 when he actually set a speedway record for a single lap. His time for four qualifying laps, however, was .08 behind the top time of Dick Rathman who started in the pole position. Elisian started in the middle of the front row.

Elisian never made it through the first lap. He was blamed for making a move in the third turn which started a chain-reaction crash that involved 15 the race cars on the first lap.

The accident took the life of Pat O’Connor, another one of the top drivers in the early 1950s. Elisian was temporarily suspended by USAC.

That turned out to be the end of a five-year run at Indy for Elisian. He was involved a month later in another crash in a sprint car race at New Bremen Speedway in Ohio which took the life of another driver, Jim Davis.

In September of 1958, Elisian was suspended again, not for his race driving but for writing bad checks. He was reinstated in late May of 1959, too late for another ride at Indianapolis. He died two months later in a crash in a 200-mile Indy car race at the Wisconsin State Fair’s Milwaukee track when the car he was driving slid on a oil slick, hit the wall, flipped over and ignited.

The oil slick came from the engine of a car driven by a young driver named A.J. Foyt.

From 1954 through 1958, Elisian raced five times at Indianapolis and never finished. He lasted for 193 laps in his first race for his best effort, and his worst finish was in the 1958 race when he crashed in turn three.

Still, he was one of the hundreds of drivers who are part of Indianapolis lore, and Danica Patrick 60 years later joined the club.

One other driver that should be listed at this juncture in Janet Guthrie, an aerospace engineer who was the first woman to race in the 500, in 1977. Guthrie marked her 80th birthday this year.

 
 

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