Jerry Grant—first to 200 on an oval—passes
story and photos courtesy of IMS PR and IMS Photo
Unable to wear his flamable toupee while driving, Grant would roll his balaclava up as a hat
Jerry Grant, a 10-time competitor in the Indianapolis 500 and the first person to turn an official lap faster than 200 mph in an Indy car, died Sunday, Aug. 12. He was 77.
Grant, a prominent American road racer, turned his historic 201.414-mph lap in 1972 at Ontario, Calif. But he is probably best remembered for nearly winning the 1972 Indianapolis 500.
Driving the purple Mystery Eagle as teammate to Bobby Unser on Dan Gurney's All-American Racers team, Grant led at the 188-lap mark when he had to pit to replace a tire which was losing air. Instead of pitting in his stall, he went to the adjoining one of Unser, who had retired much earlier in the day. Whether or not Grant actually took on any fuel from Unser's refueling tank is up for discussion, but the hoses were momentarily hooked up, and it became known that the tank in his own pit was apparently empty, the maximum allotment of 275 gallons having been exhausted.
While Grant did finish the 500 miles, taking the checkered flag in second place behind Mark Donohue, officials subsequently disallowed Grant's final 12 laps, thus dropping him from second to 12th.
Such an occurrence was hardly a new experience for Grant. With only five minutes remaining in the 1966 Sebring 12 Hours, the Ford GT Mk. II he shared with Gurney was in front when a mechanical issue forced Gurney to stop on the course. Gurney then proceeded to push the stricken car the final 300 yards to the finish line, whereupon he was disqualified.
Gurney and Grant would have placed second, based on distance covered, if the car remained untouched at the side of the road. Less than three months later, Gurney and Grant were seemingly on their way to winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans when a mechanical issue eliminated them while leading at the 21-hour mark.
Grant lapping an Eagle Offy at The Speedway in 1975
The diversified Grant, who climbed from 43rd to fifth in the 1967 Daytona 500, finished fifth in the 1966 Dixie 400 at Atlanta, co-drove a Ford Cobra in the 1964 Targa Florio (shared second in the GT class with Gurney) and had three top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500, topped by a seventh place in 1970. He competed in 49 USAC National Championship races between 1965-77, placing third in the 1974 Ontario 500 and fourth in a 150-mile event in 1969 on the road course at Castle Rock, Colo.
An entertaining speaker and story teller, Grant became part of Champion Spark Plug Company's Highway Safety program, lecturing on highway safety to students and service personnel, eventually succeeding Fred Agabashian as Champion's senior lecturer.