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1966 Gerhardt Astronaut’s Car

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  • 1966 Gerhardt Astronaut’s Car

    Who can tell us more about the indycar that was owned by Astronauts Cooper, Grissom, & 500 winner Jim Rathman? There is a paragraph on the “old racing cars” but I want to know more?

  • #2
    You can find the photo here. Sometimes the photo does give some information.

    https://www.google.com/search?tbm=is...67.RxLQRbppDy8

    ==

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    • #3
      It was a DNQ. #76 with Leeroy Yarbourgh driving.
      "Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved
      body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting
      "...holy $^!+...what a ride!"
      >

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      • #4
        Jim Rathmann had a personal friendship with Ed Cole who was an important figure at General Motors finally becoming GM president by the middle 1960s. Their friendship went back many years. It was Cole who helped Rathmann get his Chevrolet dealership in Florida. Cole can be considered the father of the Chevy small block V-8 as he was the manager in charge of its development.

        The original Mercury astronauts were some of the most famous people in the United States at the time. The story goes that Rathmann came up with the idea of putting all of them in Chevrolet Corvettes and got Cole behind the idea. The astronauts got Vettes through Jim's dealership in a sweetheart deal and GM got a lot of publicity.

        When Jim decided to buy a race car he brought in Gordon Cooper and Gus Grissom as partners. And he brought in a solid sponsor as well in Pure Oil. Cooper actually did some SCCA racing in his Corvette and Hoosier Grissom already had an interest in racing.

        As mentioned Lee Roy Yarbrough wrecked the car at Indianapolis and they missed the show in 1966. It was actually Art Pollard who took over after Indy as Lee Roy went back to stock cars. It was something of a big break for Pollard as he had several strong runs in the car with a 4th at Milwaukee being the best.

        I believe their sponsor left at the end of the '66 season.

        Grissom died in the Apollo fire in January of 1967 and Rathmann and Cooper entered the car at Indianapolis that year but as far as I know had no sponsor. Gary Congdon, Rick Muther, and Bobby Johns drove the car in Practice. Johns took the green flag twice for qualifying attempts on the final weekend of Time Trials but was waved off both times.

        Rathmann was always a promoter and good businessman. He was one of the most well paid race drivers in America even before he came to Indianapolis for the first time as he had cleaned up racing track roadsters seven nights a week in the Midwest. He used the money to fund some of his early business ventures.

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        • #5
          A couple of other tidbits. First, it's Gerhardt, as the original poster has it, and Yarbrough and Rathmann, as indyrjc has it.

          Gordon Cooper was entered in the 24 Hours of Daytona, but forced to withdraw by NASA because he was slated as a back-up for an upcoming mission. Later, he entered an IMSA race at Texas World Speedway, and was again forced by NASA to withdraw after practice or qualifying. Cooper was quite upset with the decision and stated he planned to do more racing and less flying.

          Originally posted by indyrjc View Post
          Rathmann was always a promoter and good businessman. He was one of the most well paid race drivers in America even before he came to Indianapolis for the first time as he had cleaned up racing track roadsters seven nights a week in the Midwest. He used the money to fund some of his early business ventures.
          Rathmann did ok in his roadster racing around Los Angeles too, but was one of the Los Angeles racers who took up the invite to come to Chicago and run a roadster circuit in the Midwest. Pat Flaherty was another.
          "Versions of a story that are more tidy, compact, and camera-ready should generally be viewed as historically suspect." - Jackson Landers

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          • #6
            Dick is Jim. And Jim is Dick. The Rathmann brothers switched names so one could race, because he was too young.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by JThur1 View Post

              Rathmann did ok in his roadster racing around Los Angeles too, but was one of the Los Angeles racers who took up the invite to come to Chicago and run a roadster circuit in the Midwest. Pat Flaherty was another.
              It's all but forgotten today but track roadsters were incredibly popular for several years right after WWII; apparently at roughly the same time as the midget boom.

              A.J. Watson, a mechanic on the roadster circuit himself, said that Jim Rathmann made more money by far in track roadsters than anyone else. Part of that was because he was about the first west coast driver to come to the Midwest in superior equipment to what was being run there at the time. Word soon got out and as stated other drivers like Flaherty, Ayulo, brother Dick Rathmann, and McGrath started showing up.

              Andy Granatelli was instrumental in bringing the west coast drivers to race in his Hurricane Racing Association and he packed in the crowds at Soldier Field and other Chicago area tracks. But there were plenty of other tracks running roadsters at the time all through the week and drivers like Rathmann took full advantage of the opportunity to race at them.

              I've seen a photo of Jim Rathmann standing by his wrecked roadster teetering on the guardrail at Winchester, Indiana. Somehow the car had balanced itself and not gone over the banking. IIRC, that race had started over 50 roadsters and from the photo looks to have had a full grandstand of fans.

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              • #8
                Thanks men for all this info! Any pictures from 66 or 67?

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                • #9
                  Yeah, you could make good money racing Track Roadsters back when Jim Rathmann did. And Rathmann was smart enough to make good use of that money, he was probably the smartest driver of his generation.

                  Track Roadsters were basically an early form of Super Modifieds, and like all forms of grass roots racing, they boomed in the late forties. The Midget boom had actually started way back in 1935, when the little doodlebugs began appearing indoors all over the East and Midwest, but after the war there was probably another spike. It's pretty difficult to pinpoint a beginning for Track Roadster racing, but the Model T Ford races of the twenties were probably a direct forerunner. They would spring up all over the country, ostensibly as a beginners class for budding race car drivers, but more prosaically, at least as much as an amusement feature at the fairgrounds. Except for short spells in Pennsylvania and California, they never seem to have lasted for longer periods of time, mostly just isolated events. In Central PA, they were eventuallly replaced with independent Sprint Car races, a story to be repeated forty years later. In California, however, race car (i.e. Sprint Car) engineering eventually took to the Track Roadsters, and those cars became little rocket ships! Then, there was the speed run culture in the West, and the California Timing Association which staged regular speed meetings in the deserts and elsewhere. Track Roadsters in California shortly before the war had become racing cars in disguise, not unlike NASCAR "stock cars" today.

                  After the war, demand for entertainment with lots of excitement was huge - short track racing fit the bill handsomely. Midgets took off, just as they had let off in 1942, and Track Roadster as well as (modified) stock cars boomed everywhere! California cars and drivers, already schooled and honed in the decade before the war, were riding the crest of a wave. Some say home TV killed the Midget craze, and there's probably a lot of truth in that, but it was also the cookie cutter appearance of the cars in the forties - Kurtis-Kraft built literally hundreds of like cars, and copyists all over the country joined in. Also, except for the Offy and V8 60 Ford, there was not much choice in engines, either. Track Roadsters, Late Models and Modifieds helped to fill the gap created by Midget overexposure, but the Track Roadsters as such did not survive for very long. Soon, however, a new class of racing emerged, more radical than the Modifieds, and names such as "Full House Cars", "Bugs" or "30 x 90s" were applied to what eventually became Super Modifieds. And in the late sixties, the evolution came full circle, with the introduction of the winged Super Sprint! Cue Jan Opperman, the (World of) Outlaws, Steve Kinser. Yep, Jim Rathmann fits right in, despite a minimal record of running real Sprints.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by JThur1 View Post
                    Gordon Cooper was entered in the 24 Hours of Daytona, but forced to withdraw by NASA because he was slated as a back-up for an upcoming mission. Later, he entered an IMSA race at Texas World Speedway, and was again forced by NASA to withdraw after practice or qualifying. Cooper was quite upset with the decision and stated he planned to do more racing and less flying.
                    Pete Conrad also did some racing, in Formula V and a little sports car racing while he was still on flight status (some info here), so it wasn't like NASA was COMPLETELY averse to the idea of astronauts partaking in that hobby. The difference was, though, that for all his colorful exploits, Pete managed to stay on NASA's good side because he took his training and other NASA obligations very seriously, and could stay up to speed and in the loop. Gordo, not so much. More than once in Gemini and Apollo training cycles he had to be basically nagged and goaded into simulator time. He was given command of the backup crew for Apollo 10 as sort of a last-chance-to-prove-you're-serious deal, but by that point the people in charge of crew assignments were not too hot on assigning him to the next slot in the crew rotation, which would have put him in command of the prime crew for Apollo 13 and therefore a much-coveted walk on the moon....when Alan Shepard came back on flight status and was made commander of the prime crew for Apollo 13 straight away, Gordo could see the writing on the wall and resigned.

                    Of course, Shepard and his crew needed more training time and got bumped to 14 while Jim Lovell and his crew got moved up to 13, and we all know how that mission proceeded now....imagine that mission being commanded by one of the Original 7, either the First American In Space, or the guy who had to be begged into the simulator....
                    "Only a fool fights in a burning house."-Kang

                    "If you listen to fools....The Maaahhhhb Ruuuules....."-Ronnie James Dio

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                    • #11
                      https://www.indystar.com/story/life/...aps/100878104/
                      "Only a fool fights in a burning house."-Kang

                      "If you listen to fools....The Maaahhhhb Ruuuules....."-Ronnie James Dio

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Sea Fury View Post
                        ....when Alan Shepard came back on flight status and was made commander of the prime crew for Apollo 13 straight away, Gordo could see the writing on the wall and resigned.

                        Of course, Shepard and his crew needed more training time and got bumped to 14 while Jim Lovell and his crew got moved up to 13, and we all know how that mission proceeded now....imagine that mission being commanded by one of the Original 7, either the First American In Space, or the guy who had to be begged into the simulator....
                        Good information, Fury! Thanks.

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                        • #13
                          I love this!........any more pics. of the car tho? Or the owners or crew?

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by JThur1 View Post
                            A couple of other tidbits. First, it's Gerhardt, as the original poster has it, and Yarbrough and Rathmann, as indyrjc has it.
                            You're a rare breed, Jim, caring about orthography! Yesterday, I stumbled about this, a press release by a racing series promoter, mind you:

                            FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
                            Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019
                            Contact: S***** P*****
                            s*****@pa410sp*****.com


                            We would hate to announce that there will not be any sanction event's for the We***** Pe********** Sprint Car Series during the 2019 season. There were 20 local team's and 3 team's from Central PA which was planning on running with the series full time! The name's that was on our confirm roster there would of been some great racing! It's a shame that all of the hard work we've put into building this series late in the season along with the off season we were set up to be MUST SEE series in the region for the 410 wing sprint cars. The names we had use to run with the All Stars full time. The feedback we were receiving was that we could of had 25-30 team's supporting us at every race event! Which tracks in Western part of Pennsylvania haven't seen that high of car count in awhile. There was a good contingency program for our team's we put together this off season between the PRI along with local businesses...
                            And so on, and so on. Names withheld to protect the illiterate.

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                            • #15

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