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Thread: James McElreath

  1. #1
    I live for May in Indy! Rick Jones's Avatar
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    James McElreath

    This photo collection that I related to in the Wally Meskowski thread has several photo albums filled with photos of James McElreath, son of Jim. There are shots of him in the number 26 Eagle at Indy and in various sprint cars. One of the sprint cars is a blue and white number eight, at speed, in the pits, and broken and hanging from a tree which I assume is the aftermath of the wreck that killed him at Winchester.
    Jim and James were to be Indy's first father and son to race together at Indy in 1978 or '79, (I'm not certain) but James some how injured his hand and was not able to compete at Indy. He died later that year. Is the account I have shared accurate? Does anyone have any more details about the short life and career of James McElreath?
    Rick
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    James and the family owned Eagle was the last car to qualify in 1977. James was too slow but Jimmy allowed the qualification to run to completion. Nevertheless they were the first father-son drivers to be qualify even if James didn't bump his way into the starting field.

    The story behind this. Salt Walther in the Dayton-Walther Spl. was next in line to quality and probably had enough speed to make the field. Had James pulled off the track after the first lap, which was much too slow to make the race, Salt would have beaten the 6:00 gun. By having James run to completion knocked any chance of Salt to make the race. The story is, in 1971 Jim MacElreath raced the Pocono 500 in the Dayton-Walther Car but the Walthers aparently never paid him. The complete qualification run of James was payback.
    Last edited by grogg; 10-13-2004 at 07:05 PM.

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    The description of the blue and white #8 sprint car sounds like the Paul Leffler sprint car that among others Gary Bettenhausen used to race. Watched Gary dump it spectacularly on Eldora's backstrech in 1976 I think. Wasn't aware that James' accident occurred in this car, I always thought it was in the family #23?

  4. #4
    I live for May in Indy! Rick Jones's Avatar
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    Originally posted by TommyTipover
    The description of the blue and white #8 sprint car sounds like the Paul Leffler sprint car that among others Gary Bettenhausen used to race. Watched Gary dump it spectacularly on Eldora's backstrech in 1976 I think. Wasn't aware that James' accident occurred in this car, I always thought it was in the family #23?
    The photo of the wreck definitely shows James in the 8 car. It is a very disturbing image.
    Rick

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    The family owned Indy car was definitely low budget. At TWS Jimmy qualified the car iirc, twenty or even thirty miles an hour slower than the majority of the field. He finished 4th in the race. My dad was aquainted with Jimmy so we went down to the pits after the race to congratulate him. I asked why he was so slow in qualifying when the car was obviously pretty fast. He said that becuase of the short field he was assured a starting spot and qualified with no boost at all. Back then boost was high and they ran some 213 laps.
    A lot of people's high hopes for James were ended with that sprint car accident. A friend of mine that was a pretty good driver himself, quit racing because of that. He and James were pretty close.
    Some people will do nearly anything in order to be able to not do anything.

  6. #6
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    Originally posted by TommyTipover
    The description of the blue and white #8 sprint car sounds like the Paul Leffler sprint car that among others Gary Bettenhausen used to race. Watched Gary dump it spectacularly on Eldora's backstrech in 1976 I think. Wasn't aware that James' accident occurred in this car, I always thought it was in the family #23?


    The #8 was owned by Jim McElreath and was a "one off" which they may have built themselves. It had a couple of odd features including a full "X" brace under the seat and a large gate hinge for a gas pedal.

    The day of that crash was probably the coldest day I have ever been racing with the temps dipping to 30 and spitting snow........ Larry Moore, driving Jack Steck's car, made up his mind that he was going to lead into the first turn, no matter what. He did, but lost it in front of the entire field. Bigelow in the Armstrong #43 wound up against the first turn wall. James ramped up over Big's car and out of the "ballpark".

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    I may be totally off base here but I'm thinking that the McElreaths built 2 or 3 of these sprint cars of this design. Didn't Steve Perry and Bobby Marshall drive McElreath cars in the Texas area sprint tracks in the 70's? That was indeed a sad day when the up and coming James McElreath died at Winchester. He was slated to be the next "super star" in the Indy cars. The McElreath family has certainly paid their dues. They deserved better!

  8. #8
    I live for May in Indy! Rick Jones's Avatar
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    Jimmy McElreath won the first Ontario 500 in a Foyt car. This was a shock for a neophite race fan as I was at this point in my life. How could McElreath beat Foyt, Andretti, the Unsers, and Leonard? At Indy MclElreath was a constant as I grew up at the Speedway. One of the Texans, but more like Lloyd Ruby than Foyt. I was in college when James came on the scene and I had little time and money to spend on racing. I do remember the hoopla about having a father and son both qualify for Indy. I appreciate everyones insights. It fills in some gaps that are a bit foggy about the late 70's......for various reasons.
    Rick

  9. #9
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    Originally posted by racerjim
    I may be totally off base here but I'm thinking that the McElreaths built 2 or 3 of these sprint cars of this design. Didn't Steve Perry and Bobby Marshall drive McElreath cars in the Texas area sprint tracks in the 70's?
    racerjim, you are probably correct.. "one off" was not an accurate term. Let me say instead that it was the only one that raced in my area.(USAC in IN &OH). It was a competitive car.

  10. #10
    Originally posted by mac miller
    The day of that crash was probably the coldest day I have ever been racing with the temps dipping to 30 and spitting snow........ Larry Moore, driving Jack Steck's car, made up his mind that he was going to lead into the first turn, no matter what. He did, but lost it in front of the entire field. Bigelow in the Armstrong #43 wound up against the first turn wall. James ramped up over Big's car and out of the "ballpark".
    That's how I remember it too, mac. And I also remember that it seemed like it took a long time for the crash to happen. Larry Moore actually spun to the inside coming off of the fourth turn at the start of the main straightaway. Instead of trying to stop he stayed on the gas and came back up on the race track causing cars to try to avoid him. I think that's what made Bigelow go high into the wall just before the old walk bridge. I used to know a really great photographer named Tom Dick who was famous for always getting some of the best action shots. He also took posed shots which he would then sell to fans and usually give for free to the drivers. He told me that Jim McElreath was always running him off when he would try to take a picture of either Jim or James saying that the photographers should pay the drivers for the right to use their photos. Tom Dick was taking pictures of the start that day from just outside the first turn wall (somewhere I have a nice color 8X10 of the pace lap of the entire field going into turn one that day lined up and ready for the start on the next lap). When the green came out Tom was standing outside the track with his eye in the view finder taking pictures. He told me that he naturally zoomed in on the Moore car and didn't see anything else happen. The next thing Tom knew he was going head over heels down the banking. He came to rest, saw the McElreath car up against the tree near the parking lot (the tree is still there) and tried to figure out what happened. Tom had black tire marks all over his shoulder and the side of his head. Somehow a tire from McElreath's car had just grazed Tom as it left the racetrack. Tom counted himself as a very lucky man that day since he was not hurt at all.
    Something else that comes to mind about that crash. Even though the car left the track you have all seen more violent flips at the race track where no one was hurt. An equipment failure was really the main cause of the injuries to James. The single bolt that held the shoulder harness to the frame failed (the lap belt held) causing James to come far enough forward to actually hit the injectors. This was long before the Earnhardt crash made people openly wonder about seat belt mountings but there was an awful lot of conjecture at the time about how the bolt actually broke. Had the bolt held it was probably a very survivable crash.

  11. #11
    I live for May in Indy! Rick Jones's Avatar
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    Originally posted by indyrjc
    That's how I remember it too, mac. And I also remember that it seemed like it took a long time for the crash to happen. Larry Moore actually spun to the inside coming off of the fourth turn at the start of the main straightaway. Instead of trying to stop he stayed on the gas and came back up on the race track causing cars to try to avoid him. I think that's what made Bigelow go high into the wall just before the old walk bridge. I used to know a really great photographer named Tom Dick who was famous for always getting some of the best action shots. He also took posed shots which he would then sell to fans and usually give for free to the drivers. He told me that Jim McElreath was always running him off when he would try to take a picture of either Jim or James saying that the photographers should pay the drivers for the right to use their photos. Tom Dick was taking pictures of the start that day from just outside the first turn wall (somewhere I have a nice color 8X10 of the pace lap of the entire field going into turn one that day lined up and ready for the start on the next lap). When the green came out Tom was standing outside the track with his eye in the view finder taking pictures. He told me that he naturally zoomed in on the Moore car and didn't see anything else happen. The next thing Tom knew he was going head over heels down the banking. He came to rest, saw the McElreath car up against the tree near the parking lot (the tree is still there) and tried to figure out what happened. Tom had black tire marks all over his shoulder and the side of his head. Somehow a tire from McElreath's car had just grazed Tom as it left the racetrack. Tom counted himself as a very lucky man that day since he was not hurt at all.
    Something else that comes to mind about that crash. Even though the car left the track you have all seen more violent flips at the race track where no one was hurt. An equipment failure was really the main cause of the injuries to James. The single bolt that held the shoulder harness to the frame failed (the lap belt held) causing James to come far enough forward to actually hit the injectors. This was long before the Earnhardt crash made people openly wonder about seat belt mountings but there was an awful lot of conjecture at the time about how the bolt actually broke. Had the bolt held it was probably a very survivable crash.
    indyrjc,
    Your description matches the photos that are in the album I have been looking through. One photo shows a limp James hanging from the cockpit by only the lap belt. The car is on it's nose with its tail skyward. It is leaning up against a tree and parked cars are within ten to fiftheen feet. The car is missing a rear wheel and the other rear wheel has it's tire ripped off and hanging from the rim. The tail body work is missing. When I saw this photo I went back to look at the photos of James in the car in the pits and on the track to see if he even had shoulder harnesses, because they are not visible in this image. There are three other photos of the aftermath of this crash, two show a crowd around the car, Jimmy McElreath appears to be in the crowd, as they are removing James and lowering him. The other is of the car with an empty cockpit after his body was removed. These are very sobering images. It makes you cringe to think what was going though Jimmy's mind as he stood there watching them remove his son from that broken beast. Very sad!
    Rick

  12. #12
    mac may remember more about this but I believe that former sprint car owner Dr. Ward Dunseth was in the crowd that day and was the first physician to the scene helping to get the driver out. I think that Dunseth also performed a tracheotomy at the scene to help with respiration. McElreath was taken to the hospital in Muncie. And another thing that comes to mind is that James McElreath had driven at Manzanita in the Western States Sprint Car Championships the night before. He had flown all night on a "red eye" flight to get to Winchester after the races in Arizona. And some of you here at Trackforum may remember that James suffered a really hard crash at the Indiana State Fairgrounds that summer a couple of months before Winchester. After the shoulder harness bolt broke there were some who thought that the bolt might have actually been damaged or stretched during the first crash although no one caught it at the time.
    Last edited by indyrjc; 10-16-2004 at 03:07 PM.

  13. #13
    Here is a photo of the pace lap at Winchester taken by Tom Dick that day. This gives you a perspective on where he was shooting from when he was brushed by the tire as McElreath's car cleared the wall. The crash occured on the next lap as the race started. Larry Moore was the fast qualifier that day and started 6th due to the first 6 being inverted. Bruce Walkup was on the pole and James McElreath can be seen in the picture in #8 on the inside of row 5. Here is the lineup from 10-16-77 at Winchester:

    9 Bruce Walkup 41 Chuck Gurney
    11 Billy Engelhart 1 Pancho Carter
    43 Tom Bigelow 74 Larry Moore
    18 Bob Frey 98 Larry Rice
    8 James McElreath 78 Mack McClellan
    56 Sheldon Kinser 29 Billy Cassella
    36 Marvin Carman 35 Steve Chassey
    55 George Snider 80 Malcolm Lovelace
    59 Joe Saldana 28 Roger Rager
    90 Jim Hettinger 79 Rich Leavel

    Pancho Carter ended up winning both 50 lap features that day.

    Last edited by indyrjc; 10-23-2004 at 05:07 PM.

  14. #14
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    As I recall, James caught his hand between the hitch and the ball while loading his sprint car.
    "The older I get, the faster I used to be!"

  15. #15
    James McElreath seemed to me to be on the verge of stardom when he was taken, much much too early from us.

    James ended up being the choice for the George Middleton Pizza Hut Dirt Car team in 1976 to take the place of another shoe that was taken much too ealy from us (and deserved a really good Indy ride), Jimmy Caruthers.

    I'll have to go look at some photos, but I believe James may have given the last Pizza Hut ride for a pretty special dirt car. See, by 1975 Middleton had acquired Foyt's Four Cam Ford Meskowski, and it propelled Caruthers to the title. If James didn't drive it in 1976, he drove a new King champ car, one of the last built by Grant. James lost that ride to a pretty fair dirt car sho in 1977, Al Unser. Consequently James moved into his dad's dirt car for much of 1977.

    As far as the Foyt Meskowski, seems to me it ended up in the hands of the Cicconi family before being restored by Vic Yerardi.
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    Thanks for posting the picture. It is rather sobering, but does answer a few questions.

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    I think at least 10 guys in that lineup ran Indy at one time or another, and a couple others tried.

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