The last Indy riding mechanic

From the Vanderbilt Cup to the next Grand Prix, the cars, drives, teams and politics.

The last Indy riding mechanic

Postby meteorite » Tue Sep 20, 2011 5:31 pm

When the question is asked as to what racing ever contributed to the progress of consumer automobiles, one pat answer is the rear-view mirror. And while Wikipedia notes an unverified report of a horse-drawn carriage with a mirror in New York in 1904, and a 1906 book for women drivers suggesting they use their makeup mirror to look behind occasionally, the first recorded instance of the mounting of a rearview mirror on an automobile was Ray Harroun's 1911 Indy-winning Marmon racer.

Harroun's move ws a gamble. He apparently felt that eliminating the weight of the mechanic would give him an edge in speed that would compensate for the lack of the mechanic. But was he right? On road courses such as the Vanderbilt Cup, the attrition on the tires of the time was fierce, and an extra hand for the repair could save large gobs of critical time. Given the mechanical reliability of pre-WWI (and even pre-WW2) cars, an extra set of eyes to watch the gauges and catch trouble while it was still remediable could be most important. Given the high stance of the cars, a riding mechanic shifting his weight in the manner of a motorcycle sidecar rider could make a meaningful contribution to cornering ability. And of course he could warn the driver of overtaking vehicles - this was, after all, long before the days of spotters with radios on the grandstand roof. Given all this it is perhaps more evident why the riding mechanic permission was not retied until 1937.

But now the last riding mechanic is gone. He ides on Friday, September 16th, 2011 at the well advanced age of 97, erasing the last living link with Indy competition in the thrilling (and deadly) pre-war years. Indycar tells his story


INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Sept. 19, 2011 - What is believed to be the final link to the treacherous but colorful era of the "riding mechanic" at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been severed with the passing of Joe Kennelly, who died Friday, Sept. 16. He was 97.

There are now no pre-World War II on-track participants still living.

Kennelly, born in Seattle but an Indianapolis resident since childhood, rode in the 1936 Indianapolis 500 with former motorcycle racing standout Johnny Seymour, whose sixth and final "500" start came while driving a car which had several local connections. Owned by driver Shorty Cantlon, an Indianapolis resident at the time, the Miller-powered car was sponsored by Sullivan & O'Brien, a downtown automobile dealership which had been in existence for only three years.

Seymour qualified with an average speed of 113.169 mph (10 laps, 25 miles at the time) but lasted only 13 laps before being eliminated by clutch failure.

Kennelly returned in 1937 and rode a few laps of relief at the mid-point for his colleague Freddie Mangold in a car started by Cantlon, but this was the final year for riding mechanics. The role became optional for the next few years, and not surprisingly, there were no takers.

Kennelly, who attended Butler, San Diego and Purdue universities, later hired on at an Allison Engineering plant just south of the Speedway and retired in 1982 after 42 years, having become a superintendent for the Allison Gas Turbine division of General Motors. He returned in 1984 as a consultant and remained as such until 1989.

Viewing will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 23 followed by a funeral Mass at noon, both at The Church of St. Pius X, 7200 Sarto Drive, Indianapolis.
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