Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The racing life and timesof Jerry Grant
part one- his early career

Jerry Grant, born in Seattle Washington in 1935, an All-City football star in high school who played football in college, began racing sports cars in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) regional events in the Northwest in the late nineteen fifties in a Chrysler-powered Kurtis Kraft sports car. In 1960 and 1961, Grant hired on to race in SCCA events on the West Coast in Yakima imported car dealer Richard Hahn’s $14,000 3-liter (183 cubic inch) V-12 Ferrari 250 Testarossa.

During those two seasons, Grant won 27 races, including the first two Rose Cup Grand Prix races and at one point at least nine races in a row. Grant was crowned the 1961 SCCA Northwest Modified Sports Car championship and Northwest Driver of the Year.  

Grant made his first appearance on the national stage as a co-driver with Pat Pigott in a GT class Chevrolet Corvette in the 12 hours of Sebring. 1962 also marked a key point in Grant’s career as he met Seattle oil additive magnate Ole Bardahl and began to carry Bardahl sponsorship on his race cars.  

Later in the 1962 season, Grant continued to race Hahn’s Ferrari, but also competed in West Coast races of the United States Auto Club (USAC) Road Racing Championship (an early precursor to the Can-Am series) in his own Buick-powered Lotus 19 sports car.

Grant’s 1963 racing season opened in February in Florida where he drove Seattle Chevrolet dealer Alan Green’s Corvette Sting Ray at Daytona and Sebring. Grant then returned to the West Coast and raced his Bardahl-sponsored aluminum 215 cubic inch Buick-powered Lotus 19 in the SCCA United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC) (the direct predecessor to the Can-Am series) events and Green’s Corvette in SCCA regional events.

Jerry Grant's official IMS 1964 photo


Grant continued to build his national sports car racing reputation in 1964 as the driver of the Nickey Chevrolet-sponsored Corvette Sting Ray and the Chevrolet -powered Cheetah GT sports car built by Don Edmunds and Bill Thomas with support from Alan Green.  Grant made his first international appearance at the famed Targa Floria road race in Italy (the world's oldest sports car race) and won the over 3-liter GT class in a 289 cubic inch Ford powered Shelby Cobra in the first of many pairings with Dan Gurney.

In May, Jerry Grant made his first appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the driver of the new Bardahl-sponsored Gerhardt rear-engine creation. Bardahl Lubricants, the top-selling engine oil additive in the United States during the nineteen fifties, provided sponsorship of race cars in the Indianapolis ‘500’ as early as 1950, first with car owner Tom Marchese, then later with car owners that included Andy Granatelli, Ed Walsh, and Pat Clancy.

Beginning in 1959, Bardahl sponsored cars at the Speedway entered by Fred Gerhardt, usually driven by Northwest racer Jack Turner until Turner retired in 1962 after his third flip in three years at the Speedway.

The Offenhauser-powered machine Grant drove at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1964 was a brand-new rear-engine monocoque design built by Gerhardt at his Commercial Truck Body Inc. plant in Fresno. The new Gerhardt copied many details of the 1963 Lotus 29, except for the driver position. It was by design, or because of his height and bulk, the 6-foot-4 inch tall Grant appeared more exposed and more upright in the Gerhardt cockpit than the Lotus 29 driver position.

Grant made a qualifying attempt on the first Sunday of time trials, but after two laps below 150 MPH, the Gerhardt crew waved off the attempt and the car did not make another attempt to qualify for the 33-car starting field.  

While this first Gerhardt rear engine machine suffered the same non-qualifying fate as several other brand new cars built by Americans such as the cars from Troutman-Barnes and Don Edmunds, nonetheless, Gerhardt received orders for two new rear engine cars from Pete Salemi and Ernie Ruiz for the 1965 ‘500.’  All three new 1965 Gerhardt chassis plus the revised 1964 chassis made the 1965 Indianapolis ‘500’ starting field. 


Early in the 1965 season, Grant co-drove in the Daytona 2000-kilometer race and the Sebring 12-hour race with Dan Gurney in the 327-cubic inch Ford-powered Lotus 19 entered by Gurney's new All-American Racers team with sponsorship from the Lotus' former owner John Klug’s Pacesetter Homes. In early May, Grant returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his second attempt to make the starting field of the most famous race in the world.
Scan of a postcard of Jerry Grant's rookie ride in 1965

For the 1965 Indianapolis 500-mile race, Grant was assigned to drive the #48 “Bardahl/MG Liquid Suspension Special,” one of the three Offenhauser-powered cars built by Joe Huffaker during 1963. Owned by San Francisco imported car importer distributor and dealer Kjell Qvale, these unique machines used components of the MG 1100 sedan Hydrolastic™ suspension system. The car that Grant drove had been entered in the 1964 ‘500’ for Mexican rookie driver Pedro Rodriquez, who had crashed it beyond immediate repair in practice.

Grant’s teammates on the 1965 Qvale team, Walt Hansgen and Bob Veith, had both driven for the team in the 1964 ‘500.’ Both of the veteran drivers assisted rookie Grant with the set up his car for qualifying and the race. Grant easily passed his Speedway refresher test, witnessed by three veteran drivers and USAC Chief Observer Llewelyn “Ike” Welch on May 14.

Grant qualified the yellow with back trim #48  “Bardahl/MG Liquid Suspension Special” in 17th starting position with a four-lap average of 154.606 miles per hour (MPH), the slowest first day qualifier.  Perhaps it was Grant’s weight, reported as 215 pounds that resulted in his car being almost two miles an hour slower than Veith and one mile hour slower than Hansgen.  On race day, Grant’s was the first of the Qvale cars to retire with a broken magneto on lap 30.


Grant raced Tom Friedkin’s red 1965 Chevrolet Impala in the January 1966 NASCAR race and again finished in 11th place. Grant’s performance at LeMans in 1965 in the Cobra Daytona Coupe had  impressed Carrol Shelby enough that he paired Jerry with Dan Gurney in one of the 427-cubic inch powered Shelby American Racing Team-managed Ford GT40 Mark II entries for the 24 hours of Daytona.

Gurney and Grant were leading with just minutes to go when the car’s engine failed and they were scored in second place based on laps completed behind Ford GT40 teammates Lloyd Ruby and Ken Miles. 

At the Sebring 12-hour race, once again the car of Gurney and Grant seemed snake bitten. The pair’s pole-winning Ford GT40 was the last away after it refused to start, but Gurney passed 28 cars on the first lap and quickly seized the lead. 

Grant and Gurney held the race lead in the last hour when unbelievably the engine in their 427-cubic inch Ford engine broke. Based on the number of laps completed, the #3 Ford GT40 would have placed second again just one lap  behind Ruby and Miles, but the car was disqualified because Gurney pushed the disabled car across the start/finish line. 

Grant had a busy May 1966, as in addition to his Indianapolis 500-mile race entry, Jerry was scheduled to race in the SCCA USRRC series behind the wheel of the All-American Racers 305-cubic inch Weslake Ford-powered Lola T70. Jerry had qualified the Lola on the pole for the first two of the three USRRC rounds, but the Lola fell out of all three races with mechanical problems. 
The Pacesetter crew helps Jerry Grant strap in during 1966

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Grant was entered in Los Angeles area homebuilder John Klug’s brand new 1966 Eagle based on Len Terry’s Lotus 38 design powered by a Ford double overhead camshaft (DOHC) 255-cubic inch engine.  The dark blue with gold trim #88 “Bardahl Pacesetter Homes Special” was tended to by Klug’s long-time chief mechanic Roy Campbell. 

Grant’s practice session was cut short on Saturday May 7 after a piece of debris punctured the radiator of the #88 Eagle. Grant then flew west overnight to race the AAR Lola-Ford in the USRRC event at Laguna Seca Raceway in California. Grant arrived at the track just two hours before the race, started at the tail of field with no practice or qualifying laps, but climbed to fourth place before he retired just before half distance with a blown head gasket in the Ford engine.  

Six days later, on the first day of the Indianapolis ‘500’ time trials, Grant comfortably qualified the Eagle for the starting field with the tenth fastest time of the day, 160.335 MPH, to claim his starting spot on the inside of the fourth row. Although he listed his hometown as Santa Ana California, several local Indiana newspapers claimed Grant was an honorary Hoosier, as his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Grant had recently settled in the Cass County community of Logansport.

With his car safely in the starting field, Grant was free to leave the following weekend to race in the $10,000 purse Vanderbilt Cup race at the 2.86-mile Bridgehampton Road Course set in the sand dunes on Long Island New York. In qualifying on Saturday May 21, Grant set the fastest speed at 103.79 to edge out local racer Sherman Decker’s Lola T-70.

On Sunday Jerry Grant dominated the 200-mile feature race, the fourth round of the 1966 USRRC series, and finished in a track record time of two hours and two minutes. Jerry’s Lola lapped all of the other 34 cars in the race at least once except for second-place finisher Lothar Motschenbacher’ s McLaren.

Days before the Indianapolis 500-mile race, sportswriter Ed Duncklemann handicapped the field for the 1966 Indianapolis ‘500,’ as he noted that pole-sitter Mario Andretti “drives Indy like a dirt track, barrel up to the turn, brake hard, toss the car left and stand on it.”

The writer classified Dan Gurney as “our pick as the best all-round driver in the country, while Jerry Grant was described as an “often non-finishing charger, but fast, faster than Gurney.”  Jimmy Clark “could make it two in a row,” according to Duncklemann, while Graham Hill was “dependable, unlucky, and hasn’t had a winning mood in some time.”
Grant in #88 before the chaotic start of the 1966 '500'
with Jackie Stewart in #43 and Billy Foster in #21 alongside

No one could have predicted what happened at the start of the 1966 ‘500’ with 16 cars involved in the crash that eliminated ten cars on the spot. Grant, whose car had gained fluorescent green paint on the nose for race day, started in the same row as Billy Foster who was later blamed for triggering the accident, but made a clean start.

Gurney’s Eagle was eliminated, with both the left side wheels knocked off, while Leonard, who started alongside, escaped the carnage with just flat-spotted tires and finished the race in ninth place.

Rookie Graham Hill inherited the lead after his teammate Jackie Stewart’s engine broke late in the race and took the checkered flag first although second-place Jimmy Clark was convinced he had won. Jerry Grant’s Eagle was the last car running at the finish, and he was flagged with 167 laps completed and credited with a tenth place finish.

Later in July at the 1966 24 hours of LeMans, Grant and Gurney were again paired as a team, this time in the red #3 Ford GT40 and once again mechanical misfortune befell them. Gurney qualified the car for the pole position, took the race lead on the third lap, and built up a commanding lead during the early hours of the race. 

During the night the #1 Ford GT40 car driven by the team of Ken Miles and Denis Hulme (Miles' regular teammate Lloyd Ruby had broken his back in a plane crash) caught the red #3 and the two Fords traded the lead back and forth throughout the night.

However, in the 17th hour, with 257 laps completed, Gurney and Grant were out as the 427-cubic inch Ford engine suffered terminal overheating due to a holed radiator. Ford GT40s finished in first, second, and a third place but Miles and Hulme were cheated out of the victory in a controversial finish staged by Ford’s racing boss Leo Beebe. 

Jerry made two more USAC starts in 1966; he finished tenth at the special non-championship race held on the Fuji road course in Japan driving the “Harrison Special” for Jerry Eisert, and then fell out after 31 laps with mechanical failure in his first appearance on a short oval at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway in Klug’s #88 Bardahl Eagle.
We'll continue with Jerry Grant's career in our next installment.
The photographs that accompany this article appear courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies.  

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