Columbus author releases new book on qualifying for the Indianapolis 500


Greg Littleton remembers being at The Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he was 4 years old in 1955.

He’s been passionate about it since that first visit.

Littleton, 69, who grew up on the near northeast side of Indianapolis, moved to Columbus in 1979 and has turned his passion for the Indianapolis 500 into two books. His first was in 2005 when he co-wrote with Bill Enoch “The Roadsters of Indianapolis” which traced every roadster chassis at Indianapolis year-by- year.

In his new book which was released in October “The Race to Make the Race” Littleton chronicles a 10-year span (1954-1963) which was the peak roadster years at Indy and records what went on for every qualification attempt during this time period and each lap speed even if the attempt was yellow flagged. There is no mention of the races themselves as those results have been well-documented over the years.

Today’s 500 is lucky to attract 33 cars some years, but there was a time when the 500 really did have an actual Month of May and sometimes more cars went home than made the starting fields. Littleton’s book records by the actual time of day, weather conditions, attendance and all of the other happenings both on the track and in the Garage Area.

There are a lot of details in the book that you will never see anywhere else today. During the years in question the drama around the efforts to find speed just to qualify were often nearly as interesting as the actual race.

“While I was doing the Roadsters book I got the idea about doing a book on qualifications for the Indy 500,” said Littleton. “I got some qualifying information from the Speedway records when I was doing my first book. It was fun to do. I wanted to give the story on the successes and struggles each driver went through to try and make the Indianapolis 500 those years. The Bartholomew County Library was a big help in assisting me. They were able to get the microfilms from the Indiana State Library. I probably made 75 trips down to the local library to gather the information I needed.”

Littleton also mentioned two of the area’s standout racers at Indianapolis. Larry Crockett of Columbus who was the fastest rookie qualifier in 1954 and in the 500-mile race that year he ended up being the top finishing rookie over Pat O’Connor of North Vernon.

Littleton said Crockett, who died in a racing accident in Pennsylvania in 1955 right before he would have attempted to make his second Indianapolis 500, would have been a candidate to win the Indy 500.

“He was so young when he was starting out,” he said. “Nobody knows how his career would have turned out. If he had three or four years on him then I could have given you a better estimate on him. He was fast enough. There were some brave souls in 1954 and they said Larry Crockett was the best young driver in the United States.”

Like Crockett, Littleton gave his assessment on O’Connor who was killed in a first-lap accident in the 1958 race if he too could have won the Indy 500.

“Pat O’Connor definitely could have been an Indy 500 champion,” he said. “The legend of Pat O’Connor just keeps growing around here. You talk to guys and there is no doubt he was a natural. He was so smooth; everything came easy for him. He had the right head for it. He knew the days the car was good enough and the days it wasn’t.”

In documenting every lap of time trials during the 10-year span he chronicled there was one driver that stood out when writing the book was a young driver named Bob Scott in 1954.

“He had a good car in ’54 and on the fourth and final day of qualifying he was not in the show yet,” Littleton explains. “He jumped into a car that was not considered top-of-the-line equipment. He put three good laps together and they were going to be good enough to put him in the race, all he needed was one more consistent lap and he was in, but before he took the checkered flag he pulled into the pits and thus he didn’t qualify for the starting field. He apparently didn’t look at the flagman. He never did say why he pulled off.”

If Littleton had to pick a Mount Rushmore of Indy 500 champions his list would include: Bill Vukovich, A.J. Foyt, Wilbur Shaw and Al Unser Sr. Littleton also gave mention to 1963 winner Parnelli Jones.

“He was probably the least successful great race driver,” he said. “He would consistently beat Foyt in sprint cars, but he only won Indy once.”

On the sale last month of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to Roger Penske, Littleton had this to say.

“Who else cares enough about racing and has the business acumen than Roger Penske?,” he asked. “He has everything that can make it work. Every decision he makes you may not like, but he has the best interest of the speedway in mind.”

Penske becomes the fourth owner of the track. The Hulman family had owned the track for 74 years.

To obtain a copy of Littleton’s book you can email him at [email protected].

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