Grandstand Collapse at the 1960 Indianapolis 500 - An Engineer's Aspect


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Friday, July 6, 2012

Grandstand Collapse at the 1960 Indianapolis 500

"Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."
~William James

"I wondered why somebody didn't do something. Then I realized, I am somebody."
~Author Unknown

"It's easy to make a buck. It's a lot tougher to make a difference."
~Tom Brokaw


The 1960 Indianapolis 500 is best known for the epic two-hour duel between Jim Rathmann and the previous year’s Indy champion, the American Rodger Ward. The two exchanged the lead 20 times, 14 in the second half, when they rarely ran more than a few feet from each other.

According to Douglas Martin of The New York Times, "Ward had led early, then stalled on his first pit stop. He pushed his car to 145 m.p.h. for 10 laps to catch up to Rathmann, doing so just before the halfway point. But Ward’s tires began fraying badly. The two passed each other several times, then settled into a nervous dual lead over Johnny Thomson’s third-place car. When their pits signaled that their lead had dwindled to 10 seconds, both pounded their accelerators.

The final 30 laps were frantic. Ward led on Lap 197, with only three more to go, but his right tire was finished. He slowed down to avoid dropping out before he could finish second. Rathmann won with a record average speed of 138.8 m.p.h. (The mark has since been surpassed.) (Martin, 2011)"

Image: Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward duel at the 1960 Indianapolis 500.
Source: The Sports Car Digest.


In the 50s, the gates opened very early in the morning, remembers "Cess" on her blog, "My Best Time." She continues, "Families, singles, teens, kids; just about every group you could think of, piled into the infield. It was huge. People came in their campers, flatbed trucks, cars, on bicycles and walked.

Many of them brought with them boards and plywood and everything they needed to make makeshift scaffolding. They spent hours prior to the race picking their spots and building their platforms. There were no rules.

Watching the 1960 Indy 500 from Makeshift Scaffolding in the Infield
Folks, of course, also brought picnic supplies and party beverages. The entire day was spent celebrating.

Everything changed in 1960 when some of the homemade infield scaffolding folded and crashed, leaving 2 dead and 40 injured."

Caption: The crowd watches what some consider to be the best Indy 500 ever. Eventual winner Jim Rathmann and defending champion Rodger Ward swapped the lead 14 times during the second half of the race, but Ward was ultimately forced to slow with three laps remaining because of a worn tire.
Photographed by: Stan Wayman//Time Life Pictures.

The Tragedy

Below are some of the reports of the tragedy found in the newspaper archives:

The Pasadena Independent, Pasadena, California, Tuesday, May 31, 1960, Page 1.

Stand Collapses at Speedway Spilling 100; 2 Dead

TWO DIE AT SPEEDWAY--Fans atop a 30-foot aluminum tower scramble frantically as the structure collapses just before the start of the Indianapolis 500-mile auto race. Two men were killed and about 50 other persons injured. Note fans jammed against fence on the ground trying to get out of the way.

INJURED IN TOWER COLLAPSE--Injured persons sprawl in the infield of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a temporary aluminum scaffold collapsed.

50 Hurt
at Start
of Race

Disaster plan
Put into Effect

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.--UPI--A homemade grandstand, jerry-built against a truck, tipped over under the weight of more than 100 screaming fans at the Indianapolis Speedway auto race yesterday. Two persons were killed and more than 50 were hurt.

The 30-foot high stands, built of light metal pipe and boards, began to tilt slowly forward when fans leaped to their feet as the 33 cars in the 500-mile race were poised at the starting lines.

Spectators jumped and fell from the stands but scores were trapped under a mass of timbers, pipes and bodies when the structure crashed down in one piece.

Among the injured was Wilbur Shortridge Jr., Indianapolis, an enterprising fan who had built the stands and charged $5 a seat on the lower decks and $10 in the upper section. He had been sitting in the stands.

Witnesses said spectators in other stands ignored the screaming, pleading victims under the fallen structure while the race got under way, but some finally helped carry the injured to the track's field hospital, set up to care for drivers injured in the crash.

The dead were Fred H. Linder, 23, Indianapolis, and William C. Craig, Sionsville, Ind., both of whom died of broken necks.

The stands, the type that normally are butted against the side of a building, were partially mounted in the bed of the truck, which served as the only support.

By late night, 22 persons still remained in hospitals where they were transferred from the track. Two persons were in serious condition with bone fractures and head injuries.

The stands were set up in the infield of the Speedway's northeast turn, long noted for freak accidents during the annual Memorial Day classic.

Speedway officials said there was not rule against building such bleachers and stands, and their only safety rule was that they "looked safe."

The Charleston Daily Mail, Charleston, South Carolina, Tuesday, May 31, 1960, Page 8.


Angry Officials Begin
Scaffold Investigation

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. UP--An angry group of officials started an investigation today into the slow-motion crash of a homemade scaffold which killed two men and injured 82 persons at the start of Monday's 500-mile race.

Coroner Roy B. Storms placed the blame on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway management.

HE SAID for years the group has ignored his protests against the makeshift towers which dot the track's infield every Memorial day. Edwin K. Steers, Indiana attorney general, said a check will be made to determine whether safety measures can be imposed on the privately owned track.

Fred H. Linder, 36, Indianapolis and William Craig, 37, Zionsville, Ind., died of broken necks when the 30-foot aluminum tower, jammed with possibly as many as 130 persons, tipped as its spectators leaned forward to watch the pre-race activities.

Caption: INDIANAPOLIS, May 30--TWO DIE AT SPEEDWAY--Fans atop a 30-foot aluminum tower scramble frantically as the structure collapses today just before the start of the Indianapolis 500-mile auto race. Two men were killed and about 50 other persons injured. Note fans jammed against fence on the ground trying to get out of the way.
Photographer: J. Parke Randall, AP Wirephoto.

Caption: INDIANAPOLIS, May 30--TOWER HITS GROUND--This picture by Parke Randall of the Indianapolis News shows an aluminum spectator tower just as it hits the ground after collapsing today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The hats of some victims are caught flying in the air. Two men were killed and 50 other persons injured.
Photographer: J. Parke Randall, AP Wirephoto.

Caption: INDIANAPOLIS, May 30--INJURED SPECTATORS AIDED AT STAND COLLAPSE--Many race spectators are being helped today when temporary stand on the north east turn of the Indianapolis Speedway collapsed at the start of the race.
Photographer: Harold B. Littell, AP Wirephoto.

THE SPECTATORS had rented seats at $5 and $10 on the scaffold, mounted on a truck bed. Speedway officials for many years have allowed private owners to haul in towers and charge whatever they can for seats.

The fan-built stands are not inspected beyond "looking safe," said Albert W. Bloemker, speedway publicity director.

The Gettysburg Times, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Thursday, June 2, 1960, Page 4.

BAN AT "500"

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A ban against "bootleg" scaffolds at future 500-mile races was demanded Tuesday night by State Fire Marshal Jay L. Foster.

Foster said he will meet with Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials this week to insist on a future ban on homemade stands like the one that collapsed Monday, killing two fans and injuring 82.

Atty. Gen. Edwin K. Steers called the makeshift stands "a bootleg operation," violating the law because they have been erected without permission from the Indiana Administrative Building Council.

Speedway officials felt enforcement of the ban would be impossible. Vice President Joseph R. Cloutier said a strict inspection system will be put into effect to make sure such stands are safe.

Cloutier said the speedway's liability insurance is sufficient to cover any suits filed as the result of the scaffold collapse.

The Appleton Post Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, June 3, 1960, Page 4.

Safety at the Indianapolis Speedway

The 500-mile automobile race held at the Indianapolis motor speedway every Memorial Day since 1909 attracts people from all over the United States. It is a national event which also holds the interest of millions who cannot attend.

There is danger in such exhibitions and no doubt the fact that the drivers are risking their lives to set speed records is one of its chief attractions. Last Monday, however, the event proved the spectators to be in greater danger than the drivers.

Investigation now is going on to determine who is responsible for the deaths of two spectators when a homemade scaffold collapsed plunging perhaps 130 persons to the ground. The scaffold was erected on a truck in the infield and seats were sold on it to persons who had been unable to get seats in the regular stands. It has been the practice of the speedway management for years to permit individuals to erect such towers. There has been no inspection except to see that "they look safe." Coroner Roy B. Storms declares he has been protesting against the makeshift towers for many years but his protests have gone unnoticed. Now, with two persons dead and about eighty injured, an investigation is underway.

People at this distance have little interest in fixing the blame but if the speedway is to continue to attract people everyone has an interest in seeing that it is safely operated. The danger of such construction should have been obvious to the track management from the beginning. The public deserves to be protected from such haphazard construction in the future.

The Petersburg Progress Index, Petersburg, Virginia, June 5, 1960, Page 4.

Did Not See
Tower Mishap

Is Immense

"Did you see the scaffold fall at the race track in Indianapolis?" Dozens of my friends have asked me that question since I returned home Wednesday.

The answer is "No!" And neither did any of the other 100,000 main grandstand occupants who had gathered for the 500-mile automobile race.

The fatal mishap occurred, perhaps, a 1,000 yards across the infield from my choice seat on the straightaway between the starting line and the first turn. From that vantage point, the many homemade towers resembled a busy Texas oil field, so the disappearance of one went completely unnoticed. And the screams and moans of the horrified and hurt were drowned by the roar of the 33 powerful race car motors. You people at home had all the details hours before most race patrons knew anything had happened.

That fact helps to describe the size of the Memorial Day attraction's acreage. Add to it the fact that nine holes of the Speedway Gold Course also are within the bounds of the 2 1/2-mile track, and you have some idea of its immensity.

You'll never believe it until you see that mass of humanity, assembled for one single purpose.

Columnist Harold Hartley is responsible for the following paragraph in last Saturday's Indianapolis Times:

"When the swarm of humanity, like hiving bees, settles down for the pace lap at the Speedway, it will have spent about $2 million to see with the naked eye the world's most thrilling spectacle of speed."

And, there's no doubt about it, it's a "thrilling spectacle of speed" you'll never forget if it's like the battle staged between Roger Ward and Jim Rathmann.

Although the Jim Rathmann-won race is history, the 1961 "500" already is in the news. Anton (Tony) Hulman, bossman of anything pertaining to the big race, has published architect's drawing of the new grandstands which he says will seats (sic) three times the number his present facilities can handle. That means 300,000 people will be able to find seats without buying space on makeshift towers like the one which cost two lives this year.

Although unwanted, the publicity gained from the horrible tower accident will focus the eyes of millions more on Speedway, Indiana, next Memorial Day.

By the way, the race track is not in Indianapolis. It is in Speedway, a good-sized Hoosier city which is no more a part of Indianapolis than Colonial Heights is part of Petersburg. The fact that news of its happenings emanates from the Midwest metropolis causes the race world to refer to the famous oval as the Indianapolis Speedway.

The already famous event was further popularized this year when the "500" Festival Committee preceded the race with a 72-hole, $50,000 open golf tournament which Former Masters Champion Doug Ford won by nosing out little Jerry Barber by 2 strokes.

Jane Mansfield, James (Maverick) Garner, Nick (The Rebel) Adams and Bob Crosby were among the celebrities riding on beautiful floats of a gigantic parade which, according to The Indianapolis Star, attracted 350,000 spectators Saturday night prior to the race.

People were there from all over the world, and the spectacle always attracts from all walks of life. The entire city of Indianapolis and surrounding territory takes on the air of a big college campus on homecoming weekend. Every country club and most socially and/or politically prominent families entertain at "500" Festival parties prior to Race Day. And all three Indianapolis newspapers are crammed with pictures of the going-on.

And while this is happening, the race conscious "little people" are living in cars, pickups and big trucks lined up for miles--just waiting for the Speedway gates to open up at 5 a. m. on Race Day.

Indianapolis has the biggest sports attraction in the world and its public spirited citizens seem bent upon making it even bigger. Plans are in the making already which should put the "500" Festival Parade on par with the biggest next year.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sunday, June 5, 1960, Page 4.

$100,000 Suit
Against '500'

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (UPI) -- An Indianapolis woman has filed a $100,000 damage suit stemming from the collapse of a home-made grandstand at the Memorial day 500-mile auto race. The accident killed 2 persons and injured 83, including 5 Iowans.

Mrs. Mayme Filks filed suit in Marion county (Indianapolis) superior court against Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corp. and Wilbur Shortridge of Indianapolis.

Mrs. Folks charged in her suit that she was standing on the ground near the infield fence about 20 feet in front of the scaffold and was injured when it fell.

Mrs. Folks' attorneys identified Shortridge as one of the builders of the pipe and plank scaffold. He was injured and is still in critical condition.

Below is actual video footage of the tragedy:

A scaffolding collapses at the 1960 Indy 500 and kills two people, injures others. Shots of people on stretchers being loaded into ambulances.