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RACING HISTORY: The Great Races: 1965 Indianapolis 500

Posted By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel
May 22, 2001

Ford Clinches First Indianapolis 500 Win

Jim Clark, with help from the Wood Brothers, gives Ford its first victory at the famed Brickyard

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., May 31, 1965 - Jim Clark led 190 of a possible 200 laps to lead a Ford sweep of the top four positions in the 1965 Indianapolis 500 giving Ford Motor Company its first victory in the famed 500-mile race. Clark averaged 150.686 miles-per-hour in his Lotus/Ford, making him the first driver to average more than 150 miles-per-hour in a 500-mile race.

Jim Clark

Ford Motor Company's domination of the 1965 Indy 500 would actually begin two weeks before the race during qualifying. Ford-powered cars would capture nine of the top 10 starting positions, including the top five, led by defending race champion, A.J. Foyt in a Lotus/Ford. Jim Clark would qualify second in his Lotus/Ford, followed by another Lotus/Ford piloted by Dan Gurney. Rounding out the top five qualifiers were Mario Andretti, making his first appearance at Indianapolis, and Parnelli Jones, who won the 1963 Indy 500.

When the green flag dropped, Clark raced to the lead on the first lap before being passed by Foyt, who would lead the second lap. On lap three, Clark was back in front where he would remain until lap 67 when he would relinquish the lead to Foyt on a pit stop. Foyt would lead the race until lap 75 before running out of fuel on the back straight and coasting into the pits with a dead engine. After he had taken on fuel and fresh tires, Clark had retaken control of the race and was running away from the pack. By the time Foyt was forced to retire from the race on lap 115 with transmission problems, Clark's lead was so great that everyone else was left racing for second place.

An important part of Clark's dominance that day was his pit crew, which consisted of the famed Wood Brothers, who by that time had made a name for themselves with their lightning quick pit stops on the NASCAR circuit. And even though they had never pitted an Indy car before, the Wood Brothers easily made the transition, helping Clark and Ford to victory.

"I just remember when we made the first pit stop it was quicker than most people thought possible," recalled Leonard Wood, who along with his brother, Glen, fueled Clark's car. "The announcers were saying that we didn't get the car full of gas and, with a new crew, they figured we had a problem. They were saying we would be back in to the pit when so many laps came around, but when we never came in they were wondering what happened. They thought that we were maybe running a mixture, which meant you would only put in half the fuel, but when they came down and asked us what was going on, we told them he as out there running on pure alcohol. That kind of caught them by surprise."

While Clark was in the midst of running away with the race, there were several intriguing battles taking place behind him on the track. Gurney was running in third place for most of the first 100 miles before being sidelined with engine problems and handing third place to Jones. Hounding Jones was a rookie driver named Mario Andretti, who was driving like a seasoned veteran and had been running near the front all day. However these were mere distractions from what was happening at the front of the pack where Clark was running two laps in front of everyone else. As a matter of fact, Clark was so far ahead that he slowed down from his opening average lap speed of 157 miles per hour and was just cruising along at 148 miles per hour when he took the checkered flag.

While Clark's margin of victory over Jones was just a shade under two minutes, the race for second and third proved to be much closer and more exciting. Although his car was running low on fuel in the waning laps of the race, Jones refused to pit with Andretti lurking only 20 seconds behind in third place. Forced conserve as much fuel as possible, Jones was using only half of his throttle with hopes of nursing his car around to the finish. When Andretti's crew realized Jones' dilemna, they signaled the rookie to chase the slowing driver down in hopes of stealing second place. In the end, Andretti would miss by only six seconds as Jones was forced to weave back and forth down the front straightaway, trying to pickup as much as fuel possible en route to the checkered flag.

While the 1965 Indianapolis 500 was Ford Motor Company's first victory in the famous 500-mile race, it also marked a seven-year period of dominance for the manufacturer at Indianapolis. From 1965 to 1971, Ford would establish itself as the premier engine at the Brickyard by capturing five pole positions and six of the next seven race victories before leaving open-wheeled competition at the end of 1971.

Text provided by Greg Shea

Editors Note: To view hundreds of hot racing photos and art, visit The Racing Photo Museum and the Visions of Speed Art Gallery.