Jim Rathmann at the wheel of the “Ken Paul Special” Watson roadster that he drove to an exciting victory in the 1960 Indianapolis 500.
Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Jim Rathmann’s career in motor racing is marked not only by a hard-fought win in the 1960 Indy 500 but also by an unusual name change with his brother Jim…or rather Dick. Jim was underage in 1943 and could not race legally. So, he and his brother exchanged identities, Jim becoming Dick and Dick becoming Jim. Got that straight? Dick, now rechristened Jim, entered his first Indy 500 in 1949—after a tough apprenticeship at various Western U.S. tracks—and was flagged off after 176 laps. More entries to the fabled 500 followed, and Jim finished 2nd three times in 1952, 1957 and in 1959, this last time to one of his toughest competitors, Rodger Ward. However, he achieved success in 1960, winning the 500 after a race-long duel with his rival Ward, the two of them exchanging the lead 15 times in the final 78 laps. Ward slowed with a badly worn right front tire, deciding discretion was the better part of valor. Jim also achieved international success at the famous Race of Two Worlds event at Monza in 1958, where he bested a multifarious field of Indy car drivers, sports car drivers and Formula One pilots in his Watson Roadster, sponsored by Bob Wilke. He averaged an astonishing 166.720 miles per hour to best the field. He also has the distinction of being fired by Enzo Ferrari before he had even driven a race for the charismatic chief. His business interests in his Chevrolet dealerships meant he had to leave racing—under protest. Today, Rathmann maintains his interest in racing, particularly the Indy 500, and he often spends the better part of May at Indianapolis visiting, talking and, in general, hanging out with other veteran drivers, owners and mechanics. During his career at Indy, he had 14 starts, one win, five top-five finishes, and seven top-ten placings and is the oldest living Indy 500 winner. John Wright recently spoke with the energetic champion who now resides in Florida.
Jim, please tell me something about your background. You came from the Los Angeles area, did you not?
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