• Indianapolis 500 1958

O'Connor death overshadows Bryan's win

ESPNF1 Staff
May 30, 1958
Pat O'Connor's car (No. 4) is airbourne after the first-lap pile-up - he died instantly when it rolled and hit the ground © Unknown

The 1958 Indianapolis 500 was overshadowed by a first-lap accident which resulted in the death of the hugely popular Pat O'Connor. That Jimmy Bryan went on to dominate and take the win was almost incidental.

Dick Rathmann and Ed Elisian started on the front row, with Jimmy Reece on the outside of the front row and O'Connor in the middle of the row behind. Rathmann and Elisian jumped the pace-lap start, with Reece following them in front of the pace car. When the pace car did not speed up, the three were waved ahead and this caused chaos. Eventually the front row resumed some kind of order and the race started. Rathmann and Elisian battled side by side until Elisian spun on the third turn and in turn hit Rathmann, sending them both into the wall, and starting a 15-car pile-up.

According to AJ Foyt, O'Conner hit Reece's car, sailed 50 feet in the air, landed upside down, and burst into flames. Although O'Connor was incinerated in the accident, medical officials said that he was probably killed instantly from a fractured skull.

Widely blamed for the accident, Elisian was suspended, and even though he was reinstated a few days later, he was shunned by many in the racing community. Three years earlier to the day he had heroically tried to rescue Bill Vukovich from his burning wreck. Elisian was burned to death himself in a crash 15 months later.

As a result of the accident, officials abandoned the single-file trip down pit lane that was used in 1957 and 1958. Also, for the following year's race, metal roll bars welded to the frame behind the driver's head were mandated, and helmets were required to pass safety certification by Speedway medical officials.

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