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Wild Video: The Infamous 1971 Indy 500 Pace Car Crash

Wild Video: The Infamous 1971 Indy 500 Pace Car Crash

The 1971 Indy 500 Pace Car situation was screwy from the start, but no one in their right mind could have predicted the stunning crescendo to the story that would take place on the opening lap of the race. We’ve heard the story told but never actually seen the carnage. Luckily for us, we found the video and it is stunning.

For 1971, no manufacturer provided a pace car for the race. It came down to local dealers to provide the cars and the honor was given to Eldon Palmer, the owner of Palmer Dodge in Indianapolis. By “winning” the right to supply the cars he was also allowed to drive the car on the pace lap of the race. Muscle cars were never known as good stoppers, and this video is proof as to why.

The day before the race, Palmer was allowed to make practice runs in the 383 powered 1971 Challenger convertible. On those practice runs he placed a cone on pit row to show him where he needed to start slowing down in order to not have any problems after he broke off from the field. As you’ll see in the video, he was absolutely hauling ass down pit row and began to brake way too late to stop. The problem? Someone took the cone away and he waited too long to apply the brakes. The car slid into a photographers stand that was packed with people. As you’ll see in the video, the stand comes crashing down and people pour into a heap. No one was killed, but 22 were injured.

Riding in the car with Palmer that day were Tony Hulman, the owner of IMS, ABC sportscaster Chris Schenkel, and hero astronaut John Glenn. None were injured.

It is amazing no one was killed.




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10 thoughts on “Wild Video: The Infamous 1971 Indy 500 Pace Car Crash

  1. Gene Piurkowski

    Thank you for posting the picture my wife took of our 1971 Dodge Challenger Pace Car in front of Mt. Monadnock in Troy, NH.

  2. Chris C.

    Wonder where the speedway keeps that car, but bangshift needs to get access to the basement of the museum. Me and my Friend Frank got access by two employees at an event. They have pace cars packed in like sardines and some vintage ferrari’s. Sad part is that they are so packed in the Trans-am turbo pacecar has sideswipe damage from the wall

    1. tiresmoke!

      Yep, the good stuff is in the basement…amongst the collection, Smokey Yunick’s side-pod gonzo-mobile is in there. Brian or Chad needs to schmooze their way in…would be one hell of a story!

  3. Lee

    Driving the pace car that day was local Dodge dealer Eldon Palmer, who fielded the car himself that year (Chrysler, along with Ford and GM, sensed the impending end of the muscle car era and chose not to supply an official pace car in 1971.

    Palmer reportedly felt so awful about the incident that he held on to that Challenger for decades afterward. Only five years ago did he restore it and sell it to Indiana collector Steven Cage, who currently has it in his RPM Collection museum in Fishers, Indiana, just outside of Indianapolis.

  4. Ian

    Wow, I’d forgotten all about this. Wild! Love the shot from the photo stand just before impact!

  5. dirwood

    when the rears lock up you may as well throw your hands in the air! i wonder if that beastie had 4 wheel drums?

    1. Randy Larson

      Yes, that Pace car only had drum brakes on it. Imagine an auto producer putting a big block in a mid size car with drum brakes??

  6. Robert

    Always have the professionals do it for you…Why didn’t he just keep going straight back on the track and slow down like that. he would’ve ended up on the side of the track.

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