Saturday, May 12, 2012

Art Pollard: A forgotten driver...

1970 Art Pollard portrait. (Source:
Otay, so I won’t try reinventing the wheel here - as it seemed somewhat ironic, or karmic? That thee “OLDEST” IndyCar blogger Geo. Phillips has recently posted a great story about this relatively unknown IndyCar driver who unfortunately met his maker this very day 39-years ago...

As I’ll confess that I’ve only ever known the name Art Pollard from my studies regarding what has to be one of my absolute most favourite Indy Cars - those ultra alluring Lotus 56 turbines - having been overly pleased to view Graham Hill’s chassis at the Hall of Fame museum a few years ago; but I digress...

Thus upon hunting around le Internetz I came upon the Art Lee Pollard remembered website, which was a project of his family’s - primarily Mike Pollard, who unfortunately died from complications of Chemotherapy in  2009...

As I’m sure there are countless other racing drivers out there whom also languish in obscurity - or not being known at all, as it seems the more I do this racing thingy the less I know about IT!

Thus I felt even more chagrined to discover that Messer Pollard hailed from Roseberg, Oregon - which is right in my proverbial ‘Backyard, as after all Portland International Raceway was my Indy Car Hometrack for two decades... As it’s even funnier yet to learn that Art dominated the Pacific Racing Association series plus West Coast Super Modifieds before finally graduating to the ‘Big Carz...

As I was also unaware of the fact that Lone Star J.R. (Johnny Rutherford( was one of Art’s close personal friends - as Rutherford ironically captured his debutant Indy 500 pole the very same day as Pollard’s death and dedicated this achievement in honor of Art...

And I also know that numerous drivers are diligent souls in giving back to their respective community and us the fans, but the part that really hits home with me is Pollard’s immense contributions towards the La Rue Carter Hospital mentally-ill children... Making yearly visits without camera crew or media to the Hospital’s Psychiatric ward - talking with them, telling stories, playing basketball, etc. As the single sentence ‘bout Art personally paying for them to attend Day Camp left your stoic No Fenders scribe teary-eyed... As it seems a fitting tribute that La rue Carter named their playground in honor of him.

And once again - even in death, it seemed very strange that as I spent the weekend rummaging thru the Art Lee Pollard family website - as I watched the Sunday evenings Wind Tunnel, think it was ‘Dar? ‘Ol OWR Curmudgeon ‘R (Robin Miller) wished Joe Leonard a speedy recovery “Get Well” wish, saying the ex-Lotus teammate of Art’s had recently suffered a stroke.

And say what you might about Robin Miller - but you have to admit that Robin’s obituary below, which I ‘Shamelessly borrowed from the Art Lee Pollard remembered website’s More Eulogies section is indeed very touching and definitely gives me a feel for Art Pollard the person, not the racecar driver... Who wasn’t too ‘Damn bad at that either.

As Art left the racing arena way too early with 83 USAC Champ Car starts and two IndyCar victories - which George notes that occurred in 1969 at Milwaukee and Dover, along with a second place finish at Langhorne that year.

Pollard also finished a tantalizing runner-up to Jim McElreath at Ontario in 1970 after leading the race by 1-lap before victory slipped away due to a slow tire leak - and for reference, Art’s win tally is double somebody named Danica’s output... Not to mention all of the other various ‘One-hit wonders! As Art’s unyielding patience for making time for anybody tends to make me think of another fallen driver named Dan Wheldon...

Art Pollard in the Lotus 56 -   Martin Hill. (Source:
Robin Miller:
 Riley Hospital for Children had a special wing for kids with emotional issues and that was LaRue Carter where Art would go at night and sit with the kids for a few hours. After his death we had a picnic for those kids every May, drivers played softball, hung with the kids and that went on for 20-plus years before it was stopped.

Art got a late start in racing but was a bad ass in super modifieds and adapted quickly to Indy cars. He was always aggressive and real brave. But there was never a better person, great with the fans and well liked by the other drivers.

He got me started in racing when we bought a Formula Ford from Andy Granatelli (Art was driving for him then) and he was my chief mechanic (on crutches from his broken leg suffered at Indy in 1972 when the hub broke) for my first couple runs. Alley Oop (his nickname) was one of those special people who come along every now and then...

Indianapolis Star - Sunday, May 13, 1973.
by Robin Miller
When a race driver is killed on the track the first thing everybody says is,"That's too bad, he was a hell of a guy."
In the obituary the next day, his past performances are listed and any other worthy achievements are mentioned.
Yesterday Art Pollard left us.
Not Art Pollard the race driver, but Art Pollard the human being.
This is a personal eulogy.
I'm 23 years old. Art was 46 just last Saturday. But we had as much in common as any two people I know. We had a lot of good times together and in the three years I knew him, he showed me why he was different from most. At 46, he was just hitting fourth gear.
For one, he was a grandfather but as youthful as any when it came to standing on a gas pedal.
His other uncommon feature was that Art Pollard actually cared, gave a damn if you please, about a bunch of people in this world.
Whether you raced against him, dined with him,laughed with him or barely knew him, Art Pollard came across as more than an autograph, handshake or wave.
In the pressurized world of professional auto racing, most drivers, understandably have too much on their minds to stop and chat with everyone who calls their names.
But Pollard made time for nearly anybody.
Whether you were a Boy Scout, a crippled child, a pushy mother demanding an autograph or a drunk wanting to talk to "that old guy," Art Pollard tried to tried to become a part of your world at least for a couple of minutes.
He spent hours and his own money on the retarded children at La Rue Carter hospital here in Indianapolis. He saw to it they spent one day in May with him at the Speedway each year.
And if you don't think that means a lot to people, you are mistaken.
Art enjoyed talking as much as he did driving and he was a master of the after-dinner speech.
He was also a master at organization.
Race drivers are as a group, almost impossible to organize-at or away from the track. But Pollard possessed a knack for getting on the phone and making things happen.
Last winter he was at his best.
He began a weekly Thursday night poker game at his apartment that saw Johnny Parsons, John Mahler, Cy Fairchild, Billy Vukovich, Art's friends and neighbors, lose money and enjoy themselves.
Then on each Tuesday and Thursday morning, Pollard would get up and begin rousing Parsons, Mahler, Merle Bettenhausen and me to go down to the Athletic Club and work out.
It was a pleasure to watch Pollard muscle his way around the basketball court for two straight hours, knock a volley ball back and forth for another 90 minutes and finish it up with a weight-lifting exibition that usually sent the steady customers away shaking their heads.
Just this past month, the competition had turned to golf and Art, though not the golfer Vuky or Mahler is, played every hole like it was Agusta.
But as competetive as he was, he was always vibrant, even-tempered and hardly ever moody.
After he helped me get started racing last summer he told me never to burn any bridges in dealing with people. "You've got to keep the right attitude all the time. When somebody spins and causes you to wreck, don't fly off the handle and try to get back at them, 'cause sooner or later you're going to make a mistake too," he used to say.
Most of all, though, Art Pollard never seemed to age.
Last summer we went to a concert to hear the Carpenters and he knew almost every song they sang. He always dressed with style too.
But his mental frame of mind was truly a wonder.
A year ago, he suffered a broken leg in a crash after qualifying for the race. That crash probably would have made a lot of guys 35 quit.
But Pollard was a tough cuss. Two hours after they put the cast on, he was scheming on how to get it off in time for the Pocono 500. He finally succeeded and ran strong at Ontario.
This May had all the signs of being his best since he drove Andy Granatelli's turbine in 1968. He had a '73 Eagle, two good mechanics and a new sponsor.
All during practice he'd been one of the fastest. He kept telling me," Man, when things start out smooth and organized like this operation, you know you're going to do well."
He was running 191-plus when he crashed. The burns and broken bones he could have survived but it was a spinal cord injury that took his life.
So now he's just another name in the Speedway record book, with an asterisk for being dead.
They say, "well that's too bad but you got to keep on living."
But I can't help feel a part of me and a lot of other people went away yesterday.

For more insight upon Art  Pollard - please visit the Family’s website at: Art Lee Pollard rememberd

Thanxs to Robin Miller for sharing his insights...