Several months ago, I learned Jim Hurtubise drove a couple of races in 1963 for the Pettys. He ran the Daytona qualifying race (an official Cup race back then), the Daytona 500, and the Atlanta 500. He finished 17th, 28, and 22nd, respectively.
Hurtubise was a popular journeyman Indy driver from upstate New York. He raced multiple times in the Indy 500 from the late 50s through the early 70s. He earned the nickname Hercules - often shortened to just Herk. Although I'd heard of Hurtubise over the years, I knew little about him. When I think of the nickname Herk, I'm instead reminded of the classic scene of the Klumps' dinner table in Eddie Murphy's remake of The Nutty Professor.
I now know Herk was hired to run another Petty Plymouth in a couple of 1963 races. I know where he finished. In an educated guess, I'd suggest his car was even painted Petty blue. That much I know. What I don't know is why or how Herc hooked up with Lee and Richard.
In 1964, Herk was involved in fiery crash at the Milwaukee Mile. During his recovery, he was advised he'd likely not race again...ever. Instead, he insisted he would and asked to have his badly damaged hands formed to hold a steering wheel.
Return he did - both to USAC open wheel and a few remaining NASCAR Grand National (now Cup) races. He even won the 1966 Atlanta 500 by stomping the field by a full lap.
Somewhere along the way, he adopted #56 as his trademark number and carried it on most of his open wheel and NASCAR rides. Here he is sporting #56 and his Miller High Life beer sponsor in a USAC stock car race at Milwaukee in the early 1970s.
Herk's dalliance with stock car racing continued to interest me. So I dug deeper into some of my Google search results. In doing so, I stumbled across this 1978 vault article from Sports Illustrated. The article is a good mid-70s recap of Herk's career around that time. I tossed aside my primary interest in his stock car racing and just enjoyed the read about his overall racing efforts.
Buried in the middle of the article, is the telling of what has to be one of the greatest, all-time racing pranks pulled in any racing series.
May 21, 1972 was another last day of qualifying for the Indianapolis 500. It had been several years since Hurtubise had entered the race with any kind of chance to win it, lead it or even qualify well for it. For most of that time, he had been engaged in a quixotic attempt to qualify an improved version of the outmoded front-engine "roadster" that had dominated the Speedway until the rear-engine revolution of the mid-1960s.
With time growing short, there was a fever of activity around Hurtubise's Miller High Life Special as it slowly moved toward the head of the qualifying line. The crowd buzzed. Would the old Mallard, as Hurtubise called his car in tribute to its ducktail rear end, get a chance to make even a ceremonial tour of the Brickyard? No. Precisely at 6 p.m. the gun sounded, locking in the field for another year. At which time Hurtubise removed the cowling from his Mallard to reveal neither an Offenhauser nor a Ford, but rather five cases of his sponsor's product, already chilled and ready for folks to drink. Which is what most of the Speedway officials soon did. Erk, erk, erk.
Herk passed away 1989 from a heart attack. His age at the date of death? Appropriately enough it matched his car number - 56.
Delma Cowart from Savannah, Georgia made a handful of infrequent starts in Cup races during the 1980s - most often at Daytona and Talladega. He almost always drove car #0 which pretty well matched his percentage chance of being competitive - much less win.
Yet Delma showed up at the track once or twice a year ready to have plenty of fun. His most oft-used quip was "I ain't never won a race, but I've never lost a party."
Sounds like Herk may have lived that same motto on May 21, 1972.