The 103rd Indianapolis 500 event is scheduled to take place on Sunday, May 26, 2019, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana. The legendary event has been the premier event for American open wheel racing for decades with roots deeply imbedded in dirt track racing. To honor this heritage, we plan on counting down the top 20 dirt track racers that have won the Indianapolis 500.
We start our countdown with #20 Jimmy Bryan. Admittedly, Bryan probably should be rated much higher on the countdown, but his career was abbreviated with his premature death at Langhorne Speedway on June 19, 1960. This was one of the most tragic days in racing history as two other drivers were lost in the Belgian Grand Prix on the same day
Bryan was a popular driver with the fans, often racing any car that he could get his hands on. Records show he raced in the USAC Indy Car series, USAC and ARCA Stock Car series, AAA Indy Car series, AAA Sprint Car series, and FIA World Championship series. Amazingly, Bryan won in every series he raced in. Many times these wins came at tracks that are held in great reverence today. Williams Grove Speedway, Reading Fairgrounds, Terre Haute Action Track, Arizona State Fairgrounds, DuQuoin State Fairgrounds, and Ascot Park.
Winning the Indianapolis 500 would be the highlight of any driver’s career in 50s, 60s, and 70s. Bryan accomplished that feat in 1958. He had finished Second in 1954 and Third the year prior to his amazing victory. Bryan also won the 1954 AAA and 1956 and 1957 USAC National Championships which solidified him as an elite Champion driver. Often forgotten is Bryan’s win in the inaugural running of the Race of Two Worlds in Monza, Italy.
The Race of Two Worlds, also known as the 500 Miglia di Monza, was held at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Italy, in 1957 and again in 1958. Intended as an exhibition event which allowied American USAC National Championship teams to compete directly against teams from the Formula One World Championship teams based in Europe. The cars competed on the banked oval at Monza due to the similarity to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Bryan’s win in 1957 with Jim Rathmann winning in 1958 (Bryan finished Second) signaled the end of the Two World event. The race series was cancelled after the 1958 event with concerns about high track speeds.
Bryan was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1994, the Motorsports Hall of Fame in America in 1999, and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001. He was also memorialized in a song by Harry Weger titled “The Ballad of Jimmy Bryan.” Bryan is buried in Phoenix’s Greenwood/Memory Lawn Mortuary & Cemetery.