No Luck For Georgia Racers In Indy 500

In 1919, Arthur Thurman became the first Georgia racer to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

By Brandon Reed
Posted in Feature Stories 5/27/11

With the storied history of the Georgia Gang in racing events around the country, and around the world, there is one historic event that has not been a lucky one for drivers from the Peach State, and that’s the annual 500 mile open wheel event in Speedway, Indiana known as the Indianapolis 500.

In fact, only a small handful of drivers with ties back to Georgia have made an attempt to compete in the event, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Sunday.

With that in mind, we did a little digging back and found a few of those Georgia racers that ventured up to Indianapolis during the month of May over the years in an attempt to compete at the famed Brickyard.

The first driver from Georgia to compete in the Indianapolis 500 was Arthur Thurman, from Flintstone, Georgia, a small town in the northwest corner of the state.  Thurman qualified 18th in his gray #18 Dusenberg.

The remains of Arthur Thurman's car after his fatal accident on the 44th lap of the 1919 Indy 500.

Thurman holds another distinction, this one far sadder, as he became the first driver to be killed during the running of the 500 in that same event.  The accident occurred on the 44th lap, when Thurman’s car rolled over going into the third turn.  The car came down on top of Thurman, leaving the Georgia racer dead.  His riding mechanic, Nicholas Molinero, was rushed to an area hospital with a skull fracture.  It was said he recovered.

Thurman is buried near his home town in Walker County, Georgia.

Macon, Georgia racer Buddy Calloway would make one qualifying attempt in 1932, but came up short.  The famed open wheel ace passed away in 1944.

While mostly known today for his stock car racing achievements, Red Byron was also an accomplished open wheel racer.

Though he was better known for his successes in stock car, Georgia Racing Hall of Famer Red Byron was also a successful open wheel racer, mostly finding that success in midget cars.  He made two attempts at the 500, in 1947 and 1948, driving a car powered by a flathead Ford built by Atlanta’s Red Vogt, who is also a member of the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame.

Byron and Vogt came up short both times.

Nashville, Tennessee native Charles Crawford made several attempts at the 500 between 1934 and 1947. His only start came in that first year, 1934, when he started 28th piloting a V8 powered Ford sponsored by Detroit Gasket.  It was a fair outing for Crawford, who would come home 13th, earning $860 for his efforts.  Crawford would later relocate to Calhoun Georgia, where he passed away in 1958.

Charles Crawford would get $860 for his 13th place effort in the 1934 500 mile event.

One of the more interesting stories has to be that of Salvatore Barbarino.  Born in Augusta, Sicily, Barbarino later became a naturalized American citizen.  He made his home in Washington, Georgia.  Barbarino was a mechanic by trade, along with being a car and chassis builder.  He was listed as a ride-along mechanic for the 1920 running of the 500, though it’s unclear if he actually was able to make it into the race.

Georgia Racing Hall of Famer Frank Mundy was known in the early 50s as a fierce competitor in Hudson Hornets on the AAA Stock Car circuit.  In 1954, he made his only attempt at racing in the Indy 500.  He failed to make the show, and went back to stock cars.

Jim McWithey competed in two Indy 500s in his career, with his best finish coming in 1959, when he placed 16th.

Jim McWithey was born in Grammer, Indiana in 1927.  He would qualify for two Indy 500s in his career.  In 1959, he qualified 33rd, but came through the field and finished 16th in the final standings.  In 1960, he qualified 32nd, but this time finished 29th after being sidelined with brake problems.

Late in his life, McWithey moved to Gainesville, Georgia, where he passed away in 2009.

In more recent years, Illinois native Jimmy Kite, who now calls Stockbridge, Georgia home, competed in five Indianapolis 500s between 1998 and 2007.  His best finish came in 1998, when he placed 11th.

But the best result we found for a driver connected with Georgia was that of John Paul, Jr.  Born in Muncie, Indiana, Paul, Jr. would later relocate to Lawrenceville, Georgia.  He competed in seven Indy 500s, with his best effort coming in 1998 when he placed seventh.

Paul, Jr. now lives near Las Vegas, Nevada.

So far, things have not been that spectacular for the Georgia Gang at the famed Brickyard.  But one never knows what he future holds, and perhaps one day in the near future a hot shot driver from the Peach State will add his name to the Borg-Warner trophy, and drink milk in victory lane.

We shall see.  Only time will tell.

Brandon Reed is the editor and publisher of Georgia Racing History.com.


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