Fred Offenhauser built the most dominant engines in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Jimmy Bryan is glad of it.
Bryan’s victory in the 1958 Indy 500 was secured in part by the strength of his
Offenhauser engine. It was the biggest win in Bryan’s career, and came near the end of
Offenhauser’s incredible streak of two dozen Indy 500 wins that spanned the 27 year period from
1934 through Jim Rathmann’s win in 1960.
Bryan and Offenhauser are two of the four members of the class of 2001 who will be inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame on Thursday evening, April 19th. The event will be held in the Hall of Fame’s Speedvision Dome, and televised on the Speedvision Cable Network.
Jimmy “Cowboy” Bryan, who earned his nickname busting broncos before his racing career began, could, and did, drive almost anything with wheels. He won three AAA-USAC national titles, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1958, and was also considered one of the best dirt track drivers ever.
After four years of racing midgets and sprints, Bryan’s first big win came in 1951 when he surprised everyone by winning the Tom Horn Memorial at Williams Grove Speedway.
In 1954, his friend and mechanic Clint Brawner got Bryan a ride in the Dean Van Lines car. This combination would prove to be one of the most successful in racing history. He captured his first national championship in 1954, then won seven dirt races in a row in 1955, but lost the crown.
Bryan won the championship again in both 1956 and 1957. At Indy, he finished 2nd in 1954 in a dramatic run in an ill-handling car. After finishing third in 1957, he won the Indy 500 the next year. From 1954 thru 1958, Bryan amassed more points than anyone ever had in a five year period in champ cars. Also, during that time, he won the Monza Race of Two Worlds in Italy in 1956.
In 1960, at the age of 33, Bryan died in a first-lap crash at Langhorne, where he had posted two of his most notable victories.
No engine builder, before or since, has dominated Indy Car racing like Fred Offenhauser did from 1934 thru 1960, a span of 27 years. During that period, his engines powered the winning cars in the Indianapolis 500 an incredible 24 times.
Offenhauser got his start working for another famed engine builder, Harry Miller. After gaining experience as a machinist and toolmaker, he joined Miller’s staff in 1913 as a designer. Working under Miller, he quickly mastered the skills and knowledge required to build or repair any part of any engine on any race car, foreign or domestic.
He was assigned many projects, among them the rebuilding of Bob Burman’s 1913 GP Peugeot for the 1914 season. Offenhauser also designed and built Barney Oldfield’s famous 1917 “Golden Submarine”.
In 1919, when designer Leo Goossen joined Miller’s staff, Offenhauser was promoted to plant superintendent and was placed in charge of production. He purchased the company from Miller in 1933 and then began producing the powerful four-cylinder racing engines that propelled two dozen cars to victory at Indy over the next 27 years.
The cigar-smoking Offenhauser preferred to remain in the background, making only infrequent trips to the race tracks on which his engines dominated.
Bryan and Offenhauser will be joined by Neil Bonnett and Mike Hailwood as the newest inductees into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Driver of the Year Bobby Labonte will also be honored. Tickets for the gala event are now on sale at the Hall of Fame. Call 256/362-5002 for ticket information.