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Networkblog.hemmings.comA big man with a bigger heart

1975 70 30 Jerry Grant

We received some sad news this week, learning that Jerry Grant, an irrepressible character in American auto racing, died at the age of 77. Grant had some landmark moments in the sport, both great and not so great. He started the Indianapolis 500 an even 10 times and came tantalizingly close to winning it once. But first, Grant was the first driver to turn an official lap in excess of 200 MPH in an Indy car, that accomplishment coming at the now-defunct Ontario Motor Speedway in 1972, where he ripped a lap at 201.414 MPH.

Grant came up at Indy in an age of extremely powerful and frightening race cars. He grew up in the Pacific Northwest and became an accomplished sports car racer in Northern California, which brought him to the attention of Dan Gurney. Few may have known it, but he then notched an impressively diverse career much in the mold of Gurney himself. He came from dead last in the 1967 Daytona 500 to place fifth. He and Gurney took a Cobra to second in the GT class at the 1964 Targa Florio. At Sebring in 1966, he and Gurney had a solid lead in their Ford GT Mk. II when the car broke on the final lap. Gurney pushed the car the final 300 yards to the finish line and was disqualified for doing so. Had they left it on the course, they’d have placed second based on distance covered. Soon after at Le Mans, a mechanical failure handed Gurney and Grant a DNF while they were leading at 21 hours.

Nothing tops Grant’s experience at Indianapolis in 1972. Running as a Gurney teammate to Bobby Unser in the purple “Mystery Eagle,” Grant led at 188 laps when he was forced to pit due to a deflating tire. He went through his pit box into the adjacent stall of Unser, who’d fallen out of the race earlier. While nothing was ever proven conclusively, the hoses from Unser’s fuel tank were briefly hooked up to Grant’s car, leading to speculation that he’d used up his 275-gallon race allotment of methanol and thereby “mistakenly” ran into Unser’s pit for a top-off. That’s a no-no, and while Grant crossed the finish line second behind winner Mark Donohue, none of his final laps were scored due to the pit and fuel infractions, which dropped him to 12th in the standings.

Grant later achieved unbridled affection when he became the Champion Spark Plug Company’s field representative. The racing photos here come courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s archives, but the final one comes from lifelong friend Gary Bryson, who grew up with Grant and after some time in sports cars and an Army tour in England, went to work for Triumph motorcycles. Gary snapped this photo about three weeks ago when they were doing a motorcycle ride together. It is likely the last photograph taken of Jerry Grant in his lifetime.
1975-70-30-Jerry-Grant 1975-80-8a-Jerry-Grant 1975DT-28-37-Jerry-Grant DSCN0267

Original: Hemmings Blog: Classic and collectible cars and parts


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