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500 FLASHBACK: Pace car plows into photographer stand

1971 Pace Car

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race is filled to the brim with history. One of the more memorable events happened at the 1971 race when the pace car, driven by a local Dodge dealer, came off the track at high speed and barreled into a stand full of photographers.

Eldon Palmer, lost control of the Dodge Challenger pace car at the south end of the pit area, crashing it into the photographer stand, injuring 29 people, two seriously.

For 1971, none of the big-three automobile manufacturers were supplied a car to act as the pace car as the muscle car market had dried up.

Four local Dodge dealerships, spearheaded by Palmer stepped up to provide the fleet of pace cars. The car chose was a Dodge Challenger 383-4V, and Palmer was selected to drive the pace car at the start of the race.

Palmer had practiced his run to start the race the day before, and had set a braking point. The cone or flag he had placed had been removed prior to the race however, and Palmer sprinted down pit lane in excess of 125 m.p.h.

Palmer said he thought he needed to be ahead of the cars on the track and misjudged the length of track he needed to brake safely.

Astronaut John Glenn, Tony Hulman and a broadcaster were in the car as it careened into the infield and struck the stand set up for photographers.

29 people were injured but no one was killed. Palmer maintained that the car performed correctly and that the brakes were not a problem. Later however, it was determined that the car had been delivered with lesser quality drum brakes, as opposed to the higher end disc brakes.

Palmer later sold the Dodge Challenger to Fishers businessman Steve Cage. The car is part of Cage’s RPM Collection.

Palmer was never found to be liable for the crash, though race organizers started selecting pace car drivers with racing backgrounds afterwards.

Al Unser Sr. won the race with an average speed of 157.735 m.p.h.