Monday, September 1, 2008

Ed Elisian: 'I Thought There Was Enough Room'

John Zink and Ed Elisian (Rick Johnson Photo)

Elisian: ‘I Thought There Was Enough Room’

May 31, 1958-Indianapolis Times

By Rick Johnson

Two figures in T-shirts walked into the north end of the pit area after the tragic 11-car smashup in the northeast turn.

In front was the pole winner, Dick Rathmann. Following him was Ed Elisian, whose careening car touched off the crackup.

It was evident that both were angry. When Rathmann was asked to give his account of the crackup he calmly said, “Please, not now. I feel awful.”

Elisian stamped into the John Zink pit area with a frown on his face. When he was asked to give his account, he said angrily, “Get out. Get out and leave me alone. Where’s my sunglasses?”

A few moments later Rathmann had recuperated enough to give a short account of the accident over the Speedway loudspeaker.

But Elisian was still smoldering with anger. No one in the Zink crew went near Elisian after his first few minutes in the pits.

At approximately the midway point in the race, Elisian inquired, “Where can I find a phone? I gotta let my folks know I’m all right.”

After he made his call, he came back to the Zink pits, climbed on the Zink fuel tank, and watched the remainder of the race from there.

The race had been over only a few minutes for winner Jimmy Bryan when Elisian began to shake off his anger.

Seated on a weighing scale in a remote corner of the Zink garage, Elisian shook his head in bewilderment. The words wouldn’t come easily…”I saw Rathmann (Dick in car 97) shoot across at the crossover. And I knew if he got in front there he’d be the devil to catch. So I stayed right on it thinking there was enough room to make it…then the car started going every which way and I knew I’d lost it”

Elisian stopped and ran his grease-smeared hand through his hair. He seemed to shrink as he said, “I feel so darned bad about that mess…It sure was a lousy, stinking way to start a race.”

One of his crewmembers walked over to him and said, “Cheer up, Eddie. They can’t hang you.”

Elisian said nothing, and sat with a stolid stare, looking across the dimly lit garage at the wall.

Ed Elisian, 1958 (IMS Photo)

Dick Rathmann’s Attitude Toward Ed Elisian Softens

By Rick Johnson

Dick Rathmann (Rick Johnson Photo)

Dick Rathmann, with some time to think about the confused, deadly first lap of Friday’s 500-Mile Race, last night softened the bitterness of his earlier charge that Ed Elisian was to blame for the 13-car crash.

From his Methodist Hospital bed, Rathmann said:

“Now that I’ve had some time to cool off, I realize every race driver who was on that track, including myself, has done just what Ed did yesterday.”

Rathmann paused a moment and shifted his right leg.

“He just didn’t use his head and got carried away…I don’t have any hard feelings toward him today. I told Ed a day or two before the race that we had the best cars and chances we’d ever had and we could both make a lot of money if he’d use his head.”

“Sometimes I think the guy’s really using his head and then…” He gestured hopelessly.

The tragic melee on the northeast turn killed Pat O’Connor when his car flipped over, dislocated the shoulder of Jerry Unser when his racer went over the wall, hospitalized Rathmann, and caused the damage to Elisian’s suspension which prevented him from racing.

Rathmann, who appeared to be unhurt after the crash, went to the hospital today for examination of a possibly chipped right knee.

When Rathmann was asked last night if he thought he went into the turn too fast he said, “No, I had my car in the groove and it was working fine. Ed cut under me and when he got in front he started to drift with that heavy load of fuel. Then he lost it.”

“I don’t think he got used to the way that car handled with a fuel load when we practiced Wednesday.”

Once more Rathmann hesitated. “I know Ed feels bad about Pat. I sure do. He was one of the most likeable little guys in racing.”

Pat O'Connor, 1958 (Rick Johnson Photo)

Rathmann will be in the hospital for at least two more days or until the swelling recedes in his knee.

“I don’t know how much racing I’ll do the rest of this year, but I hope I get back here next year in as good a car as I had for this ‘500’,” Rathmann concluded.

Pat O'Connor (Rick Johnson Photo)


  1. Very interesting read. Elisian has long been a character who has intrigued me. I get the impression of a basically decent guy whose personal demons and this accident led him to become a haunted figure in his final years. Thanks for this. Whenever I hear his name I feel somewhat melancholic.

  2. I agree with the original post. '58 was Foyt' s rookie 500, and Pat O'Connor sort of took him under his wing, so A.J. thought highly of him. In Foyt's book, he didn't blame the accident on Elisian being wreckess. It was a rivalry with Dick Rathmann, a heated month long rivalry.


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