Friday, September 5, 2008

Fans Cheer Hurtubise Return

Fans Cheer, Old Cronies Greet ‘Herc’--Back At Racing Scene

It Was A Big Day

By Rick Johnson-Indianapolis Star, September 20, 1964

One of the few things racing fans had to cheer about yesterday at the Fairgrounds track was the first appearance of one of their favorite drivers, Jim Hurtubise.

Hurtubise is recovering from serious burns he suffered when he crashed in the National Championship 100-Miler at Milwaukee in June.

His appearance brought a great cheer from the fans who could see him being interviewed on the stage in the track infield, but to the racing fraternity, his appearance was met with big grins, fond hellos, and then a quick retreat, for many of them showed on their faces what few could say openly, “He’ll never race again.”

The visit to the track was a series of experiences for Hurtubise. As soon as he entered the pit gate he was recognized. Many of his old racing cronies went up to him, their hands outstretched for a clasp, saying, “Herc…old boy…gooda seeya!”

For an instant, Herc reached out too, but then he remembered his hands still were too sore to be clasped, even in friendship, and then drew the hand back.

There were several of these awkward moments for Jim as the racing fraternity welcomed him back. But soon the word got around, “Herc’s hands are in bad shape,” and the greetings took on a more pleasant note.

Herb Porter, a veteran mechanic, slapped Jim on the shoulder and said, “Hey you loafer. Come on over here and set this chassis up for me so we’ll run fast today.”

A circle of people soon built up around Jim that included A.J. Foyt, mechanic Joe Langely, drivers Jud Larson, Parnelli Jones, Jim MacElreath, Johnny Rutherford, and one of Jim’s favorite mechanics, Danny Oakes.
Everyone asked him how he liked lying in the hospital. “Oh, it was a lot of fun…I didn’t have any choice about being there, so I decided to have fun. I was glad to get out of there though…But I have to go back every day for therapy on these,” Hurtubise said as he displayed his burn-scarred hands. “And even that isn’t too bad…the nurses are pretty.”

While Jim spoke to various people in the gathering, his brother Pete said, “He’s really working hard…He wants to be ready for the next 500-Mile Race.”

“If work and guts can get the job done,” Pete said, “he’ll be there.”

Jim never stopped smiling. He joked about his condition. Holding his hands up so the gang could see them he said, “I’ve got to get these things worked on…Plastic surgery, they tell me, will fix ‘em up good as new.”

“Why, I’d do the job myself,” Herc jibed, “but they won’t let me get into the shop so I can work on them.”

“I can still do a lot of things,” Hurtubise said. “I get more than 30 letters a day from my friends yet…I open them myself with a pocket knife…I can still drive a car, if it has power steering, and I can hold a can of beer and mix a martini…What else can you ask?”

While Hurtubise laughed and joked with his old buddies, a youngster from the crowd in back of the pits jumped over the fence and ran up to Jim with a pencil and a program in his hand.

The boy slipped through the tight circle and thrust the program at Jim and said, “Can I have your autograph Herc?” At the same time he noticed Jim’s hands.

Hurtubise’s clear blue eyes blinked, but he smiled and said, “I don’t think it would look too good now…I’ll call Pete…He signs all the papers for me now…”

Jim yelled for his brother, but the autograph seeker had melted back into the crowd.

(All Photos by Rick Johnson)

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