The 1971 Indy Pace Car

A 1971 Dodge Challenger convertible was selected to be the pace car for the 1971 Indianapolis 500 race.
However what should have been a fantastic promotion for Dodge turned into a nightmare when at the start of the race the car crashed into a press stand killing one person and giving the rest something to write headlines about.

Four local dealers provided 50 cars, to be sold to the public or used on parade duties, fitted out like the actual pace car.
Only the actual pace car had a big block (383) engine. Two others had 340 cubic inch small blocks and the other 47 were 318 powered. All of the cars were painted orange and had white tops. The three cars with the larger engines had the lettering hand painted on the sides but the others had decals which were optional. Up to the day of the race the pace car had the normal Challenger flat hood but after the crash it was fitted with the R/T style Sport Hood. One of the 340ci cars had this hood too. The rest of the cars all had the flat hood.

On race day (May 29th 1971) the pace car was driven by Eldon Palmer, one of the local dealers, who to this day is still very upset about the whole thing.

Eldon had quite rightly practiced the laps and had placed cones at strategic points around the circuit to indicate when to start to turn in and when to brake.

Unfortunately somebody moved a cone.

As Eldon came out of turn four with the 33 car field hot on his tail he dived down into the pit area as planned and started looking for the cone he had placed to tell him when to brake. By the time he realised it was missing it was too late. As he slammed on the (drum) brakes he saw he had two options. Either to go back out onto the track and hit the pack of accelerating race cars or just keep braking as best he could in a straight line.

He did the latter but could not stop in time to miss the stand full of press photographers.
Some people feel that, had the car been fitted with the optional disc brakes, this tragic accident could of been avoided.

BACK