News & Multimedia

Mel Kenyon

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a series by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson featuring Indianapolis 500 veteran drivers returning to IMS for “Legends Day Honoring Roger Penske” on Saturday, May 26. The veteran drivers will participate in autograph sessions and other fan-friendly activities.

In addition to being USAC's All-Time National midget car feature winner with 111 victories from 1962-88, Mel Kenyon also compiled an impressive record in the Indianapolis 500.

Among the first of the veteran "500" drivers who have indicated they will be in attendance for the Saturday, May 26 autograph session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kenyon recorded four "500" finishes of fifth or higher from 1966-73.

Those finishes become even more impressive when one takes note of the drivers who placed ahead of him. When he claimed fifth as a rookie in 1966, the four he followed to the checkered flag were Graham Hill, Jim Clark, Jimmy McElreath and Gordon Johncock. When Kenyon finished third in 1968, the highest finish of his career, only Bobby Unser and Dan Gurney were ahead of him. And when he placed fourth in both 1969 and 1973, only Mario Andretti, Gurney and Unser, and Johncock, Bill Vukovich II and Roger McCluskey, respectively, had higher finishes.

Pretty exclusive company.

The truly remarkable fact about Kenyon's career is that the vast majority of his 111 USAC wins, plus every one of his "500" starts came after an accident which could easily have been career-ending. He had just won his first of a record seven USAC National Midget titles and was well on his way to successfully defending it when he was seriously injured in a Championship car accident in June 1965 at Langhorne, Pa. His Offenhauser-powered "roadster" was caught up in a multi-car accident, and leaking methanol fuel ignited while he remained slumped unconscious in the cockpit.

By the time he was released many weeks later from the famed U.S. Army Medical Burn Center at San Antonio, a series of operations had forced the loss of all of the fingers on his left hand. But quitting racing was never an option.

Huddling, while hospitalized, with Don Kenyon, his non-driving brother, and Everett, his father, a plan was drawn up for a special glove for Mel's left hand. Sewn into the palm would be a rubber grommet which would slip neatly onto a stud on the steering wheel so that he could steer with his right hand and left palm.

When Mel Kenyon finished third in the 1968 "500," car owner Fred Gerhardt had turned a car over to the Kenyon brothers and told them they could run it if they could find a sponsor. Financial assistance came mainly in the form of numerous small pledges from citizens who lived in the town to which they had fairly recently relocated from Davenport, Iowa, the car running in the race as the City of Lebanon, Indiana Special. Don Kenyon was the only team member on the payroll, drawing a princely $150 per week as chief mechanic. Mel drove for a strict 40 percent of the prize money with no guarantee and "nothing up front." To have "missed the show" would have meant no prize money at all. Not only that, but Mel was his own engine man, tearing down and reassembling the team's lone turbocharged Offy by himself, missing fingers and all.

One of the last drivers to earn membership in the prestigious, but long-since discontinued Champion 100 mph Club, the gracious Kenyon belies his legend and remains a race fan's delight.

He'll be one of numerous past "500" drivers on hand, in shifts, to sign autographs from noon-4 p.m. Saturday, May 26 in the Plaza area behind the Speedway's Pagoda.
 

Show More Show Less
Now Viewing
Mel Kenyon
 
Mel Kenyon
This is the first of a series by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson featuring Indianapolis 500 veteran drivers returning to IMS for “Legends Day Honoring Roger Penske” on Saturday, May 26. The veteran drivers will participate in autograph sessions and other fan-friendly activities.
Read More
Related Media
Anita Millican
 
Over the Wall: Pioneer Millican Reflects on One-of-a-Kind Career
First in a series on crewmen and women who have worked at the Indianapolis 500
Read More
Alexander Rossi
 
Rossi's Likeness Unveiled on Borg-Warner Trophy
Don’t miss your chance to see history unveiled at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on Wednesday, December 7 at 5 p.m. Champion of the 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Alexander Rossi, will have his likeness unveiled on the coveted Borg-Warner Trophy during a special ceremony on the museum’s main floor. Fans are invited to attend with paid admission to the museum.
Read More
Max Chilton
 
Chilton Returns to Ganassi for 2017 IndyCar Season
The Chip Ganassi Racing four-driver lineup will remain intact for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, with today’s announcement that Max Chilton is returning to compete with primary sponsorship from international insurance brokerage and risk management services firm Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
Read More
Borg-Warner Trophy
 
Rossi's Likeness Set to Unveil Dec. 7 on Borg-Warner Trophy
Don’t miss your chance to see history unveiled at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum on Wednesday, December 7 at 5 p.m. Champion of the 100th Running of the Indy 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Alexander Rossi, will have his likeness unveiled on the coveted Borg-Warner Trophy during a special ceremony on the museum’s main floor. Fans are invited to attend with paid admission to the museum.
Read More
Oriol Servia
 
Servia Joins Indy 500 Lineup for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing announced today that veteran driver Oriol Servia will return to the team for the 2017 Indianapolis 500, with the hope of adding more races during the Verizon IndyCar Series season.
Read More
Items 1 - 5 of 1,257
Reserve one of our hospitality suites for your next event!
To start planning your event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway please fill out our Information Request Form or contact Laura Wyamn at (317) 492-8557 or email at lwyman@brickyard.com.
Latest Tweets
@Tim_Bingham @jdouglas4 Thanks for coming out! Happy holidays! #IMSLights
about 12 hours ago