April 24, 2012 | By Donald Davidson
Goldsmith Could Race Anything With Two, Four Wheels
Editor’s Note: This is part of a series by Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson featuring Indianapolis 500 veteran drivers returning to IMS for Legends Day Honoring Roger Penske presented by Shell V-Power on Saturday, May 26. The veteran drivers will participate in autograph sessions and other fan-friendly activities.
Paul Goldsmith is one of only a handful of drivers still around who can say they raced in the Indianapolis 500 back when the greater part of the main straight still consisted of bricks and mortar.
Motorcycle racing and stock car legend Goldsmith – another returning veteran who has indicated he will sign autographs for fans on Legends Day Honoring Roger Penske presented by Shell V-Power on Saturday, May 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – had six starts in the "500," four before the bricks were finally paved over with asphalt in October 1961, and two after. Not only that, but Goldsmith had a chance to run on the new surface barely six weeks after its application when he was one of the six outstanding drivers who teamed up to break the 24-hour stock car record at the Speedway.
Between 3 p.m. Nov. 21 and precisely 24 hours later in 1961, a pair of Nichels Engineering-prepared Pontiac Catalinas—including one in full Police Enforcer trim, complete with "bubble gum" light atop the roof—thundered through a night of the most appalling rain and ended up covering a fraction more than 2,586 miles (average speed 107.787 mph) and 2,576 miles (107.343 mph), respectively. Both the winning group of drivers and the runners-up were actually one and the same in that all six put in at least two shifts apiece in both cars, Goldsmith's five teammates being Rodger Ward, Joe Weatherly, Marvin Panch (that year's Daytona 500 winner), Len Sutton and the legendary Fireball Roberts. And the drivers weren't the only iconic figures involved. All of the mechanical preparation, pit stops and general strategy was carried out by a stellar crew that included, among others, Ray Nichels, Bud Moore, Cotton Owens, Dale "Tiny" Worley and Smokey Yunick.
A truly amazing fact concerning Goldsmith's illustrious career is that when he made his "500" debut in 1958 with a Yunick-entered Kurtis/Offy "roadster," it was the first time he had ever driven an open-wheel car in competition. In fact, he only made eight starts in a front-engine car during his entire career. All eight were USAC National Championship events, and six of those were the Indianapolis 500!
After being one of several drivers eliminated in a huge accident in Turn 3 of the opening lap in 1958 at Indianapolis, Goldsmith returned the following year to finish fifth, driving Norm Demler's Quin Epperly-built "laydown" Offy on which the co-chief mechanics were none other than Nichels and Worley, who would end up being two of the principals on the Pontiac 24-hour run a couple of years later.
In 1960, the year of the extraordinary duel between Jim Rathmann and Rodger Ward, which ended up with defending winner Ward having to slow in the last couple of laps due to tire wear, the eventual third-place finisher behind Rathmann and Ward was Goldsmith, once again at the wheel of the Demler "laydown."
The diversified Goldsmith, whose numerous victories included wins on the old beach course at Daytona with both motorcycles and stock cars, won the USAC Stock Car title for Nichels in 1961 and '62. He was victorious at several tracks on which he had previously triumphed with motorcycles.
His last three Indianapolis races each ended with mechanical failures, but not before he had climbed into the top five in both 1961 and 1963.
He hasn't slowed down very much in recent years, still flying his own plane several days each week and training, at the airport he has long owned in Griffith, Ind., groups of bright young Chinese commercial airline pilots for Eastern Airlines in Shanghai.
He is one of the 161 Indianapolis 500 veterans who appeared in the "class" photo taken the day before last year's "500" and is one of the 100 or so who signed autographs that same afternoon.
And he'll be back again this year. The autograph sessions are scheduled, in shifts, from 1-4 p.m. in the Pagoda Plaza area Saturday, May 26.