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Indianapolis 500 Veteran Rager Dies at 73

Roger Rager, who raced in the 1980 Indianapolis 500 with an engine block found in a junkyard, died Feb. 16. He was 73.

Nebraska native Rager started racing in 1968 and made his name in the 1970s with sprint car victories at many tracks before coming to Indianapolis in 1978 with his small, low-budget team. He finally qualified for what would be his only career start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 1980.

Rager’s 3-year-old Wildcat chassis was powered by a stock-block Chevrolet engine, but it was no normal stock powerplant. Rager believed that a stock block needed to gain durability through the heat cycles created by use, so he sought a used block as the foundation of his car’s engine for Indy that year.

That used, low-mileage block was found in a junkyard from an engine that powered a school bus.

Rager qualified an impressive 10th in 1980, sharing Row Four with Jim McElreath and A.J. Foyt. He was running ninth early in the race and led Laps 16-17 during pit stop cycles. On Lap 55, McElreath spun in front of Rager, who spun and crashed out of the race trying to avoid McElreath’s car. Rager was credited with 23rd place.

He continued to race after his sole Indy 500 start and became the only driver to win a feature at famed Knoxville Raceway in each of five decades. Rager also was a three-time winner of the Masters Classic event at Knoxville for drivers over 50.

Rager retired from driving in 2009 and was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame the same year. He also was inducted into the Nebraska Sports Hall of Fame, Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame and the Big Car Racing Association (BCRA) Hall of Fame.

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